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Bradley Clay

2 Years Ago

Question For Painters

Ive taken some classes, and have been experimenting on and off with digital painting. Specifically, transforming a photo into a simulated painting. manually using custom digital brushes, and actual strokes, blending mixing etc...not using "filters". Other than the occasional paint by number, I've never actually painted.

My question is, in simulating the "depth" of the painting. In other words I understand some areas are thick and some are almost bare canvas. What areas are which? Are the darker areas thicker, or the lighter areas? in what areas does the weave of the canvas show through? Does this vary depending on oil or acrylic? High key, or low key?

I've learned simulation techniques for letting the canvas texture show through, and adding "thickness and dimension" to areas that are caked on pretty thick, I just don't understand the process of creating a traditional painting to know which is which, and where they should be applied, and what the workflow is from bare canvas to final painting.

Also, with all due respect, and my complete admiration to "traditional painters" ( as that is a gift that I was not born with) I do want to dispel any myths that doing digital painting in this way is a few mouse clicks, or hitting a couple buttons. It does actually take days or weeks, and is very tedious. The only analogy I can think of is, imagine doing a painting by controlling a robot with a computer. The vision is in your head, in your hands, but you can't hold the brush, or touch the canvas. you must use a tablet and keyboard to make the robot pick up the fan brush, mix the raw umber, and yellow ochre to just the right shade, and dab the canvas in just the right place, just the right way, just the right pressure, at just the right angle.

Knowing the techniques to simulate is only a small part, Im asking for painters knowledge and workflow, that has been learned over many years and brush strokes, so I might simulate digitally something that would look "correct", as if it were done by putting paint to canvas.


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Just for starters, glad to reply, Brad.......will add more later.
The 'easy' one to answer - if you study Rembrandt for instance, you will see his masterful use of thinly painted shadows (darks) - the 'light' of the canvas shows through somewhat and gives 'life' to the darks - they'd be heavy otherwise. I could go on.
Back later with further thoughts in reply.


Angelina Vick

2 Years Ago

I don't think making a statement here will dispel any myths about the validity of digital painting.

Anyone who has done it knows that is not easy to do well.

To answer your question. Every piece is entirely unique, and how each person paints is as well. Even what one artist does can vary from piece to piece.

I have pieces where no canvas texture shows, some...partially, others where I painted so lightly that the weave is clearly seen.
There is not right or wrong, it's creating the look you want it to have.


Shana Rowe Jackson

2 Years Ago

As Angelina stated, every painting is unique. There are no hard and fast rules as to where you should let canvas show, it plain and simply has to do with individual techniques, and how much paint you like to lay down. Unless you are using watercolor, in which case you leave parts of the paper blank for highlights. In oils generally you lay the thinnest layers down first and build your detail on top, so I guess in some cases the more detailed areas might be the thickest. But again, this is all individual preference, my suggestion is that you look at the artwork of traditional painters on this site and observe it closely to get some idea on how they do it.


Bradley Clay

2 Years Ago

I agree, I didn't want to start a whole digital debate.... ;)

as I understand, in some cases the canvas is coated in white, and darks painted over, and some the canvas is painted dark and the lights painted over. where and why is one done over the other? If I have a bare bald canvas, and I'm using oil, and its a low key image, what happens first? If I am doing an acrylic, and its a bright high key, what do i do first?

In other words, Im looking for the technique to make a photo a low key oil simulation, or a high key acrylic, or watercolor....

To a traditional artist such a mistake would certainly stick out. I want to be able to simulate in digital, what I can't do in traditional.

Thanks for the replies so far everyone..


Knowing the techniques to simulate is only a small part, Im asking for painters knowledge and workflow, that has been learned over many years and brush strokes, so I might simulate digitally something that would look "correct", as if it were done by putting paint to canvas. ""

Happy to share knowledge and work flow, thing I learned, from my experience, was , other than Denny Bond, etc., whose work is immaculately beautiful realism, and aims for that..............each of us could answer you about workflow,etc...........but, for me, personally, since you ask..........making my art has not been a quest for looking 'correct' about the subject, but, the next reply to you would be.........there is no 'correct' way of putting paint to is all a matter of the artist's response to their subject, or not - abstraction,
Also, some images need to be is their purpose
Others, do not need to be 'correct', but more, my own response via paint and drawing/composition.
Is it ok if I give examples? Otherwise, you wont get it............note the canvas showing,etc....not 'planned' : just my 'way'.........

'correct' because that's what
I wanted to do..........vs............'incorrect' I wanted it

Photography Prints Photography Prints


Shana Rowe Jackson

2 Years Ago

Some artists find it easier to paint over an under painting, so they will coat the canvas with a colored ground first. This can serve a few purposes, one is to unify the over all painting, especially if you let some of the under color show through in various areas of the painting. Some find it intimidating to start on a stark white canvas, and putting an under painting down takes some of that anxiety away. Sometimes people do it to create contrast for overall tonal value in a painting. The reasons vary from artist to artist.


