March 11, 2018

Abe Lincoln vector portrait

I have made a few portraits and paintings in photo editors, which process bitmaps, i.e. pixels. The problem with those is that I was basically stuck with one size - the original pixel measurements. Enlarging bitmap images causes them to lose crispness; they become blurry and jagged. Vector images don't cause such a problem, because the lines, shapes and colours (gradients) are expressed in formulas. Enlarging the image simply is a re-calculation of the original as a result of which the image retains its sharpness and detail. Up to recently I was restricted to use CorelDRAW, which lacks functionality to create a proper realistic portrait, unless one is prepared to use the mesh fill tool. Which I wasn't. Working with this particular tool is a horrendously tedious and time consuming process that didn't appeal to me at all.

And then I encountered Affinity Designer, a vector drawing program that has all the goodies to create vector portraits without having to spend huge parts of ones life with mesh colouring. When creating custom brushes, the program allows to 'paint' with vectors. In addition it has magnificent control over areas and lines (strokes) that are necessary to draw when making portraits - gradient colours, gradient transparency and blurring of the edges. Inkscape also has this type of functionality, but its user interface I find difficult to get familiar with. The stylish Affinity Designer UI is simple to use for artists that have experience in working with Illustrator or CorelDRAW, because of its similarity to their interfaces. In fact, less clicks are required to achieve the same in Affinity Designer than in Corel's and Adobe's vector drawing programs. And - best of all - Affinity Designer costs a very user friendly 54 Euro.... No wretched subscription model while three free upgrades included. What more can starving graphic artists wish for?

Actually, I considered dropping Windows some time ago, because I thought I had found all alternative Linux programs to do the graphic art I could do in Windows. But then I encountered the Affinity Designer and Photo, which made me decide to stick with Redmond's not always stable (cough) operating system. This first attempt at creating portraits in a vector drawing program - Affinity Designer - makes photo editors redundant, as well as the tedious and time consuming mesh-fill tools in vector drawing programs such as CorelDRAW and Illustrator. Affinity Designer, like Inkscape offers the possibility to blur vector shapes, which is a quick way to create the gradient coloured shapes to which gradient fills can be added. These are very effective functions to create realistic vector portraits, which allow to rescale to any desired size, without losing detail and unwanted blurring and jagged border shapes in unwanted spaces. Designer's competition is already now lagging behind, eventhough Designer is a relatively new program. Corel is too buggy, Illustrator too expensive and Inkscape's UI requires a type of intuition that I don't have.

I could fill a lengthy blog entry with the advantages I found in Affinity Designer compared to its competition, and I may do that in future, but not now. After a brief test in which I explored the techniques that I thought I would need to create a realistic vector portrait, I looked for a subject for a portrait that would be suited for my first vector portrait attempt. I remembered I did a test of a new, synthetic type of paper when I was still airbrushing for which I used creepy prez Abraham Lincoln. I thought I would make a portrait of him again in vectors, so that I could compare the results. And low and behold: the vector program made my airbrush skills totally redundant...(except for its therapeutic usefulness perhaps). The only problem is that you have to get your artwork printed when you want to hang your portrait on a wall, which is a rather costly affair, although A3 printers are becoming relatively affordable. Their ink cartridges on the other hand remain ungainly expensive. Other than that, Affinity Designer absolutely blew me away with respect to its ease of use and most magnificent functionality. Below is the result - an oversight of the various stages and the portrait so far.

After not having touched it for months
I did some more detailing this portrait

After having had a tip at the Affinity forum
the colouring of the jacket has improved a lot.

Outline view showing vector shapes and lines
as they were used in the image above this one.

Colour test

Head is close to completion. I plan to
also draw the neck and his costume in
the near foreseeable future. Stay tuned....

These are the various stages of the portrait.
Click the images to see larger versions of them.

There still are numerous mistakes in this portrait, but they won't be repeated in future projects. Visually the portrait appears to be okay, so I'll settle for this and consider it to be part of an unavoidable learning curve. While drawing I continued to run into new possibilities and questions I had with regards to Designer's functionality were promptly answered in the Affinity forum. The portrait was drawn in a beta version after I had a horrendous crash with the previous versions of Designer and Photo. I guess this is all part of the early stages of the development process in which Affinity currently finds itself. The beta version gave no problems at all, which raises my expectations for their next upgrade. In their forum they announced its change list, which is huge; it most likely will make Designer even more effective than it already is now.

A few words on digital art
I've noticed that many artists and art lovers find that digital art is not real art or inferior to analogue methods of creating art at best. I have done a lot of airbrushing in the past, which also isn't considered to be real art by fans of the hairy brush artists and to such people, digital art is even worse than airbrush. In all honesty, I must admit that I couldn't care less what people think about it. What matters to me is that I find the level of control digital means offer, are beyond anything other techniques do. I'm not a control freak at all, except when creating realistic portraits. I always aim to bring out the essence of the people in my portraits, making changes that aren't present in the photographs that I use as reference material, and for now digital methods suit me best to achieve such matters.

I like the tinkering to get things right, without having to go through a lot of time and effort to revert to a previous state (after having made a mistake) and work from there have an other go to express what is in my mind's eye. Affinity Designer is over 90% parametric, which means that the original - any stage of the drawing I created - remains untouched if I don't touch it. Modifications, additions and subtractions are simply stored in different layers on top of the original, which theoretically allows to create and endless number of changes. That is also possible to do in traditional painting with brushes or in airbrush of course, but it simply takes a lot more time and effort. In addition, Affinity's History Panel allows to make changes in any stage of the project, while it offers a 1000 (!) undo actions.

With a vector drawing program like Designer I don't need to waste time and effort; I can make any change I want immediately and accurately. Outside critiquing art, those that dislike digital art, love all the handy digital gadgetry they use on a daily basis while being dependent on computers, tablets, smart phones, smart household applications, the internet and cloud storage etc., but when it comes to art, they suddenly have an opinion that is incongruous with the rest of their largely digital life. In most cases just because they've heard other people, who they consider to be influential, say that digital art creation isn't 'real art' and therefore choose to remain in denial, since everyone else who is similarly conditioned, does that too. To me, for the reasons mentioned here, digital art actually is art. Perhaps in 50 years from now people will barely know what analogue painting and airbrushing is, because all artists have gone digital. So digital artists may be nothing more or less than a poorly understood avant garde group of creative souls.