Inspire - Getting Started

In this tutorial we will be creating a simple painting using the reference photograph shown in Figure 1. Clicking on the image will show a full resolution version. We will give keyboard shortcuts for many of the operation required. For detailed instructions on how to complete the individual steps outlined below, please refer to the Inspire User Guide.

Figure 1: Reference Image

We will be creating the painting shown in Figure 2. Clicking on the left-most image in Figure 2 will show a higher resolution version of the painting. However, Inspire is capable of creating even larger paintings! This will be discussed in the last part of this tutorial.

Figure 2: Finished Painting with close-up showing brushstroke details

Loading a reference image

Upon loading the reference image into Inspire (ctrl+n) , the software will automatically create a painting as demonstrated in Figure 3.

Figure 3: Default composition showing close-up view from within Inspire

The default painting is composed of three layers, namely Underpaint, Background and Finish layers. The layers mimic the way that many artists develop their compositions, layering more detailed work upon broader, looser strokes. Figure 4 shows the individual layers which can be viewed individually, or combined to show the full composition. It is possible to view the individual layers with Ctrl+1, Ctrl+2 and Ctrl+3. The composited painting can be returned to with Ctrl+0.

Figure 4: Default Underpaint, Background and Finish layers

The Underpaint layer aims to provide a complete coverage of the canvas, blocking in large compact brush strokes. Brush strokes do not follow the contours of the reference image, but instead aim to give a foundation of colour and texture to the piece, whilst covering most of the canvas.

The Background layer contains broad brush strokes that follow the major directions of flow present in the reference image. The width of these strokes is dependent on the content of the underlying reference image.

The Finishing layer produces finer brush strokes that focus on edges and areas of detail within the reference image

Looking at a close-up of the default painting, we decided that there was not enough detail in the face area, including the eyes, nose and whiskers. To add more detail in these specific areas we can add a new layer to the painting.

Adding a new layer

To add a new layer, we open the Layer Manager tab in the Main Menu. The Main Menu can be accessed using Ctrl+m. With the Layer Manager tab opened you will see a list of layers already created, along with the algorithm used for each layer. We replace 'New' with a layer name of our choice. Here we will use the name 'Face'. Next, we click on the Add button to add our layer to the layer stack. Finally, close the Layer Manager Tab by either clicking on the tab name or on any other tab.

Resizing and moving a layer

Our new layer has been created covering the whole of the Reference Image. However, we want to limit the layer to the region covering the face and whiskers of the lion. Within the main window hold down the Shift key plus the left mouse button (Shift-Click). You will see the bounds of the currently selected layer highlighted with a grey border. Shift-Clicking inside the border, close to one corner, and moving the mouse will move that corner of the layer. In this way the layer can be resized. By Shift-Clicking and moving near the centre of the layer, the layer can be moved without resizing. Figure 5 demonstrates the process of resizing the 'Face' layer until it only occupies the required area.

Figure 5: Resizing a Layer

Masking a layer

By default a layer produces brushstrokes across its entire rectangular area. Often it is useful to limit the creation of brushstrokes to within a sub-area within the layer bounds. This is achieved by masking off portions of the layer. Ensuring that Mask has been selected as the Input Type, and the Add button has been checked, Shift-Click and move the mouse around the layer in areas you wish to mask off. Brushstrokes originating within the masked area will be removed from the layer. By un-checking the Add box, areas can be un-masked, and brushstrokes returned to the composition. Figure 6 shows the results of masking increasingly large areas from the layer.
Figure 6: Masking a Layer

Adding more brushstrokes

We will now modify our new layer in the Layer Editor. In particular, we would like to increase the number of brush strokes in the 'Face' layer to add more detail. This is achieved by moving the Density slider to the right. For this tutorial, we stopped at around 30,000 brushstrokes. Figure 7 shows the results of adding more brushstrokes to the 'Face' layer.

Figure 7: Adding more brushstrokes to a layer

Figure 8 shows the results of combining all 4 layers, while Figure 9 demonstrates a close-up of the improvement obtained in the nose and whisker area due to the inclusion of the 'Face' layer.

Figure 8: Combining Layers
Figure 9: A close-up of the greater detail achieved by adding the 'Face' layer

Simplifying a layer

When placing brushstrokes, Inspire follows the curves and details of an underlying reference image. The reference image used can be simplified, often resulting in more stylised results. Hair and fur benefit a great deal from using a simplified reference image. For this painting we decided to increase the reference simplification from 0 to 10 using the Simplify slider in the Layer Editor. Figure 10 demonstrates the effect of applying a simplification to the reference image as used by the 'Face' layer.
Figure 10: Colour Enhancement - Original, Stretch and Saturation

Colour enhancement

Now we are happy with the added facial detail we can move on to tweaking the colours of our composition. We would like to brighten some of the darker areas, and enhance the overall colour balance of the work. Note that Inspire provides tools for modifying the colours of each layer individually, as well as allowing for global modifications.

Figure 11: Colour Enhancement - Original, Stretch and Saturation

Saving your project

You can save the current state of your project at any time. All layers, masks, and settings will be saved in a file with a .gra suffix. A copy of the reference image will also be saved to the same directory. The project can then be loaded at any time. Please see the User Guide for details. The first time you save your project you will need to give it a name, so select the Save As option with Ctrl+Shift+s. Once named, you can override the currently saved project with Ctrl+s.

Saving a composition

Once you are happy with your composition, you can create a high-resolution bitmap to be used for printing. The advanced technology within Inspire means that you can defer selecting the final size of your artwork until the last moment. Every brushstroke created in Inspire contains millions of pixels, and so extremely large bitmaps can be produced at high quality from low resolution reference imagery. Hit Ctrl+p to show the Save Composition dialogue. You can select the bitmap name along with image size and resolution. Note that creating larger bitmaps will take more time as well as more RAM.

Figure 12: Comparison of original image resolution and saved composition

Figure 12 shows a close-up of an eye cropped from an A0 300 dpi painting compared to a crop from the original reference image.