Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Video Training Review: The Fine Art Of Photoshop With Susi Lawson

Written by T. Michael Testi


When seen in the light of the photography and art work of Susi Lawson, most everything else comes across as mundane and ordinary. Her work is fresh, invigorating, as well as instantly recognizable. Much in the way that you can tell a Norman Rockwell work of art as soon as you see it, you can recognize a Susi Lawson work of art as well.

There is something about it that jumps off the page and says, "Look at me!" My first experience was at a local bookstore where I was browsing the photography and art magazines and I saw this remarkable cover of .PSD magazine in which this little girl holding an old fashion brownie camera. She is surrounded by a bright blue sky and large puffy clouds and she has an incredible expression of utter delight on her face.

Since then, Susi Lawson has continued to win numerous awards for her work including the NAPP Grand Prize (Best of Show) 2007 Photoshop User Awards, and first place in the Portrait/Wedding category of the 2008 Photoshop User Awards. Now, releasing her third training video, The Fine Art Of Photoshop, she is once again sharing her techniques for creating these wonderful works of art.

 Susi Lawson – The Fine Art of Photoshop

The first part sets up the image, background, and begins some of the treatment to the little girl. The second part completes the base painting. Part three adds details like the butterfly on her hands, some touch-ups to the hair, and some detail work to her shirt. Finally, in what is really the fourth of the videos, you will learn how to add the cracking effect seen on the cover image.

Lesson 4, Smart Smudge (2 Videos) looks at a popular technique in Photoshop painting and examines the proper method to use this technique. In these two lessons you will work with the smudge tool to create the illusion that you are making paintbrush strokes. Then you combine this with regular brushes and work with a layer mask to create the new look. Lesson 5, Blending Textures uses a photo of a fisherman, a water texture, and a marble texture to create an artsy image. Here you will learn techniques of manipulating textures to come up with new results.

Lesson 6, Starry Starry Night examines how to take a flawed image—in this case a nighttime image with a lot of background noise—and make it into a work of art. Here you learn how to add back some of the features that don't show up because of the limited light in the image. These are things like fixing trees, adding stars, and enhancing the lighting by the use of the shadow/highlight control.

Lesson 7, Cartoon Clip Art (2 Videos) teaches you how to create cartoon style images by using photographic images as your basis for creating the line drawn images and then working in Photoshop to fill in the color and parts to make it a cartoon style image.

 Susi Lawson – The Fine Art of PhotoshopLesson 8, Drawing & Painting the Eye (2 Videos) shows you how to work with freehand drawing. You start off by creating a charcoal drawing of an eye by working with shapes, shadows, and technique. Next, using the sketch, you will now see how to paint the eye using more traditional methods.

Lesson 9, Sketching the Face will show you how to draw the face from scratch by seeing how to layout the head dimensions and seeing where the features properly go. While this does not intend to be a complete lesson in doing free-form facial work, it does give you everything you need to get started doing realistic portrait work.

The Fine Art Of Photoshop contains 16 videos covering 10 lessons that detail how to work with Photoshop. It covers techniques of working with brushes, painting portraits, how to use photos to begin your drawing and painting, as well as how to draw in Photoshop. It comes on two disks, one with the videos and one with the necessary images so you can follow along.

In Lesson 1, Getting to know Brushes, you will learn how changing the nature of the brush dynamics can change the look you create. You will see how to create textures, use scattering brushes, airbrushing, and even things like grass brushes. Lesson 2, Painting a Cowgirl takes a picture of Cassa Marie, the same girl from the .PSD front cover, and she shows you how to easily turn it into a painted style image. Using the brush techniques you learned earlier, you will create the background, bring brightness to the eyes, and really enhance the hair.

Lesson 3, Cover Painting (3 Videos) is the feature tutorial from this video in which you will see how to create the image that graces the cover of the DVD case. The image is called Hope. While this kind of work is more natural to try to do in Corel Painter, many people don't want to spend the time to learn another program, and so here you will see how to accomplish this painting in Photoshop.

