Planning Acrylic Paintings Digitally - Part 3 - Advantages and Disadvantages

I spend a lot of my time planning my acrylic paintings digitally. But is it worth it? What are the advantages and disadvantages? In this article, I'll give you my thoughts on this process.


If you missed Part 1 where I talk about why an alleged technophobe would want to engage in planning acrylic paintings digitally, then click here.



And for Part 2 where I give an overview of the process, click here.



Let's start with the positives then:


Advantages

1. It's great to learn something new.

I taught infant children for eighteen years so I've got a passion for lifelong learning. It gives you a sense of achievement, a purpose, and a challenge. If you decide that planning paintings digitally is for you then at the end of the learning process, you will have new skills and knowledge that will help you if art is your hobby or indeed, your job. Plus the current thinking on dementia is that learning new things may keep it at bay so that's another positive.



2. Working in three dimensions gives you a fresh insight into working in two dimensions.


If you're currently using photo references to paint from then you're working primarily in two dimensions. You are trying to represent forms in three dimensions but all on a two-dimensional canvas or piece of board.


When you use ZBrush you're sculpting in three dimensions. You can turn the model around and see it from all angles. You can see that you have an object that would work in real-life which doesn't always happen when you draw purely in two dimensions. You know the angle of every surface you sculpt because you've done it with your own hand.


This helps immensely when it comes to painting your final image because you will be able to visualise the object in three dimensions. You'll start to notice a difference in how you paint. Rather than painting onto a flat board and trying to represent solid objects, you'll imagine yourself sculpting the surfaces with the paint. The board will no longer be flat in your mind. You will feel the third dimension. I think this phenomenon happens because you have such an in-depth knowledge of each object in three dimensions. Remember, you've sculpted them!




3. It helps you understand lighting.


Keyshot allows you to light your ZBrush model however you like. You can move lights around and see the effect this has on the different surfaces. There are things that happen with the way that light reacts to a model that surprises me. I would never think to paint it that way from my head.


Something else that you can do is form studies. Make a quick simple model in ZBrush and light it in Keyshot. You can then paint an image of this in Photoshop, matching the lighting as well as you can. This is useful as over time the complexity of the objects can increase and by the end, you'll be able to accurately render any form you need to. Here are a few examples of form studies I've done in Photoshop:




4. You can create your own photo references.


This is fantastic if you want to paint things that just don't exist. If you like surrealism, painting fantasy, or sci-fi images this is priceless. Do you want to paint a spaceship in the depths of space lit by a supernova? Create the ship in ZBrush, light it in Keyshot, find an image of a supernova, and composite the images together in Photoshop. Okay, I'm making it sound easier than it is, but you get the idea.


The other good thing about making your own references is that you don't generally need to worry about copyright issues. If you create the whole environment and characters from your imagination, as I did in the example below, then copyright is no problem.



There would obviously be problems if you sculpt a copy of someone else's intellectual property or if you use other people's photos with little or no modifications. Copyright is a tricky issue but it is possible to completely get around it when you sculpt your own references.



5. You will learn new skills and knowledge that will increase your employability or enhance your enjoyment of your hobby.


It's quite hard to learn things if you lack direction in your learning. Working on a project will speed up your learning dramatically. You will face a lot of challenges. You will have to read around the subject and watch a lot of videos to figure out how to do what you want to do. But having the purpose of creating a reference for your acrylic paintings will make you learn a lot quicker.


At the end of this learning process, you'll have a good working knowledge of ZBrush, Keyshot, and Photoshop. This gives you more flexibility if art is your hobby. You have many more options for creating art. But if you're looking to get into art as a career then you will have given yourself a big boost. The knowledge and skills you've developed are transferable. So if at some point you need to learn how to use Maya, another 3-D modelling program, you can adapt to it much quicker than if you were going into it without any previous knowledge. I'm not saying that planning your acrylic paintings digitally will get you a job but it could be the first step.



6. It's fun!


To prove this you can sign up for a free trial of ZBrush and Keyshot and give it a go. Incidentally, I am in no way affiliated with ZBrush, Keyshot, or Photoshop, these just happen to be the programs I've chosen to plan my paintings. Try to work on a small project for a month, there are a lot of great videos to get you started from Pixologic and see if you've enjoyed the process. If not, you can uninstall the programs and you haven't lost any money on the deal. But if you have enjoyed it, then you can consider investing.



So there you have the advantages from my point of view. Now let's look at the downside:

Disadvantages


1. The cost.

Compared to buying a few tubes of acrylic paint, working digitally is a very expensive proposition. So, as above, my advice would be to try to free trials first before you buy.

You will need a fairly powerful computer to run these programs. These are the current minimum system specs required for ZBrush.


Windows (Minimum Specifications)

  • OS: 64-bit editions of Windows Vista or newer. (32-bit operating systems are no longer supported.)

  • CPU: Core2duo or AMD equivalent with SSE2 technology or better.

  • RAM: 4 GB (6+ GB strongly recommended)

  • HDD: 8 GB of free hard drive space for ZBrush and its scratch disk.

  • Pen Tablet: Mouse or Wacom compatible (WinTab API) pen tablet.

  • Monitor: 1280x1024 monitor resolution with 32-bit color.

