Digital Art Unplugged

For digital artists trying to achieve the look-and-feel of traditional-media art techniques, the real challenge becomes blending and altering elements to make the final piece look as though it was created with paint and pen rather than by pixel pushing.

San Francisco-based illustrator and graphic artist Frank Kozik has experimented with Photoshop filters over the years to make the elements he uses in his art–cartoon drawings, photographs, synthetic textures, and found images–look painted rather than digital. His goal with many of his designs is not to create fantastic, slick imagery that's obviously computer-based but to make art that looks like it comes from the nonelectronic world.

Kozik has been creating concert posters and album-cover art for underground bands since the mid-1980s. His posters featuring Soviet-style soldiers, Lichtensteinian women, and cartoon characters have become prized collectibles, and some of his poster art is in the Smithsonian Museum. But he's probably best known to Macintosh users for his in-your-face illustrations for now-defunct Mac-clone maker Power Computing.

In this piece, Kozik says, he was trying to imitate the look-and-feel of an old, weathered billboard with its layers of art in various states of decomposition. He started with several of his favorite elements: hand-drawn cartoon characters, a cross and an American flag created in Adobe Illustrator, and scans of found art. He added filter effects in Photoshop to soften the edges and add texture and selected and eliminated random parts of each image, using the magic-wand tool and layer masks to create a splattered-paint look. Then he scanned in and distorted an oil painting and superimposed it at a very low opacity on the rest of the art.

Although the art looks "natural," Kozik's setup for this project was mostly digital: a Power Computing PowerTower Pro 225; 1GB of RAM; a 14GB Bellstor external hard drive; an external Iomega Jaz drive; two Sony Trinitron monitors (20- and 21-inch); Adobe Photoshop 3.0; Adobe Illustrator 6.0; Adobe Streamline 4.0; Adobe Gallery Effects; and Tormentia Photoshop filters, included with Macworld Photoshop 5 Bible (IDG Books Worldwide, 1998).

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May 1999 page: 110

l1 Kozik began the project with seven graphic elements. He hand-drew and scanned in the cat's-head illustration and created the American flag, mili-tary cross, flames, and "Man's Ruin Records" text in Illustrator. He scanned in the dice and wolf images from 1950s decals found at an antique store. Kozik imported all these elements into separate Photoshop files.

l2 To soften the hard edges and give texture to the flat areas of color and gradients, he applied to each separate file Photoshop's Add Noise filter and the classic Dry Brush filter from Adobe Gallery Effects (filters included in Photoshop 4 and later).

l3 Next, he used a Tormentia filter to adjust the colors of each element in its separate Photoshop file so they would complement each other in the final image. He followed this up with another dose of the Dry Brush to amplify the earlier textures and give the elements even more of a painted feel.

l4 Kozik then brought each element into separate layers of a single Photoshop file. Working on one layer at a time, he selected random areas of the illustrations, using the magic-wand tool followed by the Similar command, and deleted the selected areas via the layer mask. You can see the splattered-paint results of this technique in the pair of wolves' heads. He also lowered the opacity in some layers to reveal images in lower layers.

l5 Kozik's final step was to scan and invert a randomly selected image–an oil painting of clowns scanned from the cover of a 1970s English magazine–and add lots of random noise to it. He superimposed this over the final collage at a low opacity to add an extra element of texture.

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