Lesson 10, Painting Hair looks at how to paint hair in a traditional way for two reasons. First, if you want to create realistic free-hand work, you will need to also need to create hair. But even if you only want to transform photographs to paintings, it will help immensely knowing the techniques of traditional painting of hair. Here you will see how to create the strands of hair as well as how to create differing colors and textures of hair.

I found The Fine Art Of Photoshop incredibly easy to follow along with and will have you working with these new techniques from the first lessons. In fact one of the things that I think really make these videos work is the way that each lesson is self-contained; yes, there are sometimes more than one video for a lesson, but it makes for a complete topic.

What also works is that you first get a very short lesson on the base fundamentals of brushes. Then you get right into complete projects that you can accomplish with the basic skills, and then you get some additional fundamentals that increase your skills, giving you more to practice and get even better.

The Fine Art Of Photoshop is available from Susi Lawson Photography for $80.00 plus shipping and handling. Better yet, Susi also has two other videos—Portrait Magic and Photoshop Magic—and you can buy all three at a special bundled price.

If you are still not sure, what I suggest is that you check out Susi Larson's gallery over at Susi Lawson Fine Art Photography. My guess is that before long you will find yourself wanting to see how she does it. I very highly recommend The Fine Art Of Photoshop.

Monday, July 28, 2008

News Release: Adobe Releases Photoshop Lightroom 2

Posted by T. Michael Testi

Major Software Upgrade Further Simplifies Photography Workflows

SAN JOSE, Calif. - July 29, 2008 - Adobe Systems Incorporated
(Nasdaq:ADBE) today announced the immediate availability of Adobe Photoshop Lightroom 2 software, the photographer's essential toolbox for managing, adjusting and presenting large volumes of digital photographs.
With new enhancements such as dual-monitor support, radical advances in non-destructive localized image correction, and streamlined search capabilities, Lightroom 2 is a compelling upgrade that simplifies photography from shoot to finish. As Adobe's first application to support 64-bit for Mac OS X 10.5 Macintosh computers with Intel processors and Microsoft Windows Vista 64-bit operating systems, Lightroom 2 also provides improved memory performance for dealing with large scale images.

"A worldwide community of photographers provided valuable insight and feedback, as part of the Lightroom 2 public beta program, ultimately helping us deliver a better product," said Tom Hogarty, senior product manager for Lightroom and Camera Raw at Adobe. "We've considered their requests which helped us develop useful features that make it easier than ever for our customers to quickly refine, enhance and present brilliant photographs."

Photoshop Lightroom 2: Smarter, Faster and More Accurate

The enhanced Library module in Lightroom 2 helps streamline and accelerate photographers' workflows. With the ability to visually organize images across multiple hard drives, Lightroom 2 and its powerful Library Filter Bar makes it easy for users to quickly find the images they need. The Suggested Keywords feature helps photographers keyword their images by making intelligent suggestions based on their own previous efforts. New dual-monitor support allows users to expand their workspace, giving them flexibility to edit and organize images in a way that maximizes an additional display.

In the Develop module, the new Local Adjustment Brush lets photographers fine-tune specific areas of an image to precisely adjust color, exposure and tonal range without affecting other areas of the image. The new Graduated Filter expands the toolbox in Lightroom, allowing for edits to larger areas by applying gradually diminishing or increasing adjustment effects such as exposure, clarity, and saturation, alone, or in any combination. Lightroom 2 also helps photographers print more efficiently by quickly arranging photos of multiple sizes on one or many pages with flexible and customizable templates to maximize paper and ink.
Intelligent algorithms automatically determine optimal sharpening for screen or print, producing crisper images faster. Developers can further extend the Lightroom workflow with Web, Export and Metadata Software Development Kits available at the Adobe Developer Connection, http://www.adobe.com/devnet/.

