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Jeremy Sutton

Jeremy Sutton: A Corel Painter Master Blends Traditional and Digital Media

Jeremy Sutton Creating art is a solitary act. Occasionally a subject will sit with an artist, but even then the artist is alone with his or her thoughts, doubts and inspiration. This solitude provides some safety -- mistakes can be made and erased. The final piece is shown without any glimpse of the artistic struggle.

Fine artist, author and instructor Jeremy Sutton, a Corel Painter Master, wanted to get back to the risk inherent in art so he began painting in front of a live audience. In addition to his live portrait painting sessions, Sutton, who has helped pioneer and popularize digital painting tools over the last 20 years, creates landscapes and cityscapes by combining digital tools with traditional media.

“My art is really performance art. I just love to perform,” he said. “I love the magic and the engagement and the sheer wonder of people watching artwork unfolding in real life. Especially with portraiture, there’s a shared vulnerability for both artist and subject.”

“You don’t really know where it’s going to end up,” he explained. “If you’re alone in a studio, you can give up and start over. But in live performance portraiture, it’s a process that always moves forward. Safety is not creativity. So I’m committed to the process, and I’m not going to run away.”

Blending Media for Maximum Impact

“Artists have always been first experimenters and first adopters,” Sutton said. “Give us a bit of technology, and we’re going to do something with it. We’re going to push it probably beyond what it was meant to do. We’re going to tweak it and see what comes out,” said Sutton who has lived in the Bay Area since the tech boom of the 1990’s. After presenting his work in a one-man show, Sutton came to the attention of some of the software and hardware innovators who were developing the earliest digital painting and drawing tools.

“Living and working in Silicon Valley completely transformed my life,” he said. “If I hadn’t been located in the Bay Area, I would not have been introduced to the original developers of these technologies.”

One famous example of Sutton’s ability to blend traditional and digital media is his Heart in San Francisco project, which draws upon an even more diverse set of artistic elements.

Jeremy Sutton

San Francisco Heart, 2007, 38" x 57", mixed media on canvas. Image ©2013 Jeremy Sutton

“I started this project by photographing iconic and meaningful places and scenes in San Francisco and creating a digital collage portrait of the city, my adopted home,” Sutton said. “The image was then printed on canvas, and I added acrylic gels, paint, metal leaf and glued-on paper.”

Sutton was eventually commissioned by the San Francisco General Hospital to adapt his original image into a large, three-dimensional heart for public display. Being able to adapt and enhance the digital original to create the sculpture saved Sutton significant time and energy.

For the past five years, Sutton has starred in the de Young Museum of San Francisco’s popular “tableau vivants” portraying masters like Degas, Van Gogh, Matisse and Picasso in live settings using both digital painting tools and traditional media. Last October, he performed at the opening of the David Hockney exhibition by demonstrating drawing on the iPad with the new Wacom Intuos Creative Stylus.

Digital Tools for Painters

Sutton’s current digital toolset includes Corel Painter X3, the Wacom Cintiq 22 HDT and the Intuos Pro Medium pressure-sensitive pen tablet. He frequently enhances prints of his digital originals with layers of traditional media like oils and acrylics to add depth and impact.

“Without the Wacom tablet, there really isn’t digital art in the way that I’m doing it,” he said. “These digital tools allow me to translate all the elements of traditional painting and drawing into digital paint.”

Painter X3’s richness and versatility is unmatched, he said, because of its range of brushes, the power of paper texture and its natural media emulation.

“Even though there are many things you can do in Painter which don’t even exist in traditional media, the program has always had a very strong rooting in the way that natural media works and operates,” Sutton said. “When you use Painter in a way that allows you to flow creatively, which is the way I teach it, there is nothing like it.”

When creating live portraits, Sutton sets the Cintiq on an easel and paints directly on it with the pressure-sensitive pen. He can quickly pick out his customized brushes and the brilliant colors available in Painter X3 with a flick of the pen. He makes frequent use of the tabletʼs pre-programmed Express Keys for efficient workflow. The Express Keys also allow him to paint without showing the User Interface, which he considers essential for becoming immersed in the ‘creative zone’ and flowing with the process. 

Being able to customize and save his favorite brush effects, and then vary their appearance by pressing harder or softer or rotating the pen, makes using the pressure-sensitive pen a completely natural and intuitive experience.
“The Cintiq 22 HDT tablet is beautiful. It is a gorgeous monitor, and it’s light and versatile,” he added. “Artists who prefer to be looking directly at the surface on which they are painting will find the Cintiq very intuitive to use.”

In addition, for artists who just want a convenient and portable pen tablet to accompany their laptop, Sutton recommended the Intuos Pro Medium. In his opinion, the Intuos Pro provides both the professional and the serious hobbyist with a great combination of drawing surface area, spatial resolution, pressure sensitivity and programmable Express Keys.

“Whether you’re a photographer or a fine art painter or a mixture of both, you will want to use a pen tablet with your computer,” Sutton said. “You will love it. Just go have fun!”

Jeremy Sutton is an internationally recognized Corel Painter Master who has used the Wacom pen tablet for more than 20 years. He is the author of numerous books, videos and DVDs on Painter and digital painting. He is the founder of, the online digital art training web site.

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Note: Many of the above images were captured from Sutton’s video series on how to use the Wacom Pen Tablet and Painter X3.

All images © 2013 Jeremy Sutton, used with permission, all rights reserved.

Jeremy Sutton sketches a live portrait on the Cintiq, while projecting the developing image on a larger screen for an audience. Photo: Gisele Bonds