My Mac sits atop my now horizontal, collage drawing table located in my office. A digital replacement to my foundational, fine art years. Years where I actually held tools in my hands and applied the paint manually to a canvas or sketched directly onto heavyweight sketchpads.
Though those tangible tools are still readily available to artists and designer alike, it’s the digital replication of those mediums that have recently made graphic design new to me after a 16-year career. I had hit a patch of “static.” Needing to shake up my graphic design inspiration, I found fresh excitement in a not so new tool.
I’ve often felt a disconnect in graphics that I didn’t feel with the fine arts. Holding a pencil isn’t the same as a mouse and there isn’t an “undo” once you’ve applied paint to canvas. But the brush tool allows me to reconnect even though I’m still separated from the work by a thin pane of glass.
Those pixel painters who regularly wield these brushes may find the newness of this tool to me perplexing as it’s been a part of their design arsenal for years. Admittedly, I’ve used brushes sparingly; though, I did get caught up in the Bokeh brushes phenomenon a few years ago, effectively dating my portfolio due to a bit of overuse.
We naturally slide towards the direction of least resistance. You can get really comfortable with your design “bag of tricks.” The danger with relying on that bag is you stop learning and, even worse, become complacent.
I’ve gone through such periods of complacency throughout my career. But every time I would find a new tool, technique, or book and I immediately fall in love with design again. The brush tool, with all of its customizations and seemingly limitless potential, is rekindling my fervor for making images.
Brushes give you every single medium you can fathom on demand. You have entire aisles worth of paint, watercolor, conte, charcoals, pastels all at your fingertips. A world of textures available with a click and a swipe of a mouse or Wacom pen.
You can give your work any kind of look you want. Comic book illustration–check Art Deco effect–no problem. From subtle touches to a senior portrait to recreating van Gogh, brushes bridge the gap between the digital and fine art worlds.
I recently used brushes, almost exclusively, in a commemorative poster series. The hours flew by as I painted, with frequent “undos.” Crafting the posters as a painter would approach their canvas. No quick actions here, no shortcuts, just one methodically applied digital stroke after the next.
Brushes brought me back to my roots, creating a hybrid of the digital and classical worlds, but more importantly adding a new inspiration for my designs. Every once in awhile you just have to add a new tool to feel connected to your work again. If you feel like your inspiration is stuck or your design work is static reconnect with the tools at your disposal. You may find something “new” right where you left it unclicked.
Written by Josh Plueger || Graphic Design Maverick