i got a message from bronxelf yesterday, asking my opinion on whether or not this image was a real drawing, or a photoshopped image.


(click to embiggen)

the question forwarded to me was: "So what say you, oh livejournalers who do PSP stuff, and Livejournalers who draw photo realistic portraiture- which is it?
For those of you who do this kind of thing in photoshop, can you explain how you would do it, so I might point that out?"

as part of the question post, the artist is quoted as saying, "i didnt just do it with mechanical pencil. it was 5.0 lead mech pencil with HB an 9B woodless faber castel pencils, faber castel kneaded eraser, an array of tortilions an blending stumps, faber castel perfection 7058 sharpened eraser pencil, sandford art gum eraser, an a tuff stuff eraser stick."

is this bogus or not? read on to find out!

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in the question post, someone found the original photo this was derived from:


(click to embiggen)

upon seeing the original photo, it should become fairly obvious that the artist is either temporarily confusing photoshop with a pencil; posted an incorrect description of how she did it (hey, i've been known to get a little crazy with the cutting and pasting between windows); or is just plain misrepresenting her skills. however, upon being questioned, the artist insisted that she didn't even use a lightbox to trace this photo.

now, there is nothing wrong with working from photo reference.* there's also nothing wrong with digitally altering photos, and calling it art (but more usually, it's called digital illustration). but most people readily admit this, when they do it. heck, one of my job titles once upon a time was 'digital illustrator' -- i used to get paid to do just this kind of photo manipulation daily.

does she have the skill needed to pull off this kind of hyper-rendered drawing, freehand? let's take a look at her gallery, shall we? swallow your coffee first, go look, then come back.

notice that gaping chasm between her photorealistic work and her tattoo flash art?

the misrepresentation of skill annoyed the hell out of me. so i said to bronxelf, 'time me,' and proceeded to open up the original photo in photoshop.

within four minutes, i generated this:


how did i do it? here are the steps:


the PMS color you select for the duotone is going to vary slightly, depending on how your monitor's calibrated; i used PMS 107, a yellow. the dodge and burn tools are used to selectively darken and lighten areas around the nose, lips, and eyes. your work methods in photoshop may well vary -- there's roughly about as many ways to accomplish a task in that program as there are sects of protestantism -- but that's how i did it. i recorded the steps as an action; if you're interested, it's yours for the asking, and you can duplicate the effect on the photo yourself.

the dead giveaways that reveal that it's not a pencil drawing:

  • the lack of individual stroke marks from the pencil
  • no indentations in a paper surface
  • no eraser marks
  • no smudges
  • no paper grain or texture in the image
  • no wobble or tremor in the lines
  • extremely even width in the lines of the hair, which would have to have been done with an extremely fine eraser

for comparison, let's look at a real, photorealistic pencil drawing by john howe, whom we can safely say is a professional artist:


see the difference? while john's work on the hand is amazingly well-done, it's still clearly done in pencil. in the shadows, you can see the shading; you can see the texture of the paper. you can see eraser marks. those aren't flaws; they're essential parts of the drawing.

so why spend this kind of energy debunking someone's skills?

i dislike dishonesty and misrepresentation. when someone claims they've got a skill level higher than they actually do, it mars not only their reputation, but the perception of artists in general. it discredits what it is that real artists do. it denigrates our hard-won skills. it contributes to the perception that you don't need any actual skill or talent to be an artist these days -- all you need is photoshop, or painter, and you're good to go.

and what's sad about this, is that there was absolutely no reason to lie in the first place. if all she wanted was to impress people, this wasn't necessary; if twilightskyz had just been clear from the beginning that this was a manipulated photo, people still would have liked it, and thought it was cool in its own way.

i'm curious to hear what you all have to say on the subject.