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Painting better digital painting : 21 fundamentals

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Painting better digital painting is not easy. During my teaching adventure, i realized that many people that were beginners don't understand all the terms that refer to digital painting. some of them get confused by basic one like blending, ambient light. Others are totally burned by complexe ones like additive colors, occlusion. 

In this article you'll see

Digital painting glossary

General definition ( for Painting better digital painting )

Color and light

Ambient light :

It is the light that is diffused equally throughout an environment. It can be created by rays of light such as the sun or an artificial light, commonly, ambient light is the sky for example. You'll find it in shadow when the colors are not saturated, they bounce with others light. Retain this rule : Ambient light is often overpowered by direct sunlight. You can't make ambient light visible in the lightned part of your drawing, especially the part where the direct sunlight or spot light is intense. Direct light overpower ambient light. 

Highlight

The area of an object represented in art that receives the greatest amount of direct light.

Values

Parameter that refers to the lightness or darkness of a color, monochromatic, or gray scale image. In traditionnal or digital drawing it is often achieved by hatching, cross-hatching, or texture or value scale. Value variation help you to make your drawing more realistic. More 3D.  

Occlusion or Ambient occlusion :

The term Ambient occlusion refer to the same term often well known as occlusion. Techniclly you can draw occlusion easily but it require patience to make it realistic, here's an example :  Always start small : draw simple lines and indicate where the shadow will fall in a symbolic way with dark grey. 
Painting better digital painting
Without ambient occlusion
Painting better digital painting
Without ambient occlusion
Draw in multiply blending mode (you can select it in your layer panel ) draw large stroke to replace your lines. This is how you can easily represent occlusion. In some part of your body or object, Occlusion is more dark than other places because occlusion basiclly describe the parts where light can't hit. Always picture occlusion in your head as the most dark places ever such as ''Under a bed'' ''Under a neck of a human face'' etc etc ... A practical tip to draw occlusion for digital painting is to reduce opacity of your brush till 20% with dark blue tone under multiply blending mode.

Filters :

Digitally, filters are layers that alter the look of an image.

Reflected light :

This is the light that is the result of direct light. Direct light produce another light less heavy and less strong. For example there is what we call : the law of the inversed square to make the artists understand how artificial light behave in space.Once you understand that you'll have to study each materials to learn how certain materials reflect light and how they absorb it. It is particularly usefull when you want to be a realistic artist or hyper-realistic.  Here is an example that can clearly show you the representation of the main terms. 
Reflected light definition
Different light elements definition

Terminator ( definition ) :

The terminator is a certain zone that is often located beetween the shading and the lightning of a figure and it create a midtone because of the blending of the two zone. Here is an example you can find on simple sphere : 
Different light elements definition
It is often the midtone part where light and shadow meets. Terminator design by it's name the zone where something finish. 

Terms that refers to digital art working process :

Matte painting

Painting better digital painting may require the use of extra-technique to speed up the workflow. That's the case when painting landscape, we settle distant locations that allows filmmakers to create the illusion of an environment that is not present at the filming location. Usually this technique uses cutouts of actual imagery and then the artist manipulates them and paints over them till the finished landscape looks realistic.

Polyptych

A multi-panel work of art. A collection of art pieces consisting of more than three artworks that are supposed to be viewed together.

Perspective

A system of lines, horizon line, and vanishing point to achieve a 3D look on a flat surface.

Vanishing point :

vanishing point-in linear perspective, the point on the horizon line where lines appear to converge.

Station point

Station point illustrationA station point is used in linear perspective as a stationary point from which a viewer is related to the object/figure being rendered. It is a reference point that define the type of view (worm view or bird view ) Shapes may vary according to the height of your station point.

Photoshop terms :

Opacity :

it is the term that describe how much an image is visible on top of another. Fifty percent of opacity for example will make your image visible in a transparent way without erasing parts, it will just increase the transparency. Opacity is also something you can use on your brushstrokes. 

Stroke/Brushstroke:

Painting better digital painting require from you the use of a better brushwork. Brushstroke is often a mark an artist makes with drawing tool, brush, knife, stylus. In Photoshop, an outline or border function in the Edit drop-down menu. We call brushwork the style we find behind these marks (an artist can increase emotions with his brushwork ) 

smudge tool :

A common function in photoshop or any painting software like Gimp, Ibis paint that allow the artist to blend his colors by mixing them. 

Focal point :

It is a key part of your composition well placed which draws the viewer's attention. It may be in the center, it depend on your structural lines and your angles view. 

Blending :

it is the action that allow you to mix up your colors and have a smooth clean result, it's really usefull to have certain texture if you want to end up painting better digital painting. Rendering : it is the name we give to the process of turning a drawing of a certain matter to a realistic look. Colors blending
Rendering :
It is the name we give to the process of turning a drawing of a certain matter to a realistic look. 

Workflow :

Painting better digital painting without a fast workflow mean you're not a pro. Workflow is the group of actions an artist generally always do to get his work done. For example when you color a character, the general workflow is : Local color - general shadow - key light - secondary light -

Polishing :

it is the last step of a drawing and it consist to finishing the last details in order to reach a sort of perfection. 

Conclusion

I hope you understood some basic definitions term in digital painting. If you want to see more articles and ressources related to digital painting and it's aspect, here are the most relevant ones : 
  1. Understanding color : The complete guide for beginners.
  2. Basic understanding beetween concept art, illustration, matt painting...
  3. Understanding perspective : the basic guide for beginners
  4. Understanding how to draw cast shadows properly
Video/ external ressources :
  1. Marco bucci : understanding color with this weird tip 
  2. Drawabox : understanding shape with lines
  3. Painting better digital painting (brushwork is the key ) 

Painting better digital painting is not easy. During my teaching adventure, i realized that many people that were beginners don’t understand all the terms that refer to digital painting. some of them get confused by basic one like blending, ambient light. Others are totally burned by complexe ones like additive colors, occlusion. 

