Sunrise, Sunset – Combining Subjects in Photoshop and Corel Painter

I wanted to give my father-in-law a canvas print for his birthday and chose a photo of my granddaughter playing her violin with him in his living room.  But the lighting wasn’t great (the original was very dark) and the background distracting, so I found a photo of the lake from their back deck and tried to see if I could merge the two pictures.

Here’s the original photograph:


This is the lake view that I wanted to modify for a background:


I started by cutting out the two figures in Photoshop:

Violin Crop 1

Violin Crop 2

I pasted the two figures in over the lake photo and played with the proportions until they looked correct.Pasting in the Subjects

It looks funny right now, but that will be cleaned up later.  Next I open Corel Painter (this was done in X3).  I make a clone of the edited photo and begin using brushes to get the look I want (I use chalk, pastel and camel oil cloners).


I begin refining and simplifying some of the background and trees by using brushes directly, just as if I were painting on a canvas. There are so many options – every type of brush and medium you can imagine!

This is the final painting…I called it “Sunrise, Sunset” and he loved it 🙂

Sunrise, Sunset

Because this was sent to a printing service to be put on a stretched canvas, I used a transform tool in Photoshop to extend the painting over the sides of the canvas.  This is what it looked like when I emailed it to the printer – I left the gallery wrap edges transparent so you can see how I stretched the image.  The image was 16″ x 20″ at 200 dpi and I extended it 2″ on each side for wrapping.  The actual file was full color.  Some printing services will do the wrap extension for you, or you can choose a solid color for the sides.

If you’re a traditional artist, this is a great way to plan your composition and then use as a reference for your painting.

Sunrise, Sunset Gallery Wrap

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Corel Painter and Digital Art – A Whole New World of Painting for the Disabled

For those of you who are disabled, you know how discouraging it can be to get your paint out, set up your canvas and then feel too tired to actually paint.  Some days it’s hard for me to sit at my easel or table long enough to get anything accomplished.

So to save time I decided to plan my paintings first on a program called Corel Painter.  I got version X3 on eBay, and Santa gave me a Wacom Intuos Pro tablet for Christmas.

My library has subscriptions to that I can access online for free, so I watched Corel Painter tutorials to get a feel for the program.  I was really excited about the possibilities, but realized I could best utilize it if I did the photo prep work in Photoshop.  So I subscribed to Adobe’s Creative Cloud Photoshop program rather than buying a new version (mine was very old!) for $10 a month which automatically updates.  And since so many wonderful new features have been added I watched tutorials for that, too.

I started by picking a photo I wanted to work with and learned how to remove distractions in the background.  This was from my daughter’s wedding…it was a very low resolution shot taken on an older digital camera, and there are other people in the background (like the pastor laughing!), so it was not something that could be blown up and hung on a wall.

Wedding Kiss

Corel Painter has something called clone painting where you start with the photo on virtual tracing paper, then choose a brush to begin to “paint” the photo underneath.  While you can duplicate it exactly with certain brushes, you can also do very interpretive work which was what I was after.  In general, the larger the brush, the less detail, and you work your way from blocking in color and shapes to bringing out more detail by using smaller and smaller brushes.

Wedding Kiss - Corel PainterI was pretty pleased with my first attempt.  It’s one thing to watch tutorials, but it’s another to put them into practice and the best way to learn is jump in.  The great thing about doing a digital painting (I call it a BrushUp) is that you can undo a mistake or totally change something without waiting for paint to dry or, as is often in the case of watercolor, having to start over.

If you just want to clone a picture and make it look more like a painting, there are a lot of apps and programs online that are free.  One of the most popular is FotoSketcher.  It’s fun to play with and I have used it many times to plan watercolor paintings.

However if you want to be able to change backgrounds, details, and even paint just like traditional media onto a virtual canvas, Painter is the way to go.  We all have snapshots that are really great poses (the spontaneous photos always look more natural) but the background may be cluttered or just too distracting.  Here’s an example of a snapshot taken of my granddaughter in a costume:


She looks adorable, but it would be even better if I could take her out of the kitchen and give her a dreamy setting:


So you can see the possibilities.  There are many great tutorials on YouTube, also. I have hundreds of family photos, landscapes and animal photos that I’m anxious to “brush up.”  Since I’m just getting started, I’ll post some of my before and after attempts.  Maybe some day I’ll be proficient enough to start giving tips!

