Monday, January 20, 2020

Finding Freedom in the Digital World: How I Learned To Become Slightly Less Anxious and Love The Tablet - by Tenaya Lena Gunter Brown

(disclaimer: From the mind of a digital noob)

Once upon a time in an era nearly forgotten, called the 1990’s, when digital art was just a wee babe, I became convinced that it was The Enemy. Digital art wasn’t “real” art; it was “cheating”. I don’t know who told me this, maybe it was an idea I pieced together from many different encounters. But what it led to was a refusal to try something new (not to mention a certain amount of judgemental snobbery on my part). The only way to be an artist was to use traditional media and to struggle your way through. I also thought that this… 

paintings by: John William Waterhouse, Albrecht Durer and Leonardo Da Vinci

...was the only great art and had to be my goal. Hmmmm. Definitely not going to lead to problems.

I worked with this mindset for a long time. And for a long time when making art I felt scared, stuck, and I just wasn’t having much fun. I thought the answer must be that I just wasn’t good enough, and the only solution I could think of was to get myself a DeLorean, gun it to 88, and go back in time in order to go to art school instead of the liberal arts education I had chosen. 

A whole heap of things happened between then and now, and they all played a part, but one of them was this…. 

One year, not long ago, my partner was gifted an iPad pro and pencil. Guess who’s iPad it is now ;) It was a magical key, one that opened the door to creation and fun. (A door to which there are many keys. Or are there many doors?)

Original embroidery and stitching

I had a story idea that I was determined would use real stitch work on fabric combined with traditional drawing/painting/collage for the illustrations. I was a ball of anxiety just thinking about getting it to work, so I put off trying. I finally got as far as creating the stitch work and… I was stuck. The idea of redoing the stitching if I messed it up experimenting was overwhelming, not just because of the normal anxieties, but it might trigger my tendinitis (not to mention all the fabric I’d be going through). So I took a picture of it and decided to experiment in Procreate. I thought I would just play around and get a clearer image of what I wanted to try out back in the studio using traditional mediums, but before I knew it, I was in an exciting world of layers and multiplying. I could layer fabric with paint, and thread with pencil lines. I finished a piece in a couple days that I had been mulling over for months. It was elating. And my monstrous fear began to shrink to a more manageable size.

Beginnings of the digital sketch over photo of stitched fabric and finished Mending illustration

I suppose I had to learn for myself that no matter what method you’re using to make your art, it’s not cheating. A tool is a tool. It’s about the journey and the view at the end, not what boots you wore or if you needed a walking stick. Digital art takes just as much experimenting as other mediums to find what works for you. And it’s not always going to be the same answer for every project. You can find out what digital brush someone used for a piece just like you can ask what tube of paint or type of watercolor brush someone used IRL. But then you have to bring the artist to the table, question what happens when you layer that brush over another, or what happens when you change the layer settings for that perfect orange dress.

Layers layers layers. Turning the dress layers on one by one.

Baby bear’s dress is made up of a bunch of different processes and layers. A gouache painting, pan pastels, a cut out piece of painted tissue paper & colored pencil.

My experiments for baby bears dress using traditional media

The photos of those experiments have been turned into different layers. Then I cut up bits of those layers and collaged them in different spots to change things up a bit. I fiddled around with the layer settings and then drew digitally on top of it all. I didn’t know that's what would lead to my happy place, I had to find my way there. But when I did, it was juuuust right!

Finished illustration of Baby Bear

It seems everyone has some amount of fear/self-doubt when confronting the blank page and we all have different reasons and different solutions. Part of the solution is of course finding emotional tools to help you work with your fear. For me the other part was finding a physical tool that gave me a hand and made me feel just a little bit safe within the chaos of creativity. A little buddy :) While my tablet buddy is orderly and consistent, I can go wild in the studio. Well, my wild still isn’t that wild, but you get the idea. I can let go a little, enjoy watching my watercolors wander and feeling the buttery smoosh of oil pastels on paper. I can experiment, make mistakes and see where they lead me. I can have fun! 

All of this may be old hat to many, but there’s always something new to try out there. Digital art just happens to be my new. And it’s taken me a while to learn that being open to possibilities can lead to unexpected results (and is just more fun than the alternative). Sometimes new things will leave you feeling unimpressed while others leave you with a feeling of elation and that something new is on the horizon. And that, well, that’s a fabulous feeling.

I’m still at the beginning of this journey and I’m sure a lot will change (I sure hope it will) and I hope that I discover new ways of working over and over again. And I wish the same for all of you!

Has anyone else out there discovered a new way of working that just tickles them, a new tool, or just a new amazing color that you just can’t get enough of?


If you're trying out digital art or just looking for some new brushes:

I'm loving Vivien Mildenberger's Procreate brushes. She even includes a little pdf tutorial on one way to use masking to create multi-colored watercolor textures.

In Photoshop, I've found the Kyle Webster brushes are all you need. I think they are included now. Try the Wamazing watercolor brushes!

A class from Kenard Pak on how he uses taditional media with digital tools
(doesn't cover basics of photoshop, but ideas for how to use it)

There are hundreds of free tutorials on youtube on the basics of both Procreate and PS. If anyone has one they love feel free to share!


Tenaya Lena Gunter Brown illustrates and writes for children and anyone else in need of a story. She's currently living in Ohio. 
She misses the sea breeze.

You can follow her on Instagram and twitter 

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