Layers of Doubt

layers of doubt

When giving talks or demonstrations a question often arises along the lines of, “how many layers do you use?” There’s always an assumption attached that because I work digitally that I must keep everything on separate layers and perhaps use many layers. It’s true that I can sometimes end up with 8 or so layers(with most being reference) but most of the time 90% of a painting will be on a single layer and then just minor things on other layers. Usually by the the time of the final file I am using only one or two layers.

Announcing that I use very few layers often prompts an audience to ask what I would do if I needed to change something. What would I do if I needed to go back?

If I need to change something I change it. If a previous solution was better then I repaint it. If I painted it once, there’s no reason I can’t paint it again. To think otherwise is to believe it was some kind of magic rather than an expression of my knowledge at the time. On the repaint my knowledge should be that much better so the final should be even better,faster,have greater economy of strokes or all three. I think it’s important to remember that you can repaint a thing. Traditional painters have worked without layers and undo buttons for centuries and digital painters shouldn’t let those additional tools breed fear. Believing and knowing I can repaint anything gives me a greater confidence in my skills and the direction of an illustration. As I work I believe I am progressing on a linear path to where a piece is going so there isn’t much to fear and confidence is high. Confidence results in speed.

Alongside the same lines I often recommend that students have reference despite whatever their art style is. Reference gives you confidence that your anatomy,light,etc is correct so that you can focus on executing your idea in your style with your eye for colors and composition. If you know the hand is correct, you won’t be second guessing yourself and spending time going back and forth on changes that do not connect to conveying your style or message.

In my experience;




There’s also a place for layers. Clipping masks offer control so that you can make brush strokes without constraint. I’ll often create a layer to try something I consider risky but after working on that layer for a bit I decide whether it is or is not working then delete or flatten and move ahead. Also, sometimes it will be a requirement of a job and in that case it’s not a matter of trying to hold onto your past and I have no issue with using layers. Furthermore if you’re using digital then you should take advantage of every tool offered to you in your program. Just try to think about why you are using those features.

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