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Using Digital Tools to Capture California’s Ever-Changing Moods

Using Digital Tools to Capture California’s Ever-Changing Moods


Credit: Melinda Holden

Even the finest cameras might not capture the rich pinks, yellows and reds of a California sunset, but a painter can add his or her own vision to this same sunset and communicate the feeling of those spectacular colors. California’s light is the preferred subject of digital painter, Cher Pendarvis who can often be found at the beach using both digital and traditional tools to capture California’s ever-changing moods.

Comfort, Productivity and Flexibility of Digital Tools

Pendarvis begins a new work by gathering her watercolor kit, pastels or an iPad and the Intuos Creative Stylus and hiking until she finds a spot to paint. After she captures her initial inspiration using traditional tools or digital tools, she turns to the Intuos Pro from Wacom and the digital brushes, pencils and pastels in Corel® Painter™ and Adobe Photoshop.

“The experience of using the Intuos Pro with Corel Painter feels natural, and the results look very much like traditional drawing and painting,” said Pendarvis. “The Intuos pen is comfortable to hold in your hand while drawing. With pressure sensitivity, the tablet can sense subtle variations in your wrist and arm movements and the tilt of the pen.”

For Pendarvis, the benefits of a pen tablet extend to her productivity as well. She uses the layering features in Adobe Photoshop and Corel Painter to “unwind” the piece until it meets her expectations. “In a traditional watercolor or acrylic painting, it isn’t easy to go back to the easel and move that tree in the background or reduce the density of that shadow you painted yesterday morning, because these features now are permanently bound to the other elements in the painting, dry and no longer workable. But by using layers effectively, you can make those changes and more, long after your original painting session.”

Tips on Digital Painting in Corel Painter and Photoshop

Quiet Moment by Cher Pendarvis, for which she used an Intuos Pro tablet and Painter’s Oils brushes

Corel Painter

“Corel Painter boasts brushes and paint media that are amazingly realistic and expressive. A professional-quality artist tablet such as the Intuos Pro is essential for achieving the most expression from Painter’s many excellent brushes,” said Pendarvis. To paint Quiet Moment, Pendarvis used the Oils and Palette Knives brushes in Painter. Some of these brushes have “Artists Oils” capabilities; which allows the artist to lay down wet, oily paint that can be blended while working. Two of her favorites are the Oily Bristle and Tapered Bristle. “The Intuos Pro tablet and pen allows me to attain expressive finesse and control with brushwork in Painter, from Oils, to Pastels, Pens and Pencils,” said Pendarvis.

Searching for Real Bristle in the Brush search helps locate brushes with Real Bristle capabilities

Her favorite new features in Painter X3 are the Brush Search feature and the new Jitter, which she finds “more realistic than ever.” Brush Search, which is found in the Property Bar allows the artist to type in a characteristic, such as Real Bristle, to generate a list of brushes with this feature, as well as a preview of the brushstroke, saving the artist from searching through brush selections. “Brushes that incorporate Real Bristle capabilities are found in some of Painter’s most expressive and realistic paint brushes, such as the Real Dry Flat variant of Acrylics and the Real Round variant of the Oils,” said Pendarvis.


The top brushstroke was drawn using varied pressure with the default Square Grainy Pastel variant of Pastels. The bottom stroke was drawn using varied pressure and the increased Grain Jitter setting.

Painter X3’s new Jitter controls allows for more or less brush mark variability, for more natural or wilder brushstrokes. In many of the Brush Controls panels the artist can control the Jitter for a brushstroke by choosing pressure or velocity in the Expression pop-up menu. Jitter controls include Size, Opacity, Grain, and Color Expression panels. For the example shown here, Pendarvis varied the Grain Jitter by setting the Grain Jitter slider to 60 in the Grain panel, leaving the other settings at their defaults. The Expression pop-up menu is set to Pressure. The top stroke shows a brushstroke drawn using varied pressure with the default Square Grainy Pastel variant of Pastels. The bottom stroke was drawn using varied pressure and the increased Grain Jitter setting.

Adobe Photoshop

With the Mixer Brush tool and creative presets in Adobe Photoshop (versions 5.5 and later) the artist can create the look of oil paint. “For The Porte d’Aval from Across the Bay, I used some Mixer Brush presets I had made myself in Photoshop to paint a dramatic seascape, based on traditional location sketches from my sketchbook. Drawing on the Intuos Pro with the cordless pen let me move my hand naturally, with finesse and control and use brushes that can sense pressure, tilt and bearing for paint realistic strokes,” said Pendarvis. The presets she used most for The Porte d’Aval from Across the Bay were the Flat Blunt Short Stiff and the Round Point Stiff. To make the digital oil paint more or less fluid, she adjusted the “wetness” settings in the Options Bar as she painted and focused on the Wet, Mix and Flow settings. Pendarvis finds the choices in the Useful Mixer Brush Combinations pop-up menu to be particularly helpful.


The Porte d’Aval from Across the Bay by Cher Pendarvis

For Pendarvis, digital tools allow her to create works that reflect her vision of California’s beauty. “Today’s digital tools are so powerful. I appreciate the flexibility, realism and productivity that’s possible.” These tools come with one more practical benefit for Pendarvis: “There’s no mess to clean up.”

Cher Threinen-Pendarvis, artist and author of The Artist Tablet Books and The Painter Wow! Books, has a long and productive history with both traditional and digital art media. “As a child in a military family,” says Cher, “I traveled from my birth place in California, to all over the Pacific Rim — including Hawaii, the Philippines, Japan, and Hong Kong. My mother was an artist, and from the time I could hold a crayon we sat together in wonderful places, sketching and painting on location — gazing at Diamond Head and Mt. Fuji, for instance.” These early experiences, as well as later travel to some of these same places and to the East Coast, Mexico and Europe, are reflected in her paintings, photography, and mixed media work.

To learn more about Cher, please visit her web site at: www.pendarvis-studios.com