Ground-Breaking Innovation in Raw Technology

New raw technology gives photographers access to flexible camera profiles. Camera profiles are the visual starting point for the raw processing workflow, but image preferences vary for every photographer.
To minimize surprises, Adobe is supplying default camera profiles that closely emulate the visual looks that photographers are used to seeing from their favorite camera, while also providing the ability to create highly customized profiles to suit different tastes. Camera profiles are available for immediate download on Adobe Labs (http://labs.adobe.com) for use with Lightroom 2 and Camera Raw 4.5, along with the DNG Profile Editor for the community to test and create their own profiles.

The Adobe Camera Raw 4.5 plug-in and DNG Converter 4.5 are also now available on Adobe.com and support over 190 camera models including the Olympus E 420 and E 520 models.

"One of the big reasons why Lightroom has become such a phenomenon among serious photographers is that Adobe built it with the input of a very vocal user community," said Scott Kelby, president of the National Association of Photoshop Professionals (NAPP). "Adobe really listens to the issues and challenges today's photographers face and they've built a complete solution that not only meets the needs of photographers; it really feels like it was made just for us. The enhancements to Lightroom 2, combined with the power of Photoshop, give photographers the ultimate freedom to produce professional images quickly."

Pricing and Availability

Adobe Photoshop Lightroom 2 is available now through the Adobe Store at www.adobe.com/store in English, French and German with the Japanese language version planned to be released at a future date. The estimated street price is USD$299 for new users with an upgrade price of USD$99 for registered users of qualifying Lightroom customers. Recommended system requirements are Macintosh OSX 10.4, 10.5 1 GHz PowerPC G4 or G5 or Intel(r) based processor, or Microsoft Windows(r) XP SP2 or Windows Vista Home Premium, Business, Ultimate, or Enterprise, Intel Pentium
4(r) processor, 1 GB RAM and a 1024x768 resolution screen. Additional information on product features, upgrade policies, pricing, and language versions is available on www.adobe.com/products/photoshoplightroom/.

About Adobe Systems Incorporated

Adobe revolutionizes how the world engages with ideas and information - anytime, anywhere and through any medium. For more information, visit www.adobe.com.


(c) 2008 Adobe Systems Incorporated. All rights reserved. Adobe, the Adobe logo, and Adobe Photoshop Lightroom 2 are either registered trademarks or trademarks of Adobe Systems Incorporated in the United States and/or other countries. Mac, Mac OS and Macintosh are trademarks of Apple Computer, Inc., registered in the United States and other countries. Microsoft, Windows, and Windows Vista are either registered trademarks or trademarks of Microsoft Corporation in the United States and/or other countries. Pentium is a trademark or registered trademark of Intel Corporation, or its subsidiaries in the U.S. and other countries. All other trademarks are the property of their respective owners.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Software Review: Strata Foto 3D 1.5

Written by T. Michael Testi

Strata Foto 3D 1.5 is the part of the Strata 3D product line that lets users load a series of masked pictures into the Foto 3D interface and generate a real-time 3D object. This object can then be exported VRML, to 3DS, to a layer in Photoshop CS3 Extended, or used in one of Strata's other 3D products. The goal of Foto 3D is to allow a 3D model to be created quickly and inexpensively while requiring few technical skills and no expensive hardware.

To use Foto 3D correctly the primary things that you need are a camera that takes JPG or TIFF images, a printer that is capable of printing out the special calibration mats that you need - a decent laserjet or inkjet printer should do fine - a tripod, a solid background that is different from what you are going to model, and an evenly lit space.

Foto 3DThe first thing that you will want to do is calibrate your camera lens. Most cameras have some distortion that is not really noticeable when looking at a single image, but when you are trying to isolate, mask, and match up a series of images at different angles, it becomes more important. To calibrate the lens, you print a grid of dots onto a plain white sheet of paper. Secure the paper on a piece of card stock and take several pictures of it with the lens you will be using; more details are in the manual. You then load the images for Foto 3D to adjust.

Next thing to do is to print out a calibration mat — a specially designed printed pattern of dots that needs to be placed under the object when it is photographed. It needs to be appropriate to the size of your object and this mat allows Foto 3D to determine the exact positioning of the camera relative to the object. This can be a single page or multiple pages in size.