Posted in Acrylic Painting, Art Therapy, Digital Art, Non-Toxic Art Supplies, Painting Your Family | Tagged , , , , | 4 Comments

Revisiting Acrylics – Hope for the Chemically Sensitive?

Over the past four years I have sampled many brands of acrylics and had reactions ranging from mild (dizziness) to severe (throat closing off).  I knew oils were not an option, so I pretty much gave up on having an opaque medium to work with other than gouache.

Around Christmas I bought some used art supplies, and in the box was a small set of Daler Rowney System 3 Acrylics.  Before getting rid of them I thought I’d try a little test on some watercolor paper since I was curious about using acrylics on an absorbent surface.  I put on a charcoal mask and neoprene gloves.  I could still smell the acrylics a bit but it didn’t bother me at all.  I waited a few days and decided to try them again, this time without the mask, and again I had no reaction.  I even got some on my hands and didn’t have a problem which was very encouraging.

One challenge was the drying time.  Since I live in a very dry climate, the paint was practically dry before I could do the next series of strokes!  So I talked to my art store manager and he suggested mixing in a little of Golden’s Open Acrylics gloss medium to slow the drying time.  I was very skeptical since I have severe reactions to Golden paints.  But I was willing to give it a try.  Again, no reaction.

I began to wonder if I was just getting over my sensitivities to some acrylic polymers so I opened a couple of other acrylic brands that I had and immediately reacted.  So the bad news is I’m still sensitive to most acrylics, but the good news is that I have a brand and a medium I can tolerate.  This opened up a whole new world for me.

My first painting was a mountain lion for a swap on the Southwest And Western Art forum on Wet Canvas. This was how he turned out:


It was so much fun!  Next I decided to do a painting for my grandkids who love the Paw Patrol cartoon show:


This is my youngest grandson opening the package 🙂


It was great to be able to ship a painting without worrying about glass breaking.  I found an acrylic varnish I tolerate as long as I use it outside with a mask, so I can do kid-proof paintings now!

More on acrylics in my next post…

Posted in Acrylic Painting, Multiple Chemical Sensitivity, Non-Toxic Art Supplies, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments

Catching Up!

It’s been ages since I’ve posted.  Shortly after I wrote the previous post, I was hospitalized and had a severe reaction to a medication which resulted in heart failure.  It took months to recover and I had so little energy I didn’t do much painting.  I’m finally well enough to feel like taking up where I left off!

This was my 2013 Christmas painting.  The reference photo was taken by Seth Casteel, an amazing pet photographer (used with permission).  He caught the doxies “kissing” and I added the mistletoe 🙂  This was my first experiment with gallery wrapped canvas which is watercolor paper soaked and stapled over a traditional canvas.  When it’s dry, you can paint it and then seal so that it can be hung without a frame.  8″ x 10″

Under the Mistletoe

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Remembering Willie

A few weeks ago a good friend emailed me to let me know her beautiful Doberman named Willie had died of heart failure.  He had a condition called dilated cardiomyopathy and his parents and brothers had already been taken by the inherited disease.

Willie was such a dear.  He loved to chase bubbles and play with his companion, Annie.  Losing a pet is such a heart-wrenching experience and I wanted to do something for my friend, so I painted this watercolor of Willie.  It shows his fun-loving nature as well as his serious side.

Remembering Willie

Remembering Willie

One of the greatest joys of being an artist is opportunity to capture a memory on paper.  And one of the reasons I work diligently to improve my skills is to be able to give the best interpretation possible.

When you paint, find something that you feel passionate about, but also look for subjects that can touch others and show them that you value what they value.  It could be a favorite cafe, a beautiful bouquet or a cherished pet.  This shared bond is what connects the art and the viewer and it gives your paintings a guaranteed place of honor in their lives.

