OaklandToday marks the start of a new feature on WhereIsBen where I Interview significant people in the digital imaging industry.

The first interview is with Bert Monroy who is the best photo-realistic illustrator I
have ever had the pleasure to meet. His images are simply amazing,
especially when you know that they are all 100% hand made using
programs like Photoshop and Illustrator. He’s been creating digital art
for over 20 years and started with a 128K Mac back in 1984. I featured a gallery of his work earlier this month.

Bert is also touring the country with his Creativity seminar and has multiple books available. I’ve known Bert for years and always learn something when he opens his mouth.

The interview can be found after the jump.

BertportQ: How long did you spend making the art featured with this interview?

The Oakland was the first of a new series of images. Since I got a G5 dual 2.5 ghz machine I felt I could start working on files that were much larger than before thus allowing me to get greater detail. Greater detail, larger files, more time spent. A typical file size before “Oakland” was in the 50 to 75 meg range. The “Oakland” is 197 megs. That’s flattened.

Total work time was just under 200 hours. My newest painting took 225 hours. It’s a labor of love. A lot of that time is spent experimenting on how to achieve certain effects.

Q: Do you use any programs other than Photoshop and Illustrator?

Sure! I use many programs. For my paintings just Photoshop and Illustrator. For commercial illustrations I will turn to 3D programs or anything else that will get the job done but my personal art is basically painting with Photoshop and Illustrator as the medium.

Q: On average, how many layers do your images contain and how large are the file sizes?

The flattened file of the “Oakland” measures 20 x 15 inches at 480 ppi. That makes for a 197 meg file. I did say flattened. Due to the massive amount of layers that make up any of the individual parts of my image, I had to break it up into many files for each segment of the painting.

There were six individual files where each element was produced. As an example, the marquee behind the name Oakland was a file on it’s own without the word Oakland. The working file with all the paths, layers, alpha channels and such weighed in at 1.5 gigs in size. There are a total of 226 layers. That is JUST for the marquee. I don’t know how many alpha channels there were because I
don’t always save them after using.

I would guess the total number of layers for the overall image would be well into the thousand range.

Q: What was the first computer/program you used to create a fine art image?

MacPaint. That is the program that got me hooked on the computer back in 1984 with the first Mac 128.

Q: Do you create art in physical mediums as well as in the digital medium (paint, pen, pencil, etc.)?

I still sketch with pencils, markers and brushes. I do come from a traditional background and love the immediacy of a simple sketch pad. I also like building things. I work with wood a lot and love planning big projects and carrying them out.

Q: What do you cover in your Creativity seminar (www.photoshopseminars.com)?

A lot! The first hour is devoted to layers. The second hour is just on channels. There is an hour on filters. I cram a lot of info into the one day.

Q: You seem to have a theme of neon and signage in your fine art work. What is it about that
subject that keeps you coming back for more?

I do love neon signs. I find them whimsical. Twisted pieces of glass filled with gas, there for the sole purpose of attracting attention.

There is something so urban about them. Growing up in New York City, neons were always a part of my life. 

Q: Do you work from real-life scenes, or are your images created out of your imagination?

Both. I do take reference shots but then I take many liberties. I take “Artistic License” shall we say. I add details and other elements that I feel make the composition more alive. Some images are completely from imagination but most have a basis in reality.

Q: If you do work from real-life scenes, do you work from photographs?

I take a series of shots. There is the main view which ends up being the overall painting. I also take a bunch of additional shots for details like what that little sign in the window says or what kind of light bulb is in socket, etc.

Q: What is the most difficult subject or material you’ve had to create digitally?

Foliage. Of course the Brush engine introduced in version 7 changed that whole concept.

Q: How did you first get interested in photo-realistic computer generated art?

Technically I was into photo-realistic art before the computer. My preferred medium prior to the computer was to lay down a basic color with Dr. Marten’s Radient Dyes, a watercolor. I would then create the details using Eagle Verithin pencils. They were a hard lead so they kept a sharp point making it easy to work for long periods of time without sharpening. I also used an airbrush for large areas. Did I mention I had to work REALLY large to get detail. It was the zoom in capability of MacPaint, called Fatbits, that sold me on the computer.

I have always followed the Photo-realist movement with such artist as Richard Estes, Davis Cone, John Baeder and Ralph Goings. I myself am not a part of that movement though. Unlike them, I am not true to the photographic resource. I am true to the subject. Looking at one of my paintings is like being there wherever you look, it comes into focus. Unlike a photograph, everything in my
paintings is in focus.

Q: What’s your typical answer to the standard party question "what do you do for a living?"

“I create what you see whether it is moving or standing still”. The moving part is because I do a lot of animation work and special effects.

For more information about Bert Monroy and his books, seminars and fine art prints, visit www.bertmonroy.com

(portrait by Jeff Schewe)