Bradley Clay

2 Years Ago

Absolutely Ms. V,

I appreciate the help. My reference to "correct" wasn't referring to art of course, but to a product that looks fake or obviously incorrect. everyone has their own style, thats what makes it unique.

Im thinking in terms of digital photography and photoshop. you can alter a photo, or add things or take things away, but if done "incorrectly", you can spot it a mile away. Just trying to avoid that scenario.


Shana Rowe Jackson

2 Years Ago

My suggestion if you want to start with an under painting is take the color from the photo you are using that sets the overall mood of the picture and use that as an under painting.


Shana Rowe Jackson

2 Years Ago

Also put the most contrast at the focal point or subject. That may be where you would want to use the thickest marks.


Bradley Clay

2 Years Ago

Here are 2 examples. These i did about 2 years ago. The problem here is the canvas texture, and no depth to the "paint".

In "snowdog" the texture was laid overtop the painting, and was uniform across the image. It looks like a scan of a GiClee. In "Dakota" its done over an actual canvas texture scan, but still fairly uniform over the entire image, although not as fake looking as "snow dog". These are 2 different styles, a low key oil, and a high key acrylic. If these were painted traditionally, what would the difference be close up? Thats what I am trying to "correct". Any alert artist can look at either of these and see their faults. I just want to be able to simulate in a more realistic style.

Photography Prints Photography Prints


Bradley - my reply is in 'the mail'......speak soon there...........


A painting can be thinly rendered with the canvas showing from corner to corner...generally, loosely speaking, the final strokes would have a thickness; they would be the highlights or the opposite: they could be a vibrating dash of purple in an umber deep shadow...
I looked at your 2 pieces and find they are not labored and built quite well; color, stroke and form all applied and very convincing...when able to visit museums (or auction houses since you can actually get close and touch the works) look at the individual painters style of painting - there will be found the clues.
With your dexterity, why worry: simulation?...Simply paint! Eventually you will develop a style and touch that you enjoy...
p.s. I work with camera sometimes and the 'sensual materials' of oil, tempera, gauche, etc. other times; I have cracked film, souped & printed it and made images on dot-matrix printers before the realm of digital, I love it all! But working with real, traditional materials...Hummmm! Most important is the image and how it speaks 'with' the viewer...


Roger Swezey

2 Years Ago


You wrote:..." "traditional painters" ( as that is a gift that I was not born with) "

The "Gift" painters have is the same "Gift" every artists has....That is the ability to SEE.

Other than for exceptional circumstances, I contend that all visual disciplines are interchangeable.

Once an artist learns the tenets (language) of other media, having the ability to SEE, that artist CAN readily Create in those disciplines...

A Digital Artist can Draw...A Photographer can Paint...An Architect can Photograph....So forth and So on...


Bradley Clay

2 Years Ago

@ Roger,

thanks for the vote of confidence, but I can't paint the house, with a roller without causing a catastrophe! Also with what I have invested in my photography hobby ( which is one of many), If I came home with an easel and sack of brushes, I know my wife would leave!

Photography is my art outlet. But in my photography is a desire to show more than what the shutter captured. I believe modern computers and software are amazing tools. I heavily cull my photos, and spend a lot of time on the keepers.

Some just lend themselves to being painted. I don't have the talents of traditional painters, but I feel my knowledge of the digital world can hold its own. At some point you want to move beyond photo enhancement, and black and white, and HDR, and want to show your image as a painting. My goal is to have a print of my digital look like a print from a traditional. Not counting artist experience and style of course! Just talking on the technical merits only.


Mary Ellen Anderson

2 Years Ago

I have no problems trying to help, but I'm not sure I'm understanding what you're asking.

I recently did a WIP blog on creating a painting and went through how and when I add elements like mood and light, color, balance, etc. and it might be helpful. click here BLOG WIP

But I'm not sure that I even think in terms of elements the same way a photographer would. For me the 'depth' of a painting has almost nothing to do with how thick the paint is, or color really (though some colors push, some pull). It's much more dependent on proportionality and lighting, but that element is more 'given' in photography. Painters use layers (some opaque, some transparent) to get different effects, especially in lighting. But paintings almost evolve on their own, there isn't the same 'know what it's going to look like" as there is in photography (simply because there more room for variance/error/artistic license). So we're not thinking of how to make it what it is, as much as it is to take advantage of what's working. So as other's have said their are few if any steps that all painters follow, because there's no way of anticipating what issues you'll have.

--mary ellen anderson


Bradley Clay

2 Years Ago


thanks, What I mean by depth is actually the thickness of the paint. where is the paint thicker, that the canvas texture is not visible, and where is it thiner that you can see the texture. and does this change based on oil or acrylic?

I would assume that in a high key image with a light background, the lighter colors are thin, and the paint gets thicker as the colors get darker. As opposed to a darker painting where I would assume highlights would be added last, therefore the lighter colors would be thicker. But you know what happens when you ASSUME.

