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Pixels to Paint

Vancouver artist Ellen Scobie creates incredibly detailed digital prints from her photographs.

Ellen’s background in stone lithography printmaking, where she layers textures and colours to beautiful effect, led her to begin working in a similar manner with her digital photographs. The resulting works can be comprised of over 75 layers, each with data pulled from her photos.

After printing her digital imagery onto watercolour paper or canvas, she returns to the tactility of traditional art practices, working into her prints with fine art materials to create stunning mixed media works.

Watch our interview with Ellen, Pixels to Paint and read more about her method of merging photography, her printmaking background, and digital media below in Layer by Layer.

LAYER BY LAYER

Is it a painting, a print, or a photograph?
Vancouver artist Ellen Scobie talks about blurring the lines between the stone age and the digital age.

Experimenting with digital art and artistic mediums offer up new opportunities for creative expression. We met with artist Ellen Scobie to discuss her creative use of digital imagery and fine art materials such as acrylic paints, mediums and glazes. Ellen’s use of traditional and new media allows for considerable versatility and a rich viewer experience as the eye unwraps the many layers that make up her mixed media art.

Opus: Explain your process from taking the photo to printing to completion.

Ellen Scobie: My process starts with lots of photographs. The digital file is just something that I mine for texture or colour. Then I zero in on that photo and isolate something that I like in it, extract it, and use it to start building a new file. With my background as a printmaker, I’m already accustomed to building up my composition layer by layer. So I have taken that process and moved it digitally. Once I have printed it, I can make the choice as to whether I’d like to work on it afterwards or not.

O: Tell us about your background in printmaking and how it compares to how you work with digital media.

ES: Well, my printmaking background started with stone lithography, which has a number of stages. You etch into it to get the image you want then you can ink it up, put your paper onto it, run it through the press, and there you have your first image. Lithography is very time consuming and health-wise there are a lot of hazardous materials. Digitally I can create much faster and there is so much more room for experimentation. Digitally you can move forwards and backwards and you can try out a lot of ideas quickly. You would have to be an extremely accomplished lithographer if you’re working with 8 layers or even less. The pieces I work with now, easily have 75 or more layers, and with lithography that would be technically impossible.

O: How do you decide which images you will work into after they have been printed?

ES: It’s completely intuitive. I have reams and reams of photos, and I just scan them, and see what strikes my fancy. Sometimes the print evolves into a painting that I glaze, and as that happens the composition can shift quite a bit depending on how much I paint into it. Those are works that I’d consider more painterly in nature. The work that I would consider to be more photographic, I typically wouldn’t paint on.

O: Does the feeling you have when you are taking the photographs translate onto your work in the studio?

ES: I’m more like a hunter when I’m out taking photos, because I’m out collecting data. I’m capturing a specific object, a moment, and that’s residing in the digital file that’s captured. Then when I create a new piece, I’m extracting these pixels [from previous photographs] and I like to think of them as sort of digital DNA because they carry with them a source from their origin. In that way it’s like DNA being passed down from one generation to another in the creation of something new. Logically there is something from the original pixel, but, when you’re looking at the piece, you may have no idea where the colour comes from or where I took the image. It’s a completely new embodiment of the digital material.

O: What is it about the process of working into your image with art materials that you enjoy?

ES: Lithography and being in the printmaking studio is about working with your hands and your muscles. You get to grind down the stone, mix your own ink, it’s really a physical process. What I’m doing now is sitting in front of a computer, it’s very clean, it’s digital. I think that’s why I like to go back and paint on some of my prints; it gets me back into the tactility of the piece, working with paint and connecting once again in a manual way. Because the original resides on the computer, it’s like the art is existing in this kind of undefined place. Is it a print? Is it a file? Is it a painting or a photograph? So in some ways it feels important to make it into an object that you can hold.

O: What do you get from working in nature, photographing it, and making art from it?

ES. My work is landscape-based or abstract. Living here on the West Coast, where we are surrounded by so much natural beauty, is a huge influence. I love to go to the beach or into the mountains, and I carry my camera with me, snapping pictures whenever I can. Where I live is basically influencing what I’m doing. Everything is just a reflection of where you are and what you’re experiencing.

O: How is the digital age important to you as an artist?

ES: Without digital technology, I would have no practice at all. Everything that I do is digital. I actually started working by picking up a digital camera and thinking about how I could use it in an artistic way. I didn’t have access to any printmaking studio at that time, so I started thinking like a printmaker would by taking photos and using them in Photoshop with the layering process to create prints. The way technology has progressed in the last few years has made computers, RAM, and memory all cheaper which has really allowed me to expand this process.

