A couple of weeks ago I attended a presentation by Digital Painter Bert Monroy. Bert wrote the first book I ever saw and used about computer art. It was a tips and tricks book for Photoshop 1.0! I loved that book. Bert demonstrated how to paint photo-realistically in Photoshop. I devoured every tutorial (how to paint glass, metal, chrome, etc.) and his book set me off with a thirst for experimenting with painting in the computer. I was still in college – art grad school – at the time and already knew that I had the computer bug and would somehow be a computer artist and digital storyteller. This was around 1990!
25 years have gone by and it was fascinating to see the different paths our art has taken. Like Bert, I was originally fascinated by how I could create all the objects in a digital painting on a separate layer – this allowed me to move things around and change / edit objects very easily because everything was always a separate piece on its own layer in the master file. I did not flatten (meld all the layers) the file until I was ready to make a print version, and always kept the master file with its layers intact, too. But, over the years, I grew tired of having such huge files as layers went from a few to a few hundred in a painting (the more advanced computers became, the more layers – larger file size – we could work with). I also began to notice that once a painting was finished, I never went back to its layered file like I had thought I would. Eventually, I gave up that layering technique. Really the last painting I painted all on layers was Digital Olympia (which I will link to here when I have a minute). That was a 60 inch wide digital painting printed on a huge piece of water color paper and displayed so far only once at the Digital Eclectic group show at the Art Institute of Hollywood around 2010. It was very high resolution, and had to be printed that large to see the details I had painted into it – like all the facets on the stones in the model’s ruby necklace.
I still use layers – but for different purposes now: for instance, I might paint the shadow of a face on a layer above it, or I might apply an effect to one layer and then meld that layer with another. But today, I have developed different digital techniques, and I treat my digital canvas more as a canvas: I commit most of my art moves to one layer, and if I don’t like it, I undo it or start again.
Bert Monroy, meanwhile, demonstrated the other night how he has taken layer work to the ultimate. His files are HUGE, he still paints every object on a separate layer, and he showed us one painting that had 70,000 layers. Ayee! What he now has to do, just to keep track of everything, and to make the size manageable even with our way more powerful computers, is to create each object in a separate file. So, for instance, in a city scene, one lamppost will be in its own file, and contain hundreds or thousands of layers. Rather than flattening one big layered file at the end, when he is ready to print, he actually has to assemble a printer version from all the separate files. Wow. Yes, our process paths have definitely diverged.
I admire his work still – but I see it as more “constructivist” to my “painterly.” If you go to his website, you will see billboard sized paintings at extremely high resolution. Zoom into them and you realize that what he has done is to capture all the minute detail of his objects thanks to the ability to paint at such high resolution today. He builds a digital painting like an architect and contractor construct an elaborate building. I, on the other hand, have abandoned that construction aspect of creating digital paintings and turned to a more painterly approach – one that makes use of all the digital options that are not available when painting in oil on canvas. For me now the purpose of painting is more about the meaning, the feeling, the ambience, the composition, than the construction.
This is not to demean Bert’s constructivist technique at all – what strikes me is that the world of digital art has actually grown quite sophisticated over the last 20-30 years, yet the public and art critics still think of it as a new thing! There is an entire history of style, technique, evolution that really should be documented – but I don’t think much of that is being done. Bert is touring for Adobe Software, not the Metropolitan Museum. Most of us working in this world have been so passionate about our working that we have spent little time making it public; there is also, of course, the fact that there was so much prejudice about digital (computer) art in the early days that many of us kinda pulled out of the mainstream art world – they didn’t want us in their club, so some of us retreated and just worked making art (an in my case, writing interactive multimedia books and composing music, too). I am posting this art and story so at least I have made an effort to document more of digital art’s history.
You can find Bert’s amazing work at bertmonroy.com.
The painting I am posting here is one I painted this month for my Calendar Month Series in Bert’s honor (it’s on one layer): October 2015 – iPhone and Coffee.