Sunday, 1 December 2013


I believe flipping is an essential tool in the arsenal that visual artists have. If you have ever seen any speedpainting in youtube, chances are that you've seen their work flip horizontally several times as they paint. However, flipping the image isn’t a new thing.  I have found this article which mentions it was already used in the early Renaissance. And probably it goes even further than that…

Traditional use

Why flip? Did you ever notice that if you take a break from a painting that you’re satisfied with, and then come back after a while, the painting looks much worse than what you remember? This is because our eyes –actually our mind­- get used to our piece of art. You start focusing too much on finer and finer details as you work on it, but the moment you leave it rest your brain disengages.Once we look at it again without any precondition, we see it for what it really is. A very good advice is to take a break from time to time when you’re doing art. But what if you're studying from a live model and can’t just take a break whenever you feel? Or you just want to "refresh your eye" and continue working? Enter mirror flipping.

  • Turn your head away from your piece of art. Close the eye that is furthest from the image (if you turned right, you should close your right eye).
  • Hold a pocket mirror next to your eye, and adjust its position (and your head) until you see your piece of art.
  • Voila! Now it looks like crap. And that’s good! Make a mental list of flaws to correct, and get working.
This can be useful even when you're painting from reference. You just have to position your head just so that you see both your art and the model. I can't count the number of times this has saved my ass in anatomy class.

Digital use

This can also be used when working on a computer.  The screen is right there in front of you, so you only need the mirror. However, there’s even a niftier trick in Photoshop:

    Hidden within the Image menu, you can see “Flip Canvas Horizontal”. By default, it doesn't have a keybind. In order to set one, go to Edit-> keyboard shortcuts. Once there, select Application Menus and open up Image sub-tab. Flip Canvas Horizontal should be down there. You can choose any key that you don’t normally use. You might say that flipping this way is OK and enough. If you're using a reference, and want to compare, you can just select it and flip it as well. However that makes you lose a lot of time.

There's even a better method:     Basically what I've done with actions is that at the press of a button, both my document and the reference flip in unison. It’s very easy to set up:
  • Open up the Actions tab.
  • Click “create new action” at the bottom of the panel. Give it a name and assign a F key for it.
  • Perform this sequence of actions:
    • Flip the document you’re painting on
    • Select the reference image (you should have this open in Photoshop to work!)
    • Flip it also
    • Select back your image
    • Stop recording.
Now, by pressing any key you chose from F2 to F12, both documents will be flipped and you’ll instantaneously see just how wrong you got that arm. Or perspective.  On top of it all, you'll be able to paint a mirrored version of whatever reference you were using… that’s an advantage over using a regular mirror. To top it off, you can assign that F key to one of the buttons of your graphics tablet. I've found that it's way more comfortable that way.

 I hope you found this useful. Thanks for reading!        

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