Now that you have everything in place, you set up your tripod-mounted camera; you might get away with not having a tripod if you have someone moving the model, but I would personally not want to try it this way. You will need to take at least 15 images from an angle that is low enough to take frontal shots, yet high enough to capture the calibration mat. You then take another four or so from higher up, and one from a top angle. If you want to take more images that is better; these are really just guidelines for the minimum to get a quality image. On my image, I moved one set of dots Foto 3Dto the left for each of the first group of shots, then four or five from higher up, and finally the top shots.

Next you load the images to the computer with Foto 3D and create a new project and load the images. At this point you will know if you calibrated your lens properly because your images will be properly masked or not. If it is properly masked, your object will be the only thing that is not transparent. If not you will see the masking occur in the wrong places and things will look screwy. At that point you will have the choice to start over, or handle the masking by hand. Once masked, you can fine tune the images.

From here you generate your wireframe which essentially puts together all of the images into a wire mold of your object. While you get options here for adjustment, keep in mind that there are trade-offs and while it may seem cool to add a lot of polygons, some where down the line it may become more costly in terms of memory and size relative to the benefits received.

Next you will optimize your surface which will make your object look like a soap carving; just a lump that sort of has the shape of your object. Finally, you texturize the model and that is what makes it look like your live object.

So what features does Strata Foto 3D bring?

• Automated Masking – With the proper backdrop and calibration of your lens, Foto 3D identifies your background and does the masking automatically. It takes the guesswork and tedium out of hand masking.

• Surface Optimization – uses the profile of your shape in each photo and generates a surface mesh. The more photos the more accurate your surface mesh. These make for smoother corners and edges.

• Auto Texture Creation – uses the same photos to Foto 3Dgenerate a photorealistic UV map for your object and uses that to automatically create a photo-realistic texture on your object.

• Interactive Mesh Decimation – lets you determine the number of polygons to use to create your object. You may want more if you are using the model in a 3D rendering package such as Strata 3D CX you may want higher quality and thus more polygons. If you want smaller size for downloading on the web, then you can opt for fewer polygons.

So what is new in Strata Foto 3D 1.5?

• Create 3D models from images in Photoshop CS3 Extended – by using the included script to combine your product shots into one document for easy masking. You can send the all of the images to Foto 3D, create the model and texture and the return it back to Photoshop.

• Export real-time 3D models directly to Photoshop – and finish the job there. The Foto 3D also work seamlessly with the Strata other Photoshop CS3 workflow tools such as Live 3D and Strata 3D.

Foto 3DStrata Foto 3D is available from Strata at $495 USD for the download version and $99 USD for the upgrade from 1.0. There is a Photoshop plug-in version called Strata Foto 3D[in] available as well for $149 USD and the differences can be found on this matrix.

What did I think of Strata Foto 3D? It takes a little bit to get everything set up the first time, with calibration and all, and to get the workflow correct, but once that was done, it was really very easy to use and get good results.

Strata Foto 3D will be of great benefit to anyone who needs to put fully textured, photo realistic objects into illustrations, video, games or any number of virtual environments. The fact that outside of the product, a camera, and a tripod, the ability to generate a 3D model with this much ease makes it a must have application that I can highly recommend.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Product Review - Ray Flash: The Ring Flash Adapter from ExpoImaging

Written by T. Michael Testi


The new Ray Flash from ExpoImaging is a unique adapter for your hot-shoe flash unit that is designed to replicate the lighting effect that produced by traditional and much more expensive studio ring flash units. The Ray Flash was built to be lightweight and to be powered by your existing hot-shoe unit, it contains no heavy electronics.

What is a ring flash? First invented in 1952 by Lester A. Dine, it was originally used in dental photography to pinpoint light into a patient's mouth so that a clear picture of patents teeth could be made. In the 1970's, it was found to have other photographic benefits and took off in other genres.

