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2.1 Document Setup and References

In the first lesson of this chapter, we'll cover everything you need to know about properly setting up your document for high-resolution digital paintings. Learn why it's important to break away from the norm when establishing the dimensions. Then we'll take our first look at the photo references we're using.

2.1 Document Setup and References

Hello and welcome back to Surreal Digital Paintings. My name is Melody Nieves, and this is the first lesson of chapter two. In this lesson, we'll cover everything you need to know about setting up your documents in Photoshop CC to work perfectly for your digital paintings. We'll discuss the common dimensions artists use, and how to break out of your comfort zone when it comes to choosing new document sizes. Then we will take a quick look at the references we're using, where you can download them from, and the best way to organize them when working on a surrealistic painting. Let's get started by answering this question. Do you have a preference when it comes to certain painting sizes? For instance, do you tend to always make 8.5x11 or 9x12 inch paintings? If you answered yes to this question, you may be getting into the habit of sticking to a certain painting orientation or size, which can lead to limiting yourself during the compositional process. Personally, I am definitely guilty of this. If you take a look at some of my older paintings, you can see that I typically favor a portrait over landscape orientation. And the dimensions for these paintings are most likely at eight by ten or eight and a half by eleven inches at 300 dpi. Now don't get me wrong, keeping all your paintings around the same size is not necessarily a problem. In fact, as artists, we usually like to make things easy on ourselves by creating art at sizes that commonly used for printing. And since printing costs can run up a pretty penny, it's always good to know that you can stick to a few standard options that are more affordable. But just because it's perceived to be easier, more affordable, or the standard in printing, doesn't mean that it's the best scenario for your painting. What I mean, is that in order to create the best work possible, sometimes you just have to break the mold. I truly believe that each new painting has the potential to be a great new learning experience. Over time, you can develop habits that show through your work, making it obvious that you prefer a certain type of composition and where your areas of weakness are. By using the same document sizes over and over again, it might be harder to break these habits. So the only way to make sure you do, is to change things up. For this painting, I am stepping away from my usual 8.5 x 11 inch document size and moving to a document of 18 x 18 inches. Or 5400 by 5400 pixels at 300 dpi. This document size creates a nice square. Comparing this sheet to my old size, it might not look like that much of a difference visually, but the eight and a half by eleven inch document is a bit narrow. By changing the sheet to a square instead of a rectangle, I'll be able to fit more details into my composition, for an even more dynamic painting. Let's quickly take a look at this idea in action. I'm going to copy and paste the sketch for this painting, onto both the 8.5 x 11 and 18 x 18 inch document sizes. Notice how much of the composition gets cut off on the first one. So many details get lost, simply because there just isn't enough room. Trying to fit your composition into a tight squeeze like this one can really hurt your work. And even if I try to re size the sketch to fit it all in the space, this would still create unnecessary space that would make the painting look awkward and poorly composed. I will admit, however, that when I initially drew the rough sketch, I started out at the usual eight and a half by eleven inches. But once I realized I wanted to fit more into the composition, I changed the canvas size. You can do this easily by going to image, canvas, and changing the width and height to add more inches to your document. If I had kept the original size, I probably would have been really disappointed with my composition. But by allowing myself to explore other options, I was able to create a sketch that I'd love. But as you can imagine, this document creates a very large file. Ideally, you want to strive to create paintings at a resolution of 300 DPI. DPI stands for dots per inch and is a term used for printing that allows you to create a high resolution painting that is perfect for printing. As a rule of thumb, the higher the resolution, the better. Large resolutions allow you to print massive sizes while smaller resolutions, like 72 DPI, are only really good for posting your work online. Most digital artists paint at 300 DPI or even higher, however, because this creates a large file size, it might slow down your computer and create a knowing brush lag. To change this, you can either change the width and height of your image size or bring the DPI down just a touch. So maybe instead of 18 by 18 inches, you will have a 12 by 12 inch document instead. But try not to go below a resolution of at least 150 DPI or else your painting might suffer greatly during the printing process. If you still find yourself having problems with file size, consider merging your layers often, or even saving your painting over several files. Because of the massive size of this painting, I saved this painting over multiple files as I got further and further to the result. By the end, it took nine separate files to avoid considerable computer lag. Now that we know how the document should be set up, lets take a quick look at our references and how you should organize your work space for this painting. Typically, I like to remove mostly every panel except for the layers panel to save on valuable space. If you followed along with my other courses, you may remember that I always position a reference right next to the painting document and have them both on separate windows. By having everything in front of me, it really makes the process much easier. But, unlike previous courses, I'll need to be able to look at more than just one reference at a time. To do this easily, simply create a new document and copy and paste each reference onto it's own layer. You can resize the references by hitting Ctrl+T to free transform them so that they fit into the document better. If you feel like you might lose detail by making the picture smaller, then just use the move tool when you're painting to see those details better. For this painting, I'll be using a total of ten references. I'll cover more on these references later. But it's important to note that the visibility of all the layers should not be on. Doing so will make your reference file look really messy. To keep your focus on one reference at a time, hide the visibility of all the other layers and only keep the picture you need in that moment. Since the woman and her necklace are such an important factor of this composition, you'll notice that this is the main image that I'll need to look at. The only other time you might see a change in this work space is towards the end of the painting. Having references close by is great for making sure that your painting has the realism that it needs. But because so much changes throughout the course of this process, eventually the references get a bit distracting. So when you need to focus on only the painting alone, simply dock all the windows. You'll still have your references close by. They'll just be out of the way until you need to click over to peek at them again. Although it may seem like a simple step, setting up your document and work space is an important part of the painting process. Now that we know a little bit more about what we're working with, we can take a look at the brushes we'll be using for this course. So join me in lesson 2.2, where we'll cover some settings you'll need to know and the types of preset brushes that are perfect for the surreal digital painting.

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