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Deciding What to Paint

I love looking at artists’ websites and seeing what subjects they choose to paint.  It might be flowers, landscapes, pets, children, friends, cars or even favorite restaurants.  But it is usually something that is meaningful to them and worth capturing on paper.

When you choose a subject for your painting, it needs to be something that will hold your attention through the process and that will keep you motivated to work through the “ugly stage.”

My favorite subjects are animals and people so I spend a lot of time at the zoo and at nearby parks looking for ideas for painting.  A few weeks ago I was taking some pictures at our local zoo and saw three children holding hands and walking down the hillside toward the giraffe exhibit.  They were so cute and I snapped a quick photo before they disappeared.  It turned out to be the best shot of the day.  I was looking for a good composition for a small painting to enter in a show and they kept me entertained.


Sometimes we think we have to look for some exotic location or unusual subject for our paintings, but often the best compositions are right in front of us…literally!

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Watercolor Paints

Watercolor Paints

This is a topic that I could write pages about, but I’ll try to keep this a quick introduction.  There are basically two types of watercolor paints, pan (dry), and tube (wet).  There are even liquid watercolors if you prefer using them premixed. You probably remember using pan paints like the set on the left when you were in elementary school art class.  they are non-toxic and inexpensive.  My first few paintings were done with a set of Prang watercolors.  The pan set in the middle is an inexpensive assortment from Michaels.  They are fun for learning – all you need is water and a brush.

However as my skills improved and I wanted to do some paintings to hang on the wall, I found out that these cheaper paint sets often contain pigments that are not lightfast.  I did a little test by painting strips of color and putting the paper in a sunny window for a few months.  The red and purple colors either faded or vanished completely.  Even my little Koi watercolor field kit that I love had many colors that were not stable.  So they’re fine for sketchbooks which will not be exposed to light or just for practice, but if you’re serious about art, you need to look for lightfast, artist grade paints.

Tube paints are used by squeezing some of the paint onto a palette containing wells or onto a surface like a porcelain plate or pan.  There are many different types which I’ll cover in another post, but even the tube paints have two different quality distinctions.  Student grade is less expensive and you can do decent paintings, but the ratio of pigment to binder (usually gum arabic or honey) is much lower so it can be hard to get intense color.  Artist grade paints seem a lot more expensive, but they take much less to get the same results.

Every artist has their own preference but my two favorite brands are M. Graham and Daniel Smith.  Both of these companies are environmentally conscious and produce excellent products for the price.  The tubes seem small compared to acrylic or oil tubes, but you use very little.  A tube of watercolor can easily last you a couple of years and usually even longer.  Be sure to check lightfast ratings when you buy paint.  They are listed on the manufacturers’ websites and on the tubes.  If you want your paintings to last without fading, always choose excellent/permanent lightfast ratings.

Lightfast Rating

Because of my health issues I stay away from any pigments containing cadmium and cobalt. These are considered toxic and while it would take a considerable amount to have symptoms, it’s best to avoid them if you can.  Some people have pets that like to drink their rinse water when they’re painting and I have seen some very sad stories about their animals dying from poisoning.   Lead is no longer allowed in paints.  It’s always a good idea to wash your hands before eating because pigments are made from various chemical and natural sources that can cause some mild symptoms.  Never lick your brush to get a point! I like online stores that clearly show the pigments that are considered toxic:  Look for this symbol.


It is possible to get artist grade pan paints. These are popular with artists who paint outdoors just because they are easy to carry in travel palettes.  But I have never seen a set that didn’t include toxic pigments, so I don’t use them.   I just squeeze some of my tube paints into a cheap plastic palette with a lid.  My M. Graham paints stay moist and are easy to rehydrate.  If you live in a humid climate, tube paints are prone to mold, especially if they are kept in a closed palette,  so pans may be a better choice.

To summarize, artist grade paints have a higher pigment load and will go further.  Some pigments are toxic so read labels carefully.  Certain pigments fade or even disappear over time with light exposure.  Check lightfast ratings to determine how permanent a particular paint will be.

If you have questions about a particular brand or pigment, feel free to contact me!

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