What is Pixel Painting?


This content was written by ChromaZone Ink, Melbourne FL

“Who is the Artist, You or the Computer?”

During the early 2000s, those were “fightin’ words” if you said that to a digital artist!

With the relatively new era of digital art back then, too many people did not understand that the computer was simply another tool that an Artist would use to create their images.  A big, boxy, digital paintbrush guided by an awkward collection of bristles called a mouse.  Early artistic adopters learned that if they used their computer screen as the canvas instead of a stretched canvas, and their mouse instead of their brush, that they could re-create their art at a much faster rate (once they got through the learning curve of the software!), and make variations of the art without wasting paint or time cleaning brushes and waiting for layers to dry!  Couple that with the added benefit that they did not subject themselves to the constant smell of turpentine or go through a case of paper towels a week, and it is easy to see why the “techier” of the creatives turned to creating with a computer.  Contributing to the case for digitizing the palette is the canvas printing industry, where an artist no longer has to guess which works will be popular and print them in large quantities.  Nope, canvas printing on demand has lessened the financial burden and allows creatives to test the market with one or two prints before investing in an entire edition at one time. ChromaZone Ink Canvas Printing specializes in this! 321-312-4800 | 800-501-2901.

We Salute the Innovators!

ChromaZone Ink Canvas Printing salutes the industrious “artrepreneurs” who were able to take advantage of the blossoming digital age!  But too many “traditionalists” mistakenly thought that all the digital artist had to do was push a few buttons and out came the art and printing on canvas.  Thankfully today, the act of creating art on a computer is more appropriately entitled “Pixel Painting” and this article will explain the three different ways to create pixel paintings.  Hopefully we will enhance your appreciation for digital artists and the struggles these pioneers had to endure, until technology evolutions started making digital media look more like traditional media with electronic tablets and graphite-less Bluetooth pencils!

1. Pixel Paintings Created From Scratch

Adobe Illustrator, Procreate, Photoshop are just a few of the mega-powerful software programs that can mimic a palette of paints, brushes and the many layers artists often use to create effects of depth.  While there are filters to run to apply different effects to a layer, here is no “one button” that an artist can press to create a work of art, as many critics claim.  The computer programs all have the same elements as an artist’s studio, and still require that each element be used to create a different visual ingredient, they just make it cleaner, faster and a lot easier to store.  An artist still needs to know how colors interact with each other, and still needs to know the basics of line, form, positive and negative space.  Additionally, these new-era artists are more tech-savvy and have the ability to learn the software on top of the artistic elements.  What many critics of digital art do not realize is that artists can even create their own set of brushes in the software.  Whether it be a fan brush to paint “happy little trees” like Bob Ross, or a spray can swoosh for an airbrush effect- it takes time and talent, but THOSE paint brushes never leave stray bristles on your canvas that need to be picked off with tweezers, nor do they deteriorate if you don’t clean them thoroughly!

3. Pixel Paintings Created From Photographs

Photoshop users may recognize this image.  It is one example of how digital artists can take a combination of photographs and different design elements and merge them into one work of art.
Photo of our cat looking out a sliding glass door on a rainy day.
Brush strokes added, color intensified via software, gave him the “CEO” background treatment. (He pretty much IS our CEO!)

This can be a fun one, because with the appropriate software, like Adobe Photoshop you can take actual photos and do amazing alterations, like the “Adobe Photoshop Splash Screen Girl” on the left.  If you prefer more traditional and painterly art, some software programs like Corel Painter actually give you the ability to move “paint” (pixels) around on a canvas (computer screen) to change colors and shapes to change a photograph into a more painterly piece like the image.  This is actually a service ChromaZone Ink Canvas Printing Orlando offers, (see the “Services” menu item).  Many people have a favorite photograph or portrait and they want a painting made out of it for aesthetic reasons – remember, art collecting is usually a sign of prestige for the cultured and elite, so having a painted portrait hanging over the fireplace or in the office of the breadwinner is “a must” in many upscale homes!  However, a portrait painted from scratch can take months to create and thousands…and thousands of dollars!  Enter this practice of pixel shifting and embellishing that we call “pixel painting”. 

Specifically, a photograph is taken into an image editing software program like Photoshop or Corel Painter (and in many cases BOTH) like the cat image in the center.  An artist uses a set of brushes and filters to reshape the perfectly captured image into a series of thousands of brush strokes.  Just like with actual paints, the artist may add or adjust colors, lighting and shapes to achieve a painterly look to create a different “feel” like the cat image on the right, or to simply flatter the subject matter.  Once the artist is happy with the digital image, the next step is to have ChromaZone Ink Canvas Printing output the creation onto canvas.  A proof is run first, so the artist can compare our color to the original and when the artist approves, we print the final and stretch it for them in the size chosen by the client. 

The final step in this kind of art is the “embellishing.”  (ChromaZone Ink also offers embellishing and has written a document on how to do so. Learn more here.) Embellishing is when layers of gels and paints, or any medium for that matter, are added on top of the canvas to further enhance the work and give it the tactile feel of paintings done by masters of the past.  The entire process takes many days because oil paints are often used and they still have a long dry-time before other layers of paint or shipping materials can be added.

Now some people may think this is “cheating” because the base image is not drawn by hand.  Allow us to remind or enlighten you that even the old masters like Michelangelo and Leonardo Da Vinci often used “Camera Obscura” to project likenesses of their subjects onto surfaces and traced the outlines of their subject matter.  Projecting has always been, and still is quite a popular method for artists to lay down their base image.

3. Fractal Art

Known as “SMART”art, (Science, Math and Art) Fractals were and probably still are the most debated form of art and the most often abused by SOME digital enthusiasts who began to call themselves artists.  In its most basic form, a fractal is a mathematical equation derived from zooming deeply into a known digitized image, capturing the mathematical equation that makes up that portion of the image, then changing the equation to render a new design.

No one can deny that the output is usually extremely intriguing and fun to look at, but the debate is fueled. Who is the actual artist of these giclée prints, the person inputting the equation, or the computer?  

Arguments revolve around the output – if the fractal maker has a specific image output in mind, and can manipulate the equation to produce the exact colors, shape and form as intended, then they get to be called an artist.  If they just input numbers and frame whatever comes out in the end, then we’d have to give the “artist” point to the computer.  Regardless of the debate, fractal art is pretty darn cool and at ChromaZone Ink Canvas Printing, we respect anyone who can create any kind of positive images that promote positive attitudes… (see our PIPPA mission statement). ChromaZone Ink Canvas Printing Orlando would love to be your giclée printing company, call us at 321-312-4800 | 800-501-2901.

Back to FAQ Page

History of Camera Obscura – Who Invented Camera Obscura?: http://www.photographyhistoryfacts.com/photography-development-history/camera-obscura-history/
Fractal Art: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fractal_art
Camera Obscura:Discovering the First Camera: http://www.stevenshistorymuseum.com/2017/01/02/camera-obscura-discovering-first-camera/
The Fractal Foundation: https://fractalfoundation.org/resources/fractal-software/

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