The device itself is a circular photographic flash that fits around the lens of a camera. It is meant to provide even illumination on the subject, and is effective in reducing the number of shadows that can be produced by traditional flashes. In many ways, it works like a soft box in that it spreads the light from many angles and softens the shadows. It is now used in many different areas of photography, especially portrait and fashion photography.

Ray Flash

The way the Ray Flash works is through little channels that direct the light from the flash around the ring. Closer to the top of the ring, the spot where your native flash is, there are no little reflectors, and as it channels to the bottom, more channels spread the light around the ring. One thing to note is that you will lose a little lighting power from your flash. It's about a full stop, so you will have to run your flash with a bit more power which in turn will affect your battery life, but that is one of the trade-offs for having a lighter unit.

Installation is really easy as well. As you can see in the image below you just slide the Ray Flash over the head of your flash unit and turn the lock on the top of the unit. Each Ray Flash is made for certain flash/camera combinations so you will need to make sure that you get the correct combinations. There is a list on the ExpoImaging site to make sure that you get the right one for your system.

The unit itself seems to be pretty well made. Its lightness is because it is made of a plastic material.  While I think that if it were used roughly, it could show some adverse effects and probably be irreparably damaged if mistreated, when treated with a little common sense and care, it should have no problems. My first thought was that it would be easy for this to fall off when using, but I had no problems with it.  Despite flinging and flipping my camera, it all felt snug.

Once you have it attached, shooting with it is as easy as ever. There is a little weight noticed, especially when shooting freehand and flipping the camera back and forth, but nowhere like a full mechanical ring flash attachment, or some of the do-it-yourself configurations I have seen.

In the sample below, the image on the left was shot with a Canon 20D and a Canon Speedlight 580EX II. You can see the harsh shadows that were produced behind the subject. The image on the right was done using the Ray Flash. No harsh shadows. I did no editing to either picture other than cropping and sizing.

Ray Flash

As with all ring flash units, there is a certain amount of fall off. If you want the background to be illuminated by the Ray Flash, then what you are shooting needs to be close to background or use additional fill lights. Keep in mind that this is not isolated to the Ray Flash, but to ring flashes in general and I only mention it if you have not worked with a ring flash before.

At $299.00 USD, the Ray Flash may be a little pricey for the average hobbyist, but for someone who is doing portraits, fashion work, commercial, or wedding photography, this will make for a nice addition to your bag of tricks and will pay for itself many times over. If you are looking for a lightweight, easy to use ring flash, then you really need to check out Ray Flash.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Software Review - ArtRage Deluxe 2.5 From Smith Micro

Written by T. Michael Testi

Did you ever want to play with paint? That is the concept behind the product from Ambient Design called ArtRage. The latest version; ArtRage Deluxe 2.5 is touted as an easy-to-use, computer-based painting and drawing application that provides a comprehensive range of tools for both novice and accomplished artists.

As seen below, ArtRage opens with a simple interface that contains a tool picker in the lower left-hand corner that will let you choose between the tool that you will work with and give you the control on how big it will be. You have brushes, pencils, palette knife, chalk, crayons, and more.

In the lower right-hand corner you have the color picker and it is used for selecting colors and loading custom pickers. Here you have the big color wheel which shows you the hue and saturation of your color. You have the control bar underneath with a slider for setting how metallic your paint will be and a menu arrow that lets you open up the color menu for important options.

ArtRage Deluxe 2.5

If you do not have autoclean turned on, you will get a glass of water for cleaning off your brush. You have custom color pickers which are pictures that you can sample colors for your painting. This way if you need skin tones you can load a picture with the appropriate hues and select your colors this way. You have the color samples panel where you can store colors used in your painting, and finally you also have numeric color picking via RGB or HLS values.

On the bottom of the screen you have a toolbox which gives you things for manipulating your canvas, and boxes of items that you might want on the canvas such as stencils, tracing, and a reference image that can be pinned to the canvas. You also have a layers panel that lets you do your work in layers; i.e., sheets of transparent paper that can be stacked on top of each other and painted on.

