It’s easy to get wrapped up in the minutiae of digital painting and find yourself frustrated by small details. I've complained publicly about the inability to bind certain keyboard shortcuts in Photoshop, and we've all complained about the CC pricing model. This week, though, let’s take a few steps back and see the big picture: software is essentially magic.
Historically, painting has only gone in one direction: forward. Even with the slowest-drying oil paints, it’s always been easier to add paint than to remove accidental strokes. Making marks is easier than erasing them. In the days of typewriters (and before that, the quill), a single mistake might have required a fresh page. And now we have undo. Triggered in an instant, Ctrl+Z represented a sea-change in our relationship with creative tools. Don’t like what you just tried? Undo it. Try again. Now we can confidently throw down pigment, fearless of permanent consequences… and it’s a huge deal. But it doesn't stop there: in the decades since the advent of “undo”, we've been given an increasingly powerful assortment of pixel-bending tools.
Up, Down, and Backwards
Digital painting, video editing, and visual effects require increasingly “non-linear” techniques. In Photoshop we have layers, allowing us to work on the background separately from the foreground. I’m able to “finish” a painting, and later decide to radically change the main character’s colors. It only takes a moment, and I can easily save the original as an undamaged copy. Motion graphics artists have the ability to re-use and re-mix elements of their footage, and DJs are able to trigger samples of their record collection through single key-presses. In the video to the right, I talk about using modular chunks to design robots. All of this is magic. It’s absurd power, but due to shifting baselines we rarely consider the historical significance of our situation. To me it might seem like a huge deal when Photoshop adds a new feature, but the actual big deal is that Photoshop exists in the first place. And that it doesn't require a room-sized machine to crunch numbers.
Take a moment today to consider how amazing computer software is. I’m serious. It’s too easy to get wrapped up in the moment-to-moment of the digital art world, forgetting the larger significance of our industry. I’m teaching you about a subject that didn’t exist when I was born, and it’s being transmitted to your computer on an infrastructure unimaginable by my grandparents. Doesn't that blow your mind a little bit? We’ve got boundless power at our fingertips … so what are we going to paint? Let’s do something great with these tools.