Digital Art in the Cosmos
Written By Christopher Whytal
I recently went camping, my camera and light tools in my pack, with the goal of capturing the stars à la astrophotography. Escaping the city and the light pollution that hides the beauty of the night sky, I drove two and a half hours out into the mountains, to a place called Rocky Gap State Park in the western part of Maryland. At my campsite, I gazed up into the stars and let the cool December air wash over me. Then, something in the distance captured my attention. I saw what looked like a string of white lights far overhead. There were twenty or so distinct lights moving slowly through the night sky, following one after another in a tight row. My imagination leapt into action. Could this be our interstellar neighbors paying a holiday visit, traveling together in a convoy of UFOs? Perhaps it was a deluge of comets careening toward the earth’s surface, the end of life as we know it. Or, I chuckled, could it be the big guy himself, Santa and his reindeer on a test flight ahead of the Christmas season? My camera still packed away, I pulled out my phone and shot it on video before it disappeared into the sky. A quick web search later revealed that I had witnessed the launch from SpaceX of a series of Starlink satellites. Not as intriguing as an alien visit, perhaps, but still very, very cool. I was thrilled to have captured it on film before my nighttime photography adventure had even begun.
Seeing those satellites really brought me back. As a child, space exploration fascinated me, and I often imagined what it might be like to travel through the cosmos. For this reason, I was ecstatic at the opportunity to create the cover for this magazine’s current edition. As I put my imagination through its paces, considering what image to include, I decided upon a futuristic humanoid space explorer marveling at the intricacies of the universe, my childhood fascination realized, if you will. Bringing that idea to life would be a challenge. I knew I couldn’t do it with standard photography alone, so I decided to use creative light painting techniques to capture my own self-portrait images, and combine these with stock photography images of outer space, drawn from Adobe Stock. I then manipulated the images, digitally blending one into another, creating a digital collage, a common technique used in digital art. Digital art is any form of art created with the help of a digital media platform like a computer. Using Adobe Photoshop, my idea came to life. Thankfully, great accomplishments sometimes come in the form of teamwork, so a big thanks goes to Pavel, one of the editors of this magazine, for his creative insight during this process.
There are many different methods of creating digital art. I will share a few tools and give some tips on how I created the cover, as well as the imagery used in this column, in the hopes of getting you started in the world of digital art.
1. Gather the tools you need. For computers, both Macs and PCs work just fine. I use a MacBook Pro connected to an external monitor, and I sometimes use an iPad for sketching ideas or mockups. Drawing tablets are a great choice and make editing and creating art easier than using a track pad or mouse. I use a Wacom Intuos Pro. For software applications, I generally use Adobe Creative Suite, particularly Photoshop, Illustrator, and Lightroom. For 3D applications, an area in which I’ve just begun to dabble, I use Blender. There are a huge variety of software applications, so do your research and find the ones that work for you. If you’re unfamiliar with the applications, or would like to brush up on your skills, two great online resources, complete with video tutorials, are Virtual Training Company (www.vtc.com) and Udemy (www.udemy.com).
2. Choose your style. There are several digital art styles from which to choose, including 2D and 3D computer graphics, digital painting, fractal art, pixel art, dynamic painting, digital photography, and blending, to name a few. I used digital photography and blending in this column. A great resource for learning more about digital art styles is www.architecturelab.net/types-of-digital-art.
3. Develop your idea. Think about what you would like to create and the techniques you want to use. Write down your ideas, and then gather the imagery you would like to use.
4. Sketch it out. Before spending extensive time in programs like Photoshop, it’s a good idea to put your ideas onto paper. I find this makes my work in Photoshop go faster, and it ensures my vision is realized by the time I am done.
5. Create your masterpiece. Using Photoshop, I blend multiple photos using layers and masks. During the creation process, detail matters, and I often zoom in and edit the image pixel by pixel. Another good tip is to have dual windows open of the same image you are creating, one closeup for detailed editing, and a zoomed-out version of the same. This way you can see the real time effects of your detailed editing.
When using stock photography for your creation, there are many sites to choose from. A few are Adobe Stock, iStock Photo, Shutterstock, Big Stock, Colourbox, and Neostock. They vary in image quality, pricing, and content. Take careful consideration of the licensing restrictions of each site and how the images can be used. Adobe Stock, for example, has several licensing categories. Two of them are standard and extended. If you purchase an image with an extended license, you may sell the work you create using that stock image. With a standard license, you may not sell any art that incorporates the stock image, but you may use it for marketing purposes. It is important to review the licensing restrictions carefully.
There are incredible artists out there creating groundbreaking digital art. With so many styles to choose from, it can feel overwhelming at first. I recommend finding a style that appeals to you visually, then learning it. Digital photography and blending are the styles of digital art that most appeal to me. I love how the images allow me to step outside of the real and tangible, and into the cosmic world of my imagination.
365 Art+ Magazine Case 12: Cosmos