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Painting music into your art
© 2005 Jeremy Sutton

In this tutorial, I describe how I used the beauty and power of paper texture in Corel® Painter™ to apply sheet music to a portrait of a dancing couple. You can apply this technique to weaving almost anything—music, handwriting, symbols, photos, drawings, or scribbles, for example—into the background of a painting. In the portrait of the dancing couple, the music becomes music to the eyes and adds a sense of melody and rhythm. You can resonate with your subjects at a deeper level by integrating something personally meaningful to them into their portraits.

The story behind the painting
Behind every picture is a story, and the story is what it's all about. The medium, the technology, and the technique are all incidental to the story—to what is being conveyed, expressed, and evoked. My paintings are about personality and feeling, not pixels and f-numbers.

Libertango by Jeremy Sutton

This painting, Libertango, was a portrait commissioned by Berk and Brigitte. They had seen my Moment in Time and wanted a portrait created of the two of them dancing their favorite dance, the Argentine tango. I did a photo shoot of them dancing different milongas (tango dances), and I selected one of the milongas to use as a basis for a painting.

The original photograph
To transform the photograph into a painting, I used Corel Painter IX (version 9.1) with a Macintosh Duo® G5 computer, a 6 x 8 Wacom® Intuos®3 tablet, and a Wacom 6D Art Pen. I wanted to eliminate the background and replace it with something more subtle and harmonious with the dancers. I first created a "muck-up" using the Jeremy Faves 2.0 > Sherrons Blender Wood brush. Jeremy Faves 2.0 is a set of my favorite brushes that comes with my book Painter IX Creativity: Digital Artist's Handbook. I then used the Artists > Sargent Brush to paint in the figures.

"Muck-up" stage

The painting was essentially finished. I could have stopped at that point, but something made me step back and look at it again. Something was missing, and that something was the music. This is a painting of love. The story behind this painting is the story of the love between Berk and Brigitte, and their love of dance and music. The music is an integral part of the story and had to be included. Berk and Brigitte then provided me with the sheet music of their favorite tango music, Astor Piazzolla's "Libertango." I had a vision of subtly weaving the musical score into the background around the figures.

"Libertango" sheet music

Transforming sheet music into a paper texture
I scanned the sheet music, using an Epson® scanner and Adobe® Photoshop®. I based the scanning resolution on the size of my image, knowing that I wanted at least enough pixels to allow the sheet music to cover the painting.

I opened the scanned sheet music in Corel Painter and selected Window > Library Palettes > Show Papers. I then used the "select all" shortcut (Cmd-A/Ctrl-A) and then chose Capture Paper from the Papers palette pop-up menu (accessed by clicking on the small solid black triangle in upper-right corner of the palette). I named the paper texture, set the Crossfade slider to zero, and clicked OK.

Capturing paper texture

Saving paper texture

Understanding paper textures in Corel® Painter™
Paper texture, which is also referred to as grain, affects certain brushes only (usually those with a grainy subcategory in the General palette of the Brush Controls. I selected a brush that is sensitive to paper texture, the Chalk > Large Chalk. I then changed the default settings slightly, lowering the Grain slider (on the brush property bar) from 23% to about 10%, lowering the opacity from 100% to about 20%, and enlarging the brush size to suit the scale of my painting.

To understand the Grain slider, think of texture in Corel Painter as a grayscale tiled filter that modulates the flow of paint in grainy brushes. Where the texture is dark, the filter acts like mountains in the paper grain on which the chalk pigment is deposited. Where the texture is light, the filter acts like valleys that the pigment doesn't reach. By lowering the grain slider, you raise the level at which pigment is deposited on the mountains. At zero grain, no pigment is deposited; at 100% grain, there is pigment everywhere, even at the bottom of the valleys (white parts of the texture), so you can't see the grain structure at all.

Applying the sheet music paper texture into the painting
I cloned my painted image in Corel Painter (File > Clone) and renamed it with the next sequential version number. I then experimented with adding the music texture into the painting, using the Large Chalk brush. I found that the scale of the texture was too large, so I undid my chalk brush strokes, reduced the Scale slider in the Papers palette, and reapplied the chalk. In this manner, by trial and error, I adjusted the scale of the paper to suit my composition.

Adjusting paper texture scale

I then started picking color from within the painted image, using light browns as the color when I applied the chalk in the dark areas, and dark browns when I applied the chalk in the light areas. I applied the chalk mainly in the background, pressing lightly on my stylus to create a subtle effect. I worked with soft pressure and low opacity so that the effect was built up gradually. I didn't worry about masking off or protecting the figures as I painted in the music texture around them. I allowed my brush strokes to overlap the figures slightly. When I needed to bring back parts of the figures, I simply set the File > Clone Source to be the painting without texture, and then I used the Cloners > Soft Cloner brush to bring back the figures.

Details from the final painting:

Saving your custom papers in custom paper libraries
If you capture large images as paper textures, you will soon fill up the memory capacity of the default papers library (called Paper Textures). When this happens, you can no longer capture any new paper textures in that library (when you try to save a texture, you will see the error "unable to save paper"). The way around this is to use the Paper Move to transfer your captured papers into custom paper libraries. Access the Paper Mover through the Papers palette pop-up menu, and click the New button. Then, drag the papers from the left to the right of the Mover window, and delete them from the default paper library. The benefit of saving your custom papers in custom paper libraries is not just to avoid memory problems, but also to help you organize your papers for future use in different projects.

Thinking of paper textures as music
The process I describe here for Libertango can be applied to almost any image and context. Look at your painting as a symphony with many musical elements. Colors and sounds are closely related—colors are vibrations of electromagnetic radiation; sounds are vibrations of air. Paper textures introduce subtle background elements, enrich our painting symphonies, and imbue them with a deeper and more dynamic range of visual "music."

About the author
Jeremy Sutton is the author of Painter IX Creativity: Digital Artist's Handbook. He has a Master of Arts degree in Physics from Oxford University and has studied art at the Ruskin School for Drawing and Fine Art, Oxford University, and at the Vrije Akademie, The Hague, in The Netherlands. Jeremy, a former faculty member of San Francisco State University and the Academy of Art College, teaches workshops and seminars all over the world. See Jeremy's artwork at www.jeremysutton.com. Learn about Jeremy's books, DVDs, and classes at www.paintercreativity.com.