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Some Thoughts on My Corner of the Digital Art World


I’m always surprised by how little snobbery I encounter when I tell people I am a digital artist who focuses on photo manipulation. I don’t know if this is because the genre’s largely been accepted as a legitimate art form or because people are just genuinely ignorant about it so don’t know enough to adopt a snobby attitude. I suspect it’s a little from Column A and little from Column B. That being said, I thought it might finally be time to educate people a little about what I do.

What is photo manipulation? Generally, it’s when you take elements from different photos and combine to create a new art piece. Ideally, these elements will include purchased stock photography or stock that’s been offered gratis. (It’s considered in pretty bad form to use stock that is not purchased or freely given in photo manipulation , especially if you intend to sell your works.) It’s also not unusual for manipulators to use tubes (photographic elements that have already been cut out) or 3-D renders. And many manipulators also digitally paint on top of their works. So take all these elements, and you have the basics of what photo manipulation is.

Does manipulation sound simple? It’s not, really. There’s lots you have to keep in mind when creating a cohesive piece. Light and shading, for instance.  Unless you’re doing surreal, you have to make sure light values are similar.  And shading can be tricky. Many manipulators have not mastered it, and you must if you just plain ol’ want your piece to look good. Shading is what keeps things from looking as if they’re just floating about. You have to “ground” objects and models with shading. (Unless, of course, you’re doing a surreal piece…then pretty much take all my rules and toss them out the window.)

In this piece, I had to make sure I made a little shadow beneath her back, so it would really look as if she were lounging on the big pear. I also had to create shadows beneath her fingers so it would look as if she were grasping the little pear.

“The Fruits of Inspiration”

In this example, you can also see that I’ve painted her hair. Many manipulators do this to give pieces a more painterly look. Yes, it is a huge pain the butt. And, yes, many manipulators are bad at painting hair. It’s not just that you have to paint each strand, you have to–if you’re on your game–make sure you light and shade the hair properly. It is–almost without exception–my least favorite part of the process.

But back to the elements. Depending on how anal the artist is (guess how anal I am…go on, guess) each element, be it tube, render, photo, etc. will probably be independently manipulated, i.e., the artist will tamper with its brightness, contrast, color, and sizing. If the artist is me, she may even paint on top of it (adding highlights and such). I also paint make up on all my models. Some artists (*cough* me) even warp images. Think sort of, like, painting using a brush that warps/distorts.

Once the elements are together, the artist may add filters that alter the color, brightness, or add texture(s) on top of everything. So manipulation ends up–depending on how complex your compositions are–being a fairly involved process.

Manipulations are most often made with digital imaging software like Gimp or Adobe Photoshop. The compositions are made up layers. Each element will have its own layer. Most of my works are made up of roughly 100 layers. That is a lot.

Photo manipulation is fantastic and fun and I love it but there are some artists who use the medium to crank out banal, cliched crap. Think prettily-attired gothy girl standing in front of a blurred forest with some nature or architectural element in the foreground. Now think it over and over and over again. There’s a lot of this garbage. Some of this garbage is so finely-rendered it’s transcends its banality. Most of its not. Happily, there is lots and lots of arresting and original photo manipulation out there. Manipulation that makes me feel like a fraud, like a hack. This is the stuff you should search out. This is the kind of stuff that keeps me inspired.

“House of Agoraphobics” by nina-Y
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