The Computer: A Model for Modern Painting

About five or six years ago I got interested in the computer and its incredible potential for making art. If I’m having a bad day in the studio, I’ll take a picture of the painting I’m working on with a digital camera and 30 seconds later it’s on the computer. Using a variety of software programs (e.g. Adobe’s Photoshop or Illustrator), I can manipulate the colors, composition and even the viewpoint. I can work out problems and try new ideas without the worry of ruining a good painting.

But my use of the computer for artistic purposes doesn’t end there. Looking for ways to take full advantage of the technology available, I also use the computer to study my subject matter and to explore the works of the Masters. I can even create interesting subjects to paint, as I did when I was working on a series of barbershop paintings.

Creating a Scene
I had scoured the city for the “perfect” barbershop—the kind you always see in movies, but invariably the ones I visited were too small or the decor just wasn’t right. So I built my own—not with brick and mortar but with computer pixels. Using Strata’s StudioPro, an integrated software system that has three-dimensional modeling, rendering and animation features, I was able to create a three-dimensional model of my ideal barbershop. I furnished it with barber chairs, a counter and little tables with newspapers scattered about. I even created mirrors that produced multiple reflections and played with various patterns for the shop floor.

Reconstructing the Masters
Similarly, I’ve used computer-generated, three-dimensional models to study the works of my favorite painters. For instance, I was interested in how Jan Vermeer used light and composed space, so I created a model of one of his best known paintings, Young Woman with a Jug. It wasn’t an exact replica, but I had the essential elements—a woman standing at a window, a table and a pitcher. See my study, Any Two Vermeers (watercolor, 28 x 37). By using the cursor to move through the model, I got a real sense of how Vermeer worked and what he may have been thinking about. I’ve come to believe that he was almost a pre-Cubist because of the way he built two-dimensional space in boxes to create the illusion of three-dimensional objects. Vermeer worked with the camera obscura and I suspect he would have found my three-dimensional models intriguing. In fact, I think all of the great masters would be quick to embrace computers. They were open to other “revolutionary” ideas like perspective, so why not?

Lights, Computer, Action!
The computer also offers me the opportunity to study movement in a way I otherwise couldn’t. I’d been doing these drawings in my sketchbook of a person jumping. See my study, Hop, Skip and Jump (watercolor, 28 x 37). When I flipped the pages of the sketchbook, the person actually looked as if he were moving—like the process of animation. To better study this movement, I wanted to turn my sketches into a movie. I scanned the drawings into my computer and cut and pasted them so they were sequential on a single page. I then printed them out and projected them onto my watercolor paper, so I could trace the images. After I’d painted each frame, I took a picture of the finished painting and then scanned that picture into the computer. To create separate animation cells, I broke the image back into individual paintings. I then used StudioPro’s morphing tool to connect the first two images and fill in all the differences between the paintings. I repeated the process to connect image two to image three, then image three to image four, and so on, until I had a complete animated film. Using the program’s animation feature, I could then run the film like a movie on my computer and study the figure’s movements. As a result of my work with animation, I’ve been able to create the illusion of movement on a two-dimensional surface.

Joshua J. Kaufman, Esq., is an intellectual property attorneys with the Venable law firm in Washington, D.C. He represents artists, galleries and publishers thorughout the United States.

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