For the moment I’m pretty much Steampunked out. I originally made these images back about 2004, before I had even heard of Steampunk. I always thought I was the only nutcase who felt that the world had lost something grand when steam power was replaced by the infernal combustion engine. Very happy to have been proven wrong.
Unfortunately, images created on a 10gb IBM with bugger all RAM and a teensy CRT screen sometimes don’t hold up all that well on a modern computer; so they all needed more or less re-editing. Especially the last image, which came from a pretty crappy photo taken on a camera I picked up at a junk sale, combined with a 1970s-era Agfa colour print of a traction engine. The only way to salvage the image was to remove the background – a bunch of decaying sheds – and replace it with a decent digital image; then fix the rest up, bit by bit. In the process I learned things I hadn’t needed to know before about using Paint Shop Pro, so that was a plus.
Anyway, having finished the job for the moment, I thought I’d put together some guidelines that I use for creating digital artwork by photo-editing. In fact they’re just as important for photography in general:-
1 – Take the damn photo. Don’t wait until the weather’s better, or until you feel “inspired”, or until you buy a better camera. If you miss the image, chances are it’s gone forever. And while it may take a lot of work to fix up a dud photo, it’s a hell of a lot better than no photo at all.
2 – Keep the image. Unless it’s totally garbage, almost any image is worth keeping, if only for reference. That means photos, negatives, transparencies or jpgs. And right now would be a good time to start scanning those old photos into digital format. Monochrome or sepia prints may last a hundred years, but some colour dyes are only good for a few decades, and the longer you leave them, the harder they are to digitally restore.
3 – Backup everything. Multiple copies in multiple formats (ie hard drive, CD, USB drive, hard copy…whatever) for finished art, saved progressive “states” for work in progress. And make sure you identify each state, so you know which is the latest working copy out of the two dozen plus in your folder. Otherwise it’s “What the hell was I working on yesterday?” LFMF.
4 – Don’t steal. It’s ok to use other people’s art for ideas or reference, but it’s not ok to steal their images. If you don’t have good enough photos of your own, take more. If you don’t have the skills to make an image, tough luck. Start to learn, or do the economy a favour and pay an artist. Exceptions – if the photographer is happy to agree, or if the image is way out of copyright, and if you make it obvious that you’ve altered somebody else’s original image and are not claiming it’s yours… well, at least you’ll be more honest than lots of others on the internet!
5 – Don’t get frustrated. There are some brilliant freeware image editors on the ‘net, including the GIMP, Image Analyzer, Picasa, Irfanview etc. There are also heaps of specialist free programs and plugins for effects that you can’t figure out by yourself. Neat Image, Sqirlz, Novamatic… just Google the effects you want and start looking.
6 – I found it very helpful to do a basic art and photography course at the local college of Technical and Further Education. One disadvantage of being self-taught is that you don’t know what you don’t know. A professional teacher will help you far more than you realise.
7 – Probably the hardest lesson I haven’t quite managed to learn is the need to actually get started. Once I’ve worked out the details of a picture or story in my head, I have a tendency to consider the job done. But the job isn’t done until it’s inside somebody else’s head, put there by viewing the completed work. The biggest obstacle to creativity, at least in my case, is plain old procrastination. But I won’t let it beat me. I’m going to something about it. Real soon now…