What features does ArtRage 2.5 give you?

• Layer Content Transformation – now lets you Move, Scale, and rotate the contents of Layers using the Transform Layer Contents option in the Edit Menu.
ArtRage Deluxe 2.5

• Layer Copy & Paste – gives you the ability to copy the contents of a Layer using the Copy Layer to Clipboard option in the Edit Menu. You can Paste the contents of your clipboard to a new Layer using the Paste Clipboard to New Layer option in the Edit Menu.

• Layer Groups & Layer Names – are now available to add Layer Groups, and name your Layers and Groups.

• Resolution Support – In the New File or Resize panels you can now set the size of your image using pixels, inches, centimeters, or millimeters. You can also set the DPI resolution of your image.

• Smooth Blender – The Palette Knife now has a Smooth blending option which can be found in the Type picker of the Tool Controls Panel when the Palette Knife is selected.

• Precise Pencil – now has a precise option. Turning this option on makes your pencil sharper and more like a mechanical pencil. This option can be found in the Tool Controls Panel when the Pencil is selected.

• Mouse Wheel Zoom - The Mouse Wheel on a mouse, or the Zoom Strip on Wacom Intuos 3 tablets can now be used to zoom the canvas.

• More Image Formats – ArtRage 2.5 supports more image formats for Import and Export.

• Internal Updater – The ArtRage Updater has been built in to the application to make it easier to download and install updates.

• Toolbox Panel – The bottom of the ArtRage window now has a Toolbox Panel, from which you can access your Stencils, Tracing Images, and Reference Images.

• Layers Panel – The Layers Panel has been moved to the right of the window for easier access.

• Color Samples Panel – The Color Samples Panel that used to be on the right-hand edge of the window is now a floating panel. You can bring it up by pressing ‘S’, or using the Show Color Samples Panel option in the Tools Menu or Color Picker menu. You can also name your color samples.

• Import To Layer – You can now import an image to a new Layer in the current document, rather than having to import to a new document. Use the Import To Layer option in the File menu.

• Bump Blend Modes – The way ArtRage layers the volume of paint on Layers can be controlled from the Bump Blend Mode menu in the Layer Menus.

Macaw by Waheed Nasir using ArtRage Deluxe 2.5

What features does ArtRage Deluxe 2.5 give you?

• Painting Tools – now offer the ability to paint with thinned oils, use wet or dry markers, soften the pencil and control the hardness of the crayon and much more.

• Stencils & Rulers – now allows you to add Stencils and Rulers to your painting, for creating precise shapes, straight lines, and curves. You just press ‘F’ to bring up the Stencil Picker, or click the Stencils button on the new Toolbox Panel.

• Tracing Images and References – lets you easily recreate photos or other images using paint tools. When loading a Tracing Image, the original is projected on to the canvas and can be used as a guide while sketching and painting.

• Layers – now provides full support for all 23 Photoshop layer blend modes.

ArtRage 2.5 is available from SmithMicro for $49.99. It is available for both the PC (Pentium 800 MHz running Windows 2000 or greater) and the Mac (G4, G5, or Intel Processor with OS X 10.3.9 or greater)

What did I think of ArtRage 2.5? I found it incredibly fun and totally entertaining. While it will be very productive to the professional who needs a product to create art work, it can be a tremendous time waster to someone like me who gets caught up in playing around with it, and then looks up to find it is two in the morning and I have to get up in four hours. The sketch below is the culprit. I was really just going to install the program and test it out with my Wacom Intuos 3 tablet to make sure that everything was ready when I was. I started to look at the tracing images feature and one thing lead to another and, well, it was two o'clock in the morning.

ArtRage Deluxe 2.5

When I showed the picture to my 10-year-old daughter as it was based on a photo of her, I think I lost both the program and my Wacom; now she won't let me on my computer. I am not pretending that the sketch is great or even that good; especially at two in the morning, but what I am saying is that the product is infectious. Great is the Macaw image above by Waheed Nasir which if you click on the image, it will take you to a tutorial that will show you how it was created in ArtRage. Also to see great, check out the forum galleries.