  • Video card: Most cards manufactured 2008 or newer. Must support OpenGL 3.3 or higher.

Mac (Minimum Specifications)

  • OS: Mac OSX: 10.10 or above.

  • CPU: Core2duo with SSE2 technology or better.

  • RAM: 4 GB (6+ GB strongly recommended)

  • HDD: 8 GB of free hard drive space for ZBrush and its scratch disk.

  • Pen Tablet: Mouse or Wacom compatible (Carbon API) pen tablet.

  • Monitor: 1280x1024 monitor resolution with millions of colors.

  • Video card: Most cards manufactured 2008 or newer. Must support OpenGL 3.3 or higher.

The highly recommended specs are probably what you want to keep everything running smoothly but they are even higher:


Windows (Highly Recommended Specifications)

  • OS: 64-bit editions of Windows Vista or newer.

  • CPU: Intel i5/i7/Xeon technology or AMD equivalent.

  • RAM: 8 GB required for working with multi-million poly models. (16+ GB preferred.)

  • HDD: 100 GB of free hard drive space for ZBrush and its scratch disk. (SSD drive highly recommended.)

  • Pen Tablet: Wacom or Wacom compatible. (WinTab API.)

  • Monitor: 1920x1080 monitor resolution or higher with 32-bit color.

  • Video card: Most cards manufactured 2008 or newer. Must support OpenGL 3.3 or higher.

Mac (Highly Recommended Specifications)

  • OS: Mac OSX: 10.10 or above.

  • CPU: Intel i5/7/Xeon technology.

  • RAM: 8 GB required for working with multi-million polys. (16+ GB preferred.)

  • HDD: 100GB of free hard drive space ZBrush and its scratch disk. (SSD drive highly recommended.)

  • Pen Tablet: Wacom or Wacom compatible. (Carbon API.)

  • Monitor: 1920x1080 monitor resolution or higher with millions of colors.

  • Video card: Most cards manufactured 2008 or newer. Must support OpenGL 3.3 or higher.

So you've got quite a lot of expense before you even get to the software.


The current version of ZBrush is available as either a monthly subscription or as a one-time payment. At the time of writing, you can still buy the previous version at a much lower price which is a great idea if you want to do this on a budget.

Also if you want to keep the costs down, you may consider buying the version of Keyshot that only works with ZBrush. There is a full version of Keyshot that works with most 3-D modelling software but it is stunningly expensive. So if you're planning on solely using ZBrush then this option could be for you.


Photoshop can only be purchased currently on a monthly subscription basis. It's not too bad value especially considering the amount of use you will get out of it.


I won't try and hide that this is the major drawback of working digitally. It is very expensive. But if you're serious about expanding your skills it is worth considering kitting yourself out and having some fun.



2. The software has a steep learning curve.


If all you've done before is dabble in Microsoft paint, then the delights of ZBrush, Keyshot, and Photoshop will be obscured from your view by a huge cliff of dense learning. All of the information is available to teach you the required skills but I'd be lying if I said it was easy to find. I have read many articles and watched many videos to learn what I know so far and I think I'm only at the tip of the iceberg.


You will come across such delightful problems as 'shattering' and 'Dynamesh Swiss Cheese', and there is no easy way to tackle them. Both issues involve workarounds. With practice, it is possible to minimise these issues but even so, I have ranted about these problems on numerous occasions. If you're going to dive into this digital world, then be aware that the journey will be long and arduous. But if you're like me, you'll enjoy this process and be endlessly rewarded by your growing knowledge base.



3. You have to learn how to sculpt.


On top of all of the difficulties of learning about all of this new software, you'll also have to learn how to sculpt. If the most you've ever done is make a coil pot at primary school, then this is yet another daunting task. I didn't say that this process would be easy!



4. It vastly increases the time spent on the planning process.


If you normally just find a photo reference either online or from your own collection of photos, and then paint from this image, this process will seem incredibly long-winded. And indeed it is. It takes months to plan a painting this way. This is worse at the start where the process is completely new and you're struggling to learn how to do every simple little thing. If you don't actually want to learn the digital side of things but you want to plan your paintings differently then this may not be for you. Taking part in this process is a full package where you will learn many new skills and the plan for your painting you create is a happy by-product. You definitely need patience and to enjoy delayed gratification to work in this way. This is not a quick fix for anything.



So those are the disadvantages. You now need to decide if this process is for you.



I have thoroughly enjoyed the process despite the disadvantages. I feel like my art has improved from planning in this way. For my latest painting, I have only used Photoshop and have planned purely in two dimensions. I want to see what I have learnt from my foray into 3-D modelling. At some point, I will plan again in this way to further my skills. I'm also going to do some purely digital work too now that I've increased my knowledge. It's opened up some new creative avenues for me.


People are generally split into two camps: either they work with traditional media or they create digital work. The two rarely seem to be combined. I believe that traditional artists can learn a lot from digital art and vice versa. If this process sounds interesting to you, sign up for the free trials and give it a go. You may open up a new world of creativity for yourself.



#planningacrylicpaintingsdigitally #planningacrylicpaintingswithzbrush #planningacrylicpaintingswithkeyshot #planningacrylicpaintingswithphotoshop

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