Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Frans Hals and the Computer

There is a show on Frans Hals at the Metropolitan Museum in NYC (open until Oct. 10).  He is known as an early practitioner of the "painterly" approach, where the "finish" of a painting is loose and lively.  As has been known for some time, he did not just toss off a portrait in one sitting, but instead worked up an image in layers in the traditional manner.  Once the portrait was nearly done he would "finish" it with a flourish that would bring a spontaneity and life to the portrait.
I've never been a great fan of Hals.  His compositions always seemed limited, and sometimes even awkward.  The painting Yonker Ramp and his Sweetheart is one of the few that I like from a compositional point of view.
It also demonstrates his sure eye for color, and his loose, gestural brushwork mixed with accurate representation of materials such as cloth, leather and lace.  The degree of fine detailing juxtaposed with gestural painting can be jarring in some of his paintings.

The Cavalier Soldier, above, shows quite a contrast between the masterful handling of skin and hair, and the almost anal attention to detail in the embroidered sleeve.  Perhaps this was a matter of satisfying a picky client - which brings me to my point.

The addition of gestural strokes to a carefully layered painting is one of the answers to the problem of computer rendering.- the problem of dull, literal detail.  Whatever you have built into a computer model will show up in the rendering, no matter haw inconsequential it is.  Many surfaces will render with the bland sameness that is mathematically correct, but is visually boring.  And any natural elements, like trees or people will lack the liveliness that is expected from living creatures.
The usual solution to this problem is to "loosen" the final rendering in some way.  You can process it through a graphic "filter" to make it emulate a pencil drawing or a gouache painting.  You can scribble the final print with pencil or pastel.  Ink rendering over a print is also possible.  The use of computer tablets has made this process more "forgiving" and variable then ever before.  The following are a series of detail examples with some explanatory notes.

Above is a rather rough print on watercolor paper with pastel scribbled on.

Here is a lobby at dusk, heavily overlayed with pastel.

And, another pastel loosening.  This time on plain matte inkjet printer paper.

In this case a rendering was filtered with "dry brush" in Photoshop, then was layered with the edges of the same rendering to create a hard dark edge.  And finally a print was heavily worked over with pastel.

This dusk street view was a simple print on plain paper, with freehand ink.

Above is the same ink over rendering, except it was done on a computer tablet.

This abstract was a rendered model, layered with a filtered black and white version, and finally painted with airbrushed ink.

This sepia building was rendered, adjusted in Photoshop, and then layered with ink lines on a computer tablet.

Above is a rendering with obvious "bit mapped" stone.  The resulting image had the snow drifting added in Photoshop.  Below is the same detail area "finished" in a painter program, and merged with the original rendering.  Note the softness and brush texture, along with the more realistic inconsistencies of the stonework.

The possibilities are endless, and the problem has yet to be "solved".  The client will always want detail, and the illustrator will always have to balance that against the artistic needs.

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