O: Do you think merging fine art skills with digital tools is something that artists should try?

ES: If you’re innovative or curious at all, it’s definitely an area to explore. Everyone has a camera now. You know, they say the best camera is the one you have with you, and most of us have a camera in our pocket now with our phones. I, personally, am starting to use my iPhone more and more, and incorporating those photos into my artwork. So it absolutely does not have to stop with just the photo that you are taking. Use it as a stepping-stone into a larger piece or just use it as an explorative device. •

See more of Ellens’s work at www.verosimile.com.


 

Interested in some of the supplies seen in Pixels to Paint?
Palette Knife
Golden Extra Heavy Gell (Gloss)
Watercolour Paper
Pre-Stretched Canvas

Want to move some of your photographs from the screen to paper or canvas? Ready to display or to use as a base for further experimentation? Opus’s Digital Printing Service is a great place to start with a wonderful selection of fine art digital papers, canvas options, and attention to detail in our printing processes. We also carry a large selection of fine art digital papers for you to use for home printing.

Comments

Hi Ellen, I can completely relate to your experience of traditional artist, printmaker and stone lithographer gone digital. After working as a special effects artist for the movie industry I totally fell in love with the new media. Wether I would sculpt in a 3D program like Maya or in clay, wether I would draw on the litho stone or draw and paint on my Intous tablet using Corel Painter wouldn't matter to me. At the end it all comes down to being an unique artist and having great traditional and great digital skills are only the means to put down a image that people would want to see again and again.
In 2007 I had a solo exhibition in West Vancouver Memorial Library. The title of my exhibition was 'THE ROAD FROM STONE LITHOGRAPHY TO DIGITAL PAINTING'.
All the best
www.fineartoncanvas.com
Tanya Doskova

Hi Tanya, thank you so much for your comment! I agree that the medium itself is just a means to an end - producing imagery. Artists can work in one medium and then grow tired of it and find when trying something else it sparks new ideas and innovation. On the other hand, they may stay with the same medium and enjoy the comfort of knowing it well. At heart, I am drawn to new things and love exploring new tools - digital and traditional - which is sort of where I am right now: combining the two and learning every day.

A friend of mine living in BC sent me an link to Pixels to Paint. I'm a former fashion and advertising photographer that has moved into the arena of equine photography. From film to digital. Some years ago I started to explore the creative possibilities of digital photography and digital art. Much to my delight I discovered, like you, the limitless possibilities of the medium. I print many of my commissions on canvas and use montage [layering] techniques to build to the desired effect. The finished prints are then "painted" to impart the sense of an oil painting. The world of digital photography has opened infinite possibilities to those who love the thrill of exploration.

Hi Ellen, I enjoyed your video on digital art, the texture and colors are amazing. I arrived at PhotoArt through my passion for photography and the enjoyment of such painters as Dali. Computer 3D modeling allows me to combine fantasy with the reality of photography without the necessity of hiring models or needing a photography studio. Adding acrylics to prints on canvas gives the finished image texture and warmth missing in "straight" prints on paper.

Thank you for sharing your techniques and your art.

www.kenlintott.net23.net/Pages/Home.html

Ken

Hi Serge,

Thanks for sharing!

Hi Ken,

Thanks for your thoughts!

I think Ellen is a talented digital artist. It's amazing how computer can generate such a wonderful painting, especially a landscape one which is more difficult to be created than an abstract one for example. Thanks for sharing this.

Hi Marius,

Thanks for your comment. The computer is indeed a wonderful tool for artists willing to experiment and to learn what is possible. I find it to be a very exciting and rewarding tool to work with.

Hi Ellen, thank-you for sharing both your work, and your inspiration. I am now
just in the process of digital media, I have collected many wonderful as you
would call it "Pixel Project's" and when I can purchase the product's to proceed will then be able to really get active with this new combination of
media/medium's, and I am very anxious to do so. Once again thanks for sharing
your beautiful art work's, it is trully incredible what can be done now, as in
comparison to when I first started to do watercolor painting!

Hi Donna,

Thanks so much for your comment. There is so much room for exploration with digital media, I'm sure you'll find it a rewarding and exciting avenue for your imagination. Good luck with your own "pixel projects" and enjoy the process! Sincerely, Ellen Scobie

Wow ! i appreciate your work Ellen,
I really like video on digital art,I really love media
The photos were fantastic and your are very thoughtful and creative approach.Thanks For sharing your veiw.

Yeah Ellen , the post is very informative, hats off.

What I admire the most about her is when she works into her prints with fine art materials to create fascinating and stunning mix of media works. Always thanks a lot for sharing your efforts in this site. I would like to see more.

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