In other words, in simulating this digitally, the actual canvas texture would be added last. realistically it would not be visible through out the entire painting. Im trying to figure out when, and where the canvas texture would be visible. Strictly a technical question, not any subjective factors of lighting, mood etc..


Mary Ellen Anderson

2 Years Ago

Hi Bradley,
Like said, I've just never thought about how thick paints is across my canvas because it has no technical effect in painting. Now I do care about texture (brush and knife work). Oil painters will use texture to truly give a 3D aspect to a canvas, because it's possible for the medium. But creating texture is in brush strokes or knife work, and not really paint thickness.

In this painting I used toothpicks to paint this. Sometimes I'd roll paint on the canvas with toothpick rolling pins, or load with paint and do detail. There really isn't an intended paint thickness variation or canvas showing anywhere, but if you zoom in then you'll see that it's in the layering of 'brush strokes' (in this case toothpick strokes) that's creating the image (and that there are tiny blank spots) and thick and thin spots that do give the painting itself an intended texture that of course you can't get in a photograph or a watercolor, but texture is just an edge even in this painting but it not picture necessary. I would assume for most oil painters than most give no thought at all to how thick the paint is, or how much canvas is showing. I'm not sure this is what people are referring to when they say they like the painterly look in photography.

Abbie, is right in that most painters start with an underlay and build it up, but everyone is some process of layers. But the final result in paint thickness is coincidental I think, and more closely related to how many mistakes we had to redo. lol
--mary ellen anderson


Bradley Clay

2 Years Ago


thanks again for helping. In your painting Cody, This is a great example.

his beard is the lightest area, and very thick. even seeing on a flat monitor you can see the depth/thickness of the paint, as opposed to other areas where the canvas texture shows through, like his suit.

I can replicate this digitally, the thick paint on his beard for instance. I can digitally give it the thickness and texture of your painting. I guess my confusion is, would it be possible or "Normal" for someone to paint "Cody' where his beard being light, is thinner, and his darker areas be thick paint? Is this purely up to the painter, or is there a common workflow that in most cases the light beard would be thicker heavier paint?


Bradley Clay

2 Years Ago

the more I think, the more I confuse myself!


Shana Rowe Jackson

2 Years Ago

I think It was me that said that Mary, I don't think Abbie has posted anything..

Bradley, as I mentioned before it is almost impossible to define a specific place in a painting where the paint should be thicker or thinner as far as texture goes. It is dependant on each individual artists process and is unique to each artist and each painting. It is all about experimenting and finding what suits you personally.


Shana Rowe Jackson

2 Years Ago



Jane Schnetlage

2 Years Ago

I was a traditional painter for many years. I discovered digital 7 or 8 years ago. It found it was a great help that I was already familiar with the traditional painting techniques. For me it has taken a LOT of practice to achieve anything that might look like traditional materials. It think you are right to think in terms of brushstrokes and layers- not just filters. I might use few filters to finish off or a create a unified look right at the end but most of the time I spend consists of painting with brushes and smudge brushes of variety of textures and sizes over the photo as well as changing lighting and vibrance in multiple layers. I tried figure out the answer to your question about where there was more texture/paint thickness and I would have to say, like many other, it depends on the picture. I'm attaching three extensively modified from an original photo using Photoshop- one has texture in the background- one in the foreground. I was trying to figure out why the difference and I don't totally have an answer other than layer I worked over multiple times building up "paint" so to speak . So I guess detail areas. Of course this applies only to trying to create an oil paint look, for something that is supposed to look like watercolor or a pastel it is somewhat different.
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Mary Ellen Anderson

2 Years Ago

@ Shana
Yes, I was referring to your quote. My apologies, I don't know why I thought it was Abbie's avatar.

I'm totally lost on the thin lights and thick darks.

In the end the texture of the surface of the subject in the painting is still in contrasting colors of paint. It has to look textured not be textured. So I just don't get what you're asking. Maybe you should post what you're trying to do.
--mary ellen anderson


Mary Ellen Anderson

2 Years Ago

Just saw where you posted the two dog pics. The thing that bothers me is then variation of focus not paint. To me the pupils of the dog are sharper than his nose and ears. Use the play of light to bring scenes to life.
--mary ellen anderson


Bradley Clay

2 Years Ago

thanks to everyone trying to help. I think I thoroughly confused everyone including myself.

I think the answer to my confusion lies in a trip to the art museum, and spend some time studying actual paintings.

@ Mary Ellen,

thanks again, you did stumble upon a major fact. Depth of field. In taking a photo, if you focus on the eyes, the nose and ears may not be in focus. In a painting, the artist decides what is in focus not the limitations of the camera optics. Very observant point, and something for me to keep in mind when doing these photo paintings.


Charles Cannone

2 Years Ago

Use illustrator,just remember a painting is a painting and a digital drawing is a digital drawing they are never the same.



This discussion is closed.

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