With Hermione and Neon Tetra, artist Martha Jane Bradford achieves the look of an aquatint or hard-ground etching. “I call these images ‘The Big Pixel’ series, and I use the visible pixels as part of the texture of the drawing. They create a sparkle up close and make the drawings read extraordinarily well at a distance—a kind of digital pointillism,” she explains.
Bradford began Hermione by opening a new file at the final size, a 1024 x 1024 pixel file. She copied and pasted her reference photo onto a layer to use as a guide. Bradford decided that the basic image would have five shades of gray plus white on a black background. To make a silhouette mask for the fish, she clicked the New Channel button on the Channels panel, and used black color and a Charcoal variant to paint the mask. She then used the mask, loaded as a selection to constrain the paint on the layers as she developed the tones for her drawing.
So that she could get fine, grainy edges, she used the Charcoal variant of Charcoal & Conté over Synthetic Superfine paper. Then, she drew with white on the black mask wherever she wanted Value 1 (the white of the Canvas) to show.
Bradford created the black-and-white drawing using a series of layers. To add a new layer, she chose Layers, New -Layer and filled the layer with black by choosing black in the Color panel and then Edit, Fill, Fill with Current Color. Next she added another new layer above the black layer. She loaded a selection for the silhouette mask by choosing Select, Load -Selection. To paint, she chose white in the -Color -panel and painted with white, drawing with a combination of large-sized -Pixel Spray and Charcoal brushes on Synthetic Superfine Paper. She continued the process to paint the Values 2–6 and adjusted the layer transparency to get each of six values, so the highlights are white on a layer at 100% opacity and the darkest value is white set to maybe 15% opacity. She also used the fish silhouette mask when painting Value 5 of 6 (the darkest of the white values) and to clean up the edges of the other values.
For Neon Tetra, Bradford painted using the same process, but in this case she began with a smaller file, which measured 592 x 592 pixels. To read about working with layers, see Chapter 6, “Using Layers.”