Get more from ArtRage 5
Does budget limit your choices for software? Nick Harris doesn’t see that as an issue these days, especially with the latest version of ArtRage
With more variety of painting software around than ever, we’re spoilt for choice. Yet the lure of the allpowerful Photoshop is still strong.
That said, not everybody is a fan of Adobe’s subscription model, preferring the older licence purchase one. I sit in that camp. I was also beguiled by a free version of Painter 5 when starting out (yes, that long ago), before my budget would even run to a version of Photoshop.
My eyes are always open to alternatives, and the past few years has seen me purchasing various decent, budget-conscious painting and drawing software. ArtRage, SketchBook Pro, Mischief, Rebelle, Paintstorm Studio and Clip Studio Paint sit alongside Painter 2016 on my system. ArtRage and SketchBook Pro have proven to be my go-to stalwarts for nearly all my work. Hence it’s with some delight that I take a new version 5 of ArtRage, which comes in at £64, for a spin.
Is it a viable alternative for Photoshop? That’s a question that you’ll have to answer for yourself, dependent on just what you use Photoshop for. If you mainly want to draw and paint, in an extremely competent and well-stocked software, with a good choice of file format import/export options, then I’d say the answer is yes. Here we tackle a multiple figure illustration, going through how I use some of ArtRage’s arsenal, and touching on a few new additions.
Launch ArtRage 5 and the interface seems relatively unchanged from version 4, which offered a cleaner UI called Bench Mode. This one offers Docking Mode instead. You access it through View/Interface Mode. Both modes display three little boxes, top left of canvas. Drag out guide lines from these. Go through View/Layout Panel for edit controls, and do the same for Grids and Perspective.
I prepare a canvas and set up guide lines to represent the gutter and bleed for a double-page spread. I launch the Layer palette from the icon on the top bar, tear it off and dock to the right edge (drag the floating icon over to the side). Go through View to launch a new Toolbox Panel and then dock it to the other side.
I select a Pencil and start sketching the idea of a circus troupe heading towards the big top. I load the Pencil tool into the Toolbox through the drop-down at the bottom of the pop-up Tool palette, which appears when you select a tool. I’m thinking of characters with fantasy tinges, and keep things loose for now.
I refine some of the line work, although it’s still pretty crude. I’m working from my head without reference at this stage, but use whatever imagery works for you. I block in some base colours using the Pastel/Chalk tool on a layer below, and load a few favourite tools into the toolbox. I also save colours to it as Samples.
5 Placing the light and shadows
Everything’s looking very flat at the moment, so I use the Watercolor brush on a layer set to Multiply to add some first hints of light and shade. I want sunset/sunrise light coming from behind the tent on the right. That informs where I lay the washes, the edges of which I soften in places using the Palette knife.
6 Benefits of colour blocks
Blocking in solid colour on the characters with the Pastel tool, on several layers below the shadow layer, helps me get a better idea of how shape and composition is going to work – or not. Building up colour interest overall also helps. The lower portion, left clear for text, can be reduced and so I move the circus troupe down.
7 Apply textures with Stickers
ArtRage already had a custom brush system called Stickers. Now it has a second called Custom Brush. While Stickers are more akin to an image hose, this works more straightforwardly with a brush head. Open Tools/Brush Designer, load a brush head (painted white on black – try different sizes) and try the many controls, saving presets as you go.
8 Building up the composition
I add some texture to the ground plane, and keep working at solidifying the main figures. This includes working on both the solid colour layers, and also adding to the tones with more layers of shadow in varying colour. This helps towards a feel of richness and more naturalistic lighting. You can always merge those layers together later.
9 Creating a sense of warmth and depth
I want a warmer feel, so I duplicate a top glazing layer (ochre hues set to Multiply) and insert it lower down in the layer stack. This serves two roles, because as well as warming the overall feeling, by placing it behind the solid layers it helps lift them from the background more. It’s a bit like instant atmospheric perspective.
10 Painting blades of grass
I go back to the new Brush Designer to make a quick brush or two for blocking in grassy areas. I add some Rotation and Dab Jitter, and set their size to respond to Pressure, so that the blades don’t look too uniform. I lay down darker strokes first and lighter second, while keeping the lighting scheme and perspective in mind.
11 Duplicate and strengthen
I want the foreground figures to have stronger tones, so I duplicate their body colour layer and set it to Multiply blend mode over the top. That’s far too strong on its own, so I adjust the Opacity and work back into the lighter areas in particular, to make the most of the contrast.
12 Merge layers where possible
Once the number of layers starts to become more of a burden than a help, I spend five minutes consolidating my decisions by merging as many layer clusters and groups of layers as I can. It works to clear both the Layer palette and my mind for the final push. That said, I still keep a lot of separate layers.
13 Pull the scene together
Take a step back and see if you think the image is working as a whole. It’s easy to become involved in enjoying certain details at the expense of other bits… not that I ever do that, ahem! I duplicate an existing, blue wash and adjust the Opacity, before working into it to help the overall tonal balance.
14 Make those final tweaks
Now’s the most enjoyable part, if you have time. Add highlight and accents. I do that on a layer on top of everything. Tweak those details you’ve been itching to tweak. Make sure things still work as a whole. I only use a few brushes and tools here, ArtRage has plenty more toys for you to play with. Enjoy them!