Using Technology to Paint

Phones, tablets, and other tech I use when I create (aka, tools to use when you’re on a budget)

As you may have noticed when looking through my portfolio, my artwork tends to be pretty well grounded in realism (with a few exceptions, which are still heavily influenced by real images). I also am very much an “emerging” artist who’s putting money into this venture a little at a time to get myself going. So you’re not going to find me with my own professional-grade scanner/printer set up (maybe someday) or even a real studio space (my “studio” doubles as office/study space with my partner). Heck, at the moment I don’t even have a decent digital camera. But you have to start somewhere, right? I assume that someday, if all goes well, I’ll look back on this post and think, “what was I thinking??” but for now, I’ll work with what I’ve got (and can afford to get).
Because so much of my art is grounded in reality, I use a lot of reference photos, which I access digitally (because who prints photos anymore?). I still do all of my artwork with actual paper and paint, but I often digitize it afterward to display online or to have products made. My main tools are:

  • my laptop, an HP Pavillion DM4
  • my smartphone camera (a Motorola G5 Plus)
  • Google Photos
  • my Epson all-in-one scanner/copier/printer
  • my light board
  • my fancy new Amazon Fire tablet

I have an Android phone (I like Apple products — or at least their computers — but haven’t been able to justify the price tag given what I can do with PC and Android) which I use for most of the photos I take myself. Those photos are automatically backed up to my Google account and then are accessible with any web browser. I can’t afford Adobe CC at the moment either (my budget for this adventure is also “emerging”) though in a pinch I have access to it at my local library. Instead, I often use Google Photos’ photo editing tools — they’ve come a long way, at least in terms of color and exposure editing (not so much on the adding or removing elements in an image.) When finding or referring to photos for painting, I usually do minimal editing to the photos themselves; I can edit on my paper while sketching out my painting. I DO often edit the pictures (or scans) of my completed artwork to upload here or on my Etsy site (again, mainly for color matching, though it’s always going to look different on different screens).

For the scanning part, I’ve got an Epson Stylus All-in-One that does pretty vibrant 300dpi scans of anything 9×12″ or smaller; anything bigger than that I scan in in segments and stitch together via Adobe Photoshop (thank you, public library). I paid about $60 for the Epson machine 5 years ago, so there are probably newer, more expensive versions, but I’m still happy with this one.

I occasionally use a light board for tracing sketches onto watercolor paper (or starting something over when I have a good outline but mess up the painting/shading). That was a gift, so fortunately it didn’t cost me anything, but it comes in handy a lot. If I have a sketch that I want to resize, I’ll scan the original, resize it in MS Paint (I can’t believe I’m saying that, but it does work) then print it off and trace it onto watercolor or drawing paper.

My newest piece of technology is an Amazon FireHD 10″ tablet (hooray Christmas season sales) which I’ve started using to pull up reference images while I’m painting. Even with a metal plate-display stand holding it up, it takes up a lot less space on my art table than my laptop, plus it’s a bit more portable (and it’s good for a game of Fruit Ninja when I need a break, though that’s neither here nor there). There are apps (like Autodesk Sketchbook) which allow you to use the tablet like a sketchpad, but until I get a good stylus, I can’t say much about them.

I think my next big “business” purchase is going to be a decent digital camera (there’s a Nikon B500 at Best Buy that I’ve got my eye on) for taking better photos. I’ve also been considering buying an inexpensive light box for photos of my finished work (though I’ve seen tutorials for DIY versions too).

For any artist friends/readers out there, what technology do you find is integral to your creation process? Anything you wish you had? Are there any tech gadgets you did get thinking you’d use them only to find that you don’t? Tell me in the comments!

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