If you are looking for a digital painting and sketching program and want something that gives you the freedom to create and not invest a lot of money, then ArtRage Deluxe 2.5 is the product for you. Even if you are not looking for something like this, I think that you should check it out; it might help release your inner artist. I highly recommend this product.

Thursday, July 03, 2008

Video Training : "Drawing Fundamentals" With Ron Lemen From xTrain

Reviewed by T. Michael Testi

In Drawing Fundamentals with Ron Lemen, you will learn about the fundamentals of drawing and shading and their use in dry, wet, and digital media. Your instructor is Ron Lemen, an award-winning designer with a career focused on extreme sports. He has worked for a variety of skateboarding and snowboarding firms and industry publications. He has also been a designer/director for various video games such as Myst 3, Whacked, Soldier of Fortune 2, and NBA 2006.

xTrainDrawing Fundamentals is geared to take you through the fundamentals beginning with the basics and on through some completed works. You will find out what it takes to turn drawings into reality. Drawing Fundamentals is divided into four classes comprising nine lessons lasting over four hours. I will break this down by class.

"Drawing Fundamentals" begins by taking you through the tools of the trade. Here you will learn about everything from sharpening pencils - graphite as well as different types of charcoal - different erasers, and using a sanding pad. You will see the difference between rough newsprint, layout paper, and tracing paper. You will see how to set up an easel and working it in to proper viewing angles, the proper posture, and movements from the shoulder. You will see why repetition is what you need to build dexterity and stamina; practice, practice, practice doing arcs, lines, circles, and more. You will also learn about spatial relations and line types.

xTrain "Form, Shape, Light, & Shade" now takes you from the 2D world into the 3D world. Now you move from working with contours to working with dimensions in space. You now will get more exercises in working with techniques like gradations, movement from dark to light forms, creating shapes like spheres and cubes, which helps to discuss lighting and shade. Getting a proper foundation in value, lighting, and shadow rules will help your drawing techniques become habit for when you are ready to tackle more complex drawings.

"Drawing From Life" attempts to show, by setting small goals, the creation of a complete drawing. Here the instructor breaks it down into about six steps. The first few are constructive and the last few are more about the rendering. Using a live human model, the instructor will show you how to go about doing a complete charcoal drawing of an individual. Here you will learn about the placement of features when portrait drawing, about shading and the creation of mass, and then the addition of the final details.

"Painting From Life" will now take the same model and add color. Here he uses gouache,  which is similar to watercolor but not watercolor. Using the Zorn palette, he shows you how to work with a tone, a tint, and two hues. In this you will see how to use the palette and brushes to work with colors. Then he moves on to digital painting using a Wacom tablet and a digital value for the background. Here he translates the movement of color painting to a digital medium and describes the differences between the two.

Drawing Fundamentals is available as online training from xTrain.com. There are three ways to purchase it. An annual fee of $199 not only gives access to this class, but every one of xTrain's classes for a full year. You can select the monthly fee, which is $19.99; that gives you access to all classes for a month. Or you can purchase it by the course, which is listed at $79.00.

I found Drawing Fundamentals very well done and Ron Lemen is a very engaging instructor. I like the way that he takes his time and really gives insight to his reasoning for doing something. For example, in his first lesson, when he talks about one of the erasers he uses he explains why they come in the packaging they do, how they are not just for fixing mistakes, but rather they can work as the white paint when you are working in a limited tone media. When he talks about sharpening charcoal pencils he doesn’t just explain that you need to use a blade to sharpen, but goes further to explain the hows and whys an Exacto blade is not a good blade to use.

It is this kind of instruction that carries through the classes and make them work so well. Lemen's patience and calm manner make you want to learn more. If you want to learn more about the fundamentals of drawing and artwork in general, then I highly recommend that you get Drawing Fundamentals.