21st Century Art

When I took my first drawing class in high school, we used paper and pencil. I remember the excitement I felt when we experimented with charcoal. I took another drawing class at university, but it was mostly because it was either study drawing or have to take an art history course, which sounded horrific. (The very idea gave me a shiver. History has always been my worst subject, probably because I can barely remember my own birthday, much less the dates of famous battles.)

I’ve always been secretly jealous of illustrators who can draw things that look like other things, who can have people recognise those things. I have never been able to get paint to do what I want it to do, whether it’s acrylic, oil, or watercolour. Paint is just so unforgiving, dammit. The creative force in my head always turned into a big blob of unattractive goop on my canvas.

When computers evolved enough to have colour SVGA monitors (you grown-ups in the crowd will remember what I’m talking about) rather than the icky old CGAs or worse yet, CRT green-screens (eek! my eyes hurt just thinking about it), art software started to appear. In the beginning, these programs weren’t very sophisticated, but holy crap they have come a long way in the past twenty+ years.

In an effort to improve my digital art skills (I’m much more experienced with vector art), I’ve been taking tutorials and experimenting to learn how to use my brand-new, shiny copy of photoshop (thanks to a 50% off coupon courtesy of Amazon!) I’m enthralled with the possibilities and the limitless nature of digital art. I love the way I can manipulate layers and add isolated effects, mask off portions of a piece and oh, the brushes! But the very best part is the undo button. No more hopeless paints that bleed into one another or run sadly down my canvas, weeping blobs of uncontrolable goop. Mistakes are broadly (or sometimes gently) erased, warped, pinched, or blended.

So here’s my latest effort:

This is an art form called photomanipulation. I started with a rather normal looking picture and turned it into something completely different. Because I got so many comments on my before and after images on my cover art post, I’ll show you what the original looked like, so you can get an idea of my starting point and some of what I put into creating this Lady of the Swamp.

I bought the original image of the woman from 123rf.com, which is where I get a lot of my images for cover art. I also used this image of a coral reef to cut out the parts for her hair. My original intent was to make some kind of sea-woman. I even downloaded an image of sharks’ teeth because I wanted to make her a scary kind of mermaid. But then as the picture developed on my digital canvas, something completely different from my original plan came out. As with my writing, I like to allow surprises to creep in, because I figure that’s my subconscious-artistic brain doing its thing, which is probably much better than what my thinking-planning-colour-coded-chart brain could create.

My plan is to continue playing and developing my skills. As I work, I’ll also add some of my pictures to my new profile on deviantart.com. I have discovered incredible artists there and been inspired to try to take my photomanipulation skills to a new level. Eventually, I hope to be able to create some worthy book covers in a new style. But for the moment, I’m enjoying having a hobby that isn’t related to publishing. (Otherwise I feel like I work 24 hours a day.)

All comments and feedback are welcome!

What crazy things have you done with photoshop? (There’s so many endless possibilities with this powerful tool that it makes me distrust any picture I’ve ever seen online!)



  1. oooh I like this! I’d love to learn photoshop and this post has made me want to even more – I like the idea of no more blobby canvas :D

    • There are many many free tutorials both on photoshop website and YouTube, plus the deviantart.com community seems to be very friendly and many artists share their process and offer critiques as well. Go for it!

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  2. Girl Fren'

    I love it — it appeals to my creepy, no-longer-afraid-of-the-dark elements. I’d be embarrassed to admit the only thing I’ve done with Photoshop is work on removing my double chin and eye bags. *blush*

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  3. Hi India. I’ve always been interested in photoshop but haven’t gotten around to learning. Is it photoshop elements 10 you’re using? I would love to learn this. Thanks for sharing. :)

    • I am using Photoshop CS5. There’s some great tutorials on YouTube and deviantart, if you want to give them a try. I don’t really know anything about Elements, but I’m sure if you search you can find some tutorials to help.

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  4. What an amazing image you’ve created! Glad you didn’t go down the fang route – the woman is creepy enough as she is. :-)

    I’m just getting to grips with Photoshop, myself and find the free online tutorials a godsend.

    I’m also on Deviant Art (will be checking out your profile/work on there as soon as I’ve finished this comment), and have put up my book covers plus a couple of other things on there. My username is garam81.

    Am finding your cover/image posts very interesting!

  5. Having done my fair share of Photoshop manipulation, I’d say you did damn well. I especially admire your creativity. Well done!

  6. Gorgeous. Reminds me of the A&E program Face Off.

    I can’t do anything with photoshop, have to have my kids help. The creative uses for technology are astounding. Well done with the artistry.


  7. Okay. Um, see, Lady of the Swamp totally creeped me out. Seeing what you started with and what you ended with is mind-boggling to someone like me who is still in the process of mastering the stick figure and turning the word boy into a boy’s face.

    I just feel like saying your After result is AWESOME just seems weak. But it is so freaking awesome!

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