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Yellow Winged Darter Dragonfly, play along (AD)

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Transferring images to canvas has been around since the early pin hole camera obscura's. Vermeer later used a lens based camera obscura for his works. Going in to the 1960's some photorealistic artists used projectors to project a slide on to their canvas. So the idea isn't new it's just that the way you go about it has changed.  

Now having said that there are still varying degrees of talent involved, my way is at the bottom end, it's more technique and patience than anything artistic, whereas  just tracing outlines and doing the rest yourself is at the other end. My stuff is more like the Adobe Illustrator vector mesh illustrations, which you don't see so much these days, except it's done with just the pen tool.

Not everyone will like it and some will think it's cheating or just tracing so nothing clever. But then I never say it's art or clever and often say anyone can do it, it's just for fun. So play along if you like.

The Subject
I saw a huge dragonfly fly past me last week when I was out cycling and it's something I've thought about doing before but I've never got around to it. So I thought that would be a good one to do next, it's fiddly with all the mottling and colour blends and the depth of field on a macro shot makes it even more so. I had a look for a decent size reference photo and came across this, it's not the same sort as I saw but it looks good. Unfortunately when you zoom in it has lots of artefacts but just gives you more work so that's ok (I think). The million trillion hairs will be fun (nope).

Below is how I’m starting this project. Sometimes I do the background last rather than first if it's a simple one or I don't know what to use but it's basically the same process for anything.

So the first thing I do are any adjustments I think it needs like levels or curves, just like any photo. Then  depending on the size I enlarge it, I use Photoshop's Preserve Details Enlargement option, I don't know what that would be in AP but someone probably will. So for this one I doubled the size to just over 5kx3k

I personally don't use the built in AD snapshots, I backup to another drive. It's up to you but, for example, if the file became corrupt so do your snapshots (correct me if I'm wrong).

Tools , Toolbar and Panels
I turn Tools and Toolbar off (not the context toolbar as you will use that sometimes) to give me a bit more space. I'm only using Pen (P), Move Tool (V), Node Tool (A) and Colour Picker Tool (I) so I use the keyboard shortcuts.  The only two panels I have are Colour and below it Layers. 

I also have Edit>Preferences>User Interface>Show Selection in Layers Panel checked. So that when you click on an object it's shown in the layers panel rather having to scroll through to find it. Although it doesn't always work.

Create The AD Document
Open the image in AD. I rename the photograph layer to Photo as I call my background group Background. For this I set the File>Document Setup>Colour>Colour Format to RGB/16 but sometimes I leave it at the default RGB/8. Then save it as a AD file.

You soon get used to how much blur you need to use, so how much for a little bit up to how much to blend it in. Obviously it varies depending on resolution. One thing is you do need a blur on the edges or when it’s on the background it will look like it’s been out out and stuck on. Sometimes it might be only a tiny bit but do you do need some.

Create The Background
It's just a blurry background, You can either try and copy the photo or do it a bit differently but it makes sense to keep the light and dark areas in the same places. I didn't like the light green band across the top so basically got rid of that and added a few bits of brown. It might need some little adjustments at the end.

I created a rectangle with snapping temporarily turned on (that's about the only time I use it unless I add a border) and a bit of a left to right gradient using the dark colours from the photo. I then created the shapes in a sub-group, I set the group to 100px blur and then the individual objects to 100px blur too. I think it's just my imagination but I thought it showed less banding than just setting the group to 200px blur. So you you could just do that instead.

Oh remember to lock you groups.


The Reed
I created the reed shape, I added a little bit of brown to the basic gradient as it was bit blown out and bright in the photo. I'll add few bits of detail every time I want a break from the main image.

I never do it as one big object I break it in to parts. I decided to start with the abdomen to make sure I could get it looking anything like the photo. I wasn't sure how best to manage the objects in this part but decided to do a group per segment and under there a group for the details and a group for the basic colour bands.  I created the main shape filled with a gradient colour picked from the darkest part from each segment.  

So for my first test segment the basic background gradients looked like this at which point you think it's never going to work but it will


Then you add as much detail as you want or need. It perhaps doesn’t look like much but it takes me quite a time.




If you flip the dark fill over to stroke (with the background and reed turned off) then you can see how well it blends in with the photo, or doesn’t. You can then also toggle the segment and see if you’ve missed any obvious highlights or shadows.



I might do the head next then move on to the near side legs but at this rate it's not going to be for a while.

So that should be enough to get you started if you really want to try it out. I'll try and upload the AD file if anyone's interested even though there's not a load in it (I just tried but it kept failing). 