In this article you’ll see

Digital painting glossary

General definition ( for Painting better digital painting )

Color and light

Ambient light :

It is the light that is diffused equally throughout an environment. It can be created by rays of light such as the sun or an artificial light, commonly, ambient light is the sky for example. You’ll find it in shadow when the colors are not saturated, they bounce with others light. Retain this rule : Ambient light is often overpowered by direct sunlight. You can’t make ambient light visible in the lightned part of your drawing, especially the part where the direct sunlight or spot light is intense. Direct light overpower ambient light. 

Highlight

The area of an object represented in art that receives the greatest amount of direct light.

Values

Parameter that refers to the lightness or darkness of a color, monochromatic, or gray scale image. In traditionnal or digital drawing it is often achieved by hatching, cross-hatching, or texture or value scale. Value variation help you to make your drawing more realistic. More 3D.  

Occlusion or Ambient occlusion :

The term Ambient occlusion refer to the same term often well known as occlusion. Techniclly you can draw occlusion easily but it require patience to make it realistic, here’s an example :  Always start small : draw simple lines and indicate where the shadow will fall in a symbolic way with dark grey. 

Painting better digital painting
Without ambient occlusion
Painting better digital painting
Without ambient occlusion

Draw in multiply blending mode (you can select it in your layer panel ) draw large stroke to replace your lines. This is how you can easily represent occlusion. In some part of your body or object, Occlusion is more dark than other places because occlusion basiclly describe the parts where light can’t hit. Always picture occlusion in your head as the most dark places ever such as ”Under a bed” ”Under a neck of a human face” etc etc … A practical tip to draw occlusion for digital painting is to reduce opacity of your brush till 20% with dark blue tone under multiply blending mode.

Filters :

Digitally, filters are layers that alter the look of an image.

Reflected light :

This is the light that is the result of direct light. Direct light produce another light less heavy and less strong. For example there is what we call : the law of the inversed square to make the artists understand how artificial light behave in space.Once you understand that you’ll have to study each materials to learn how certain materials reflect light and how they absorb it. It is particularly usefull when you want to be a realistic artist or hyper-realistic.  Here is an example that can clearly show you the representation of the main terms. 

Reflected light definition
Different light elements definition

Terminator ( definition ) :

The terminator is a certain zone that is often located beetween the shading and the lightning of a figure and it create a midtone because of the blending of the two zone. Here is an example you can find on simple sphere : 

image 2022 03 24 232324 painting better digital painting
Different light elements definition

It is often the midtone part where light and shadow meets. Terminator design by it’s name the zone where something finish. 

Terms that refers to digital art working process :

Matte painting

Painting better digital painting may require the use of extra-technique to speed up the workflow. That’s the case when painting landscape, we settle distant locations that allows filmmakers to create the illusion of an environment that is not present at the filming location. Usually this technique uses cutouts of actual imagery and then the artist manipulates them and paints over them till the finished landscape looks realistic.

Polyptych

A multi-panel work of art. A collection of art pieces consisting of more than three artworks that are supposed to be viewed together.

Perspective

A system of lines, horizon line, and vanishing point to achieve a 3D look on a flat surface.

Vanishing point :

vanishing point-in linear perspective, the point on the horizon line where lines appear to converge.

Station point

Station point illustrationA station point is used in linear perspective as a stationary point from which a viewer is related to the object/figure being rendered. It is a reference point that define the type of view (worm view or bird view ) Shapes may vary according to the height of your station point.

Photoshop terms :

Opacity :

it is the term that describe how much an image is visible on top of another. Fifty percent of opacity for example will make your image visible in a transparent way without erasing parts, it will just increase the transparency. Opacity is also something you can use on your brushstrokes. 

Stroke/Brushstroke:

Painting better digital painting require from you the use of a better brushwork. Brushstroke is often a mark an artist makes with drawing tool, brush, knife, stylus. In Photoshop, an outline or border function in the Edit drop-down menu. We call brushwork the style we find behind these marks (an artist can increase emotions with his brushwork ) 

smudge tool :

A common function in photoshop or any painting software like Gimp, Ibis paint that allow the artist to blend his colors by mixing them. 

Focal point :

It is a key part of your composition well placed which draws the viewer’s attention. It may be in the center, it depend on your structural lines and your angles view. 

Blending :

it is the action that allow you to mix up your colors and have a smooth clean result, it’s really usefull to have certain texture if you want to end up painting better digital painting. Rendering : it is the name we give to the process of turning a drawing of a certain matter to a realistic look.
Colors blending

Rendering :

It is the name we give to the process of turning a drawing of a certain matter to a realistic look. 

Workflow :

Painting better digital painting without a fast workflow mean you’re not a pro. Workflow is the group of actions an artist generally always do to get his work done. For example when you color a character, the general workflow is : Local color – general shadow – key light – secondary light –

Polishing :

it is the last step of a drawing and it consist to finishing the last details in order to reach a sort of perfection. 

Conclusion

I hope you understood some basic definitions term in digital painting. If you want to see more articles and ressources related to digital painting and it’s aspect, here are the most relevant ones : 

  1. Understanding color : The complete guide for beginners.
  2. Basic understanding beetween concept art, illustration, matt painting…
  3. Understanding perspective : the basic guide for beginners
  4. Understanding how to draw cast shadows properly
Video/ external ressources :
  1. Marco bucci : understanding color with this weird tip 
  2. Drawabox : understanding shape with lines
  3. Painting better digital painting (brushwork is the key ) 
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