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Digital Washes

Working wetness and tint into your canvas in Studio Artist By Dave Nagel
This week we're back to Synthetik Studio Artist to take a look at another one of those features that makes this program unique, namely the ability to use media that interact with one another like liquids. Those of you with natural media backgrounds, particularly life drawing, are familiar enough with washes and the great ways they can interact with dry media like charcoal or Conté. I can remember in my art school using everything from watered-down Dr. Martin inks applied with a rag to transmission fluid applied with a very expensive sable brush. (In retrospect, maybe I should have done things the other way around.)

Studio Artist has the ability to synthesize similar tools, except that, unlike those experimental art supplies you might have found in the automotive store, these ones aren't saturated with carcinogens, unless you count the phosphor from your screen, which I don't. If simply emulating natural media isn't your thing, take heart in the fact that your work in Studio Artist can be animated, which only happens in natural media when you work in a poorly ventilated studio.

You can achieve a variety of effects with washes in Studio Artist. These range from washes that will only apply themselves to white areas of the canvas (for a look that appears like watercolor on Wax) all the way down to chunky black stuff that will make your underlying strokes bleed. The program itself includes a few, and I've created 20 variations of my own washes that can be downloaded here for those of you who don't like to read tutorials or for those who want to use these as a staring point for your own washes.

For this particular tutorial, I'll show you how to create a light black wash that causes bleeding and distortion of the underlying stroke. The image above and to the right is an example I created using nothing but Studio Artist's built-in Crayon tool and some washes I put together in the Paint Synthesizer. And below you'll see an example of four strokes, three of which show the kinds of washes I used in that image.

The stroke on the left is a straight line that looks something like a Conté crayon (using the Crackle 1 preset under the Crayon category that comes standard with Studio Artist). The second stroke uses a wash that doesn't interact at all with the Conté stroke but that just applies a tint to the surrounding canvas. Next, you see the stroke with a wash applied (with hard pressure) to create bleeding. And on the right you see the wash applied with medium pressure to produce more of a blur than a bleed and also distortion of the Conté stroke. You can create all of these fairly easily using Studio Artist's Paint Synthesizer, and you can save the resulting Paint Patches for future use so that you don't have to recreate the wash every time you want to use it.

First, just pick a preset you want to modify to turn it into a wash. I'll start, as usual, with the first brush in the General category, Bristle Paint-Contoured. Now we'll do some tweaking to make it behave like a wash.

So switch into Paint Synthesizer mode and select the category Paint Fill. Use the following settings:

Fill From: Canvas Image
Modulate: Mult
Mod %: 2
Fill To: Canvas Image
Fill Option: Blend

Now try applying this setting over a regular Conté crayon stroke. You can already stop right there. You have a bristly wash. But you can also take it a little further without much trouble. In the same Paint Fill palette, change the Algorithm to Mix Apply/Displace Out. Right under that, switch Replace to Dif Darken. And change the Blend % to 12. Now try applying it again.

Left to right: A plain Conté stroke; Bristle Paint-Contoured;
the first set of changes; the second set of changes.

What you'll notice is that the first set of changes produced a gray wash that also can darken any underlying strokes but doesn't do anything really interesting. The second set of changes added some clumpiness and added the ability to create much more significant bleed on the underlying stroke. (To mellow this out a bit, you can bring down the blend percentage.)

One of the things you might notice whenever you use Mix Apply/Displace Out is that you get some spacing along your stroke. If you want to cut down this spacing (or increase it), go into the Path Application panel of the Paint Synthesizer and adjust the parameter called "Spacing %." If you take it down to 0, you should get smoother paths.

In this pane, you'll also see a parameter called "Displace," which, by default, is set to None. Now, maybe you don't want your wash to distort your stroke, but this parameter can also be used for some other interesting effects.

The four examples above all use the same Paint Fill parameters we discussed earlier. The only difference is their Displace mode. The one on the left uses Chaotic; the second uses Uniform Random 2D; the third uses Rossler; and the fourth uses Luminance. All subsettings are default. (You will find all four of these in the downloadable set of washes I've created.) Play around with other forms of displacement as well. Some will distort your strokes into wavy curves. Others will, like the ones above, add depth and texture to a simple stroke.

We can also change the type of brush being used to produce even more varied effects. You make these changes under the Paint Synthesizer palette called "Brush Type," which, by default, is set to Procedural Brush. Change these settings to produce variations seen below.

The image on the left is a Procedural Brush; the second is a Source Brush; the third is a Stretch1 Source Brush; and the fourth is a Computational Stretch.

Finally, you're probably going to want to modify the height and width of the wash you're using, since, typically, washes are applied with less delicate tools. To change the size of the brush, go into the Paint Synthesizer palette called "Brush Source." To alter the size of the brush, change the Horizontal and Vertical parameters. (For values higher than 100, you just have to enter the number manually rather than using the slider.) In this same palette, you can also change the shape of the brush by tweaking the Corner Pull, Pre Sym and Post Sym values.

If you have no use for Computational Brushes, you can also import an image to use as a brush, in which case the size will be determined by the image you bring in. To do this, change the Brush Source to Image. Then select the File menu and choose "New Image Brush...." Select your image, and you're good to go.

In our examples, you can also use pressure from an input tablet to determine the size of the brush you're using, in which case the values you've entered represent the maximum size of the brush. (The same applies to image brushes; just remember that large images can slow things down.) Download my 20 wash presets and other Studio Artist presets at http://www.creativemac.com/downloads/studioartist/index.htm. For more information about Studio Artist or to download a demo, visit http://www.synthetik.com.

Dave Nagel is the producer of Creative Mac and Digital Media Designer; host of several World Wide User Groups, including Synthetik Studio Artist, Adobe Photoshop, Adobe InDesign, Adobe LiveMotion, Creative Mac and Digital Media Designer; and executive producer of the Digital Media Net family of publications. You can reach him at dnagel@digitalmedianet.com.

All artwork copyright ©2001 by David Nagel.

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