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It's as much how long it takes as ability, perhaps more so. You aren't going to finish one as a rainy Sunday project. But as far as ability goes it's like a lot of things, the thought of it is often worse than actually doing it.  You're not using many tools so even if you're a beginner there's not much to learn.

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Thank you for sharing your technique, experience and approach. I think I’ve known for sometime it takes patience, time and skill to achieve excellent work like yours, both digitally and traditionally, and what you’ve said here seems to confirm this.

I find it all too easy to either rush through what I’m doing, looking for a quick fix technique in order to get on with the next thing, or I loose confidence in what I’m doing and just give up (or don’t even start!). I was interested to read how you break things down and work in sections and groups. That’s something I’ve not really tried before!

I’m afraid I’ve got too many things on at the moment to ‘play along’ but will be following with keen interest.

Windows Affinity Designer and Affinity Photo. Windows 10 Home (v1809). Windows scaling 115% 

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Not everyone has the time or inclination to do something like this, as long as you have fun with whatever style you prefer then that's all that matters. The reason I tried this style is that I was always impressed by the photorealistic artists and, although I often thought about trying it in vectors,  I never got around to it until I AD and decided it was a good time to finish something. 

I used to often get to a certain point and think what a mess it looks and crosses your mind to give up. But you learn that it will turn out OK in the end, so I don't think about that too much any more. 

I think as it's vector and you end with so many objects you really have to break things down in to sections. There's no technical reason why you couldn't do it as one big object but you'd still be effectively breaking it down in to parts even if you don't make them in to groups.

I didn't really expect anyone to play along. But if anyone is then keep going, my one is taking ages to not get very far. So don't give up, have a day or few off then go back to it if need be.

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It's really fiddly and some places it's just a mass of noise or blocky that you have to make sense of. So although I've worked on it at least for a little while every day, if I'm being optimistic then I'm perhaps a fifth of the way through.

I don't much like the reflections on the eye so might leave them out. I don't want to do days of just drawing all the hairs so I'm doing some as I go. Pretty much each one has its own gradient so that's slow. If you're having your photo taken you should shave xD

I'll get there eventually.

I was thinking of sharing the ad file when I'm done but then I'm not sure you'll be able to learn much from it.

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Nice. As someone who tends to put in far too much detail I can fully appreciate how much time something like this takes.I don't do photo realism but same principle. It's a shame the majority of people will never realise the effort put in. That and the usual "Did you draw that or do it on a computer?" :4_joy:

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They are a lot of work and most people won't want to do this style, either it takes too long or it just doesn't interest them, but I find it fun. Sometimes I do have enough though and need a break then go back to it. Whether I'll do many more I'm not sure.

People have different opinions on photorealsim whether it's the way I do it, with AI gradient meshes or even natural media. Some like it, some don't, others think the vector ones are simple and anyone can do it in 2 minutes (I wish). The most usual one is why bother, you can just take a photo. That's been said ever since photorealism became more popular in the '60's. The other one is it's cheating because practically everyone works from reference photos in various ways. But I don't do it to please people, although if some happen to like them then great.


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Excellent photorealism.  Please post your finished project.  Handicapped by Essential Tremor, impossible for me to do.  Mouse or pen, my hand cannot control pinpoint detail. Thank you for sharing your art.

Cecil - North Carolina

iMac Retina 5K, 27”, 2019. 3.6 GHz Intel Core 9, 40 GB Memory DDR4, Radeon Pro 580X 8 GB. iPad Pro 10.5.

Continuous improvement is better than delayed perfection 

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It's certainly not for most people, mostly down to the amount of time it takes. I used to do photo realism and my answer to the "Just take a photo" was usually the image as a whole doesn't exist to take a photograph of. I'd still say it's a good way to learn how to do detail that can be used in other styles. Although another part of me says it's the start of a very, very long road to madness.  :4_joy: My current piece probably has several hundred thousand layers. It's not so bad when you finally get to a point where you can look at, and appreciate, what's being created. But those early days when you don't have much to show for days and days, or even weeks, of work would be off putting to most I feel.

PS. I'll eventually get around to adding a like but it appears I've been restricted from adding any more likes... O.o for 24 hours I'm guessing. >:(

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Hi @Cecil, not sure how bad your tremor is but Designer has a whoppingly huge amount of zoom, a million percent or there about. That added with something like Steadymouse 2 could possibly negate any need for pinpoint accuracy.

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Lack of progress can certainly be dispiriting to start with. Sometimes you compare this week vs last and it's spot the difference.  But once you have done a couple you know what to expect.  It's strange that I enjoy it really as I'm normally not the most patient of people.

I will post the finished result but it won't be for a while at this rate.

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