Secrets Revealed!

Because YOU asked for it…

A step-by-step guide to the making of the Black-Eyed Susan Flower piece from a few days ago (click here).

Okay, truth be told, it was two people who asked for it, but one of them was my brother, so how could I say no?  WARNING: this is a long, step-by-step tutorial, so if you’re not interested in the nuts and bolts of the piece, feel free to skip this one, and check back tomorrow for a new post.

It should be noted that this piece was created entirely in Photoshop Elements, which came with the Wacom Bamboo tablet.  Photoshop allows you to create multiple layers as you work.  Layers act like separate sheets of invisible paper, so the marks you put on the upper layers sit on top of what’s underneath.  What’s especially great about layers is you can make them invisible so you can work on each layer separately, put them in different orders, or see what the image looks like without them entirely.  Okay, now it’s time to dive in –

Step One:  Drawing.

The drawing took about two minutes to do and the results were satisfactory on the very first try.  Sometimes you’re not so lucky.  I used the stylus/pen/tablet to do this and selected a pressure-responsive “brush” style in Photoshop that gives the line a more natural look when used withe the tablet.

I used the eraser tool to remove a few  unsightly lines that stuck out beyond the main image.

Step Two: Select the Main Flower

Next, I selected just the *outside* of the drawing – illustrated by the white parts in the picture above – using the ‘magic wand’ tool.  The magic wand selects an area with a similar color as long as the color is contiguous; not split up by lines or another color.

Then, I used a function called ‘highlight inverse’ which essentially flipped the selected area, so now the black area was selected.

If there is a selection area, then you can only make marks to the area within the selection.  This basically makes it impossible to color outside the lines, so to speak – which can be a real blessing.  I like to fill the whole area with an arbitrary color to get a sense of the composition. Here, it’s filled with black for demonstration purposes.

Step Three: Copy The Other Flowers

At about this point, I would copy the selected area (the black flower) and paste the image onto a few different layers.  In this case, three layers were used.

I can now move each layer independently.  Each flower is arranged on the page to create interest and some degree of balance.

Also, as the images are moved, they can be stretched or flipped.  For instance, the black flower on the right is both a) a mirror image of the original, and b) stretched so that it’s taller than the original.  This helps to add variety.

Finally, I would also fill each flower with a different arbitrary color so I can separate them visually.  The one that’s shown here as gray would look like a big mess if it was the same color as the black flower on top of it.  At this point any colors will work – I’ll get more choosy about the color later.

Step 4:  Color the Main Flower

With the other flowers created, and placed more-or-less where they should be, it’s time to get colorful.  If memory serves me, I colored the flower on top of a white background before adding the blue.  Anyway, the blue color is on a different layer from the flower.

Now I select the different the areas that are going to be different colors: the greenery, the petals and the brown center.  Because you can’t color outside the selected area, this allows me to get sloppy – I mean ‘free’ – with my coloring without worrying about color ending up where it shouldn’t.

I start with a basic yellow for the petals and fill it in.  Then I select a slightly different color from a color spectrum to deepen the inner part of the petals.  In this case, it’s that light yellow-orange.  By changing a setting for the brush, I can make the color more transparent, which results in the layering appearance within the squiggly lines.  I don’t get too caught up in the exact marks I’m making.  I can always color over them, erase them, or just use the all-powerful “undo” – all of which I use constantly.

Finally, I apply the ‘burn’ tool to the very center of the yellow/orange area.  This tool darkens or deepens the color where you apply it.  That’s how the very deep orange circles near the center were created.

The same basic steps are then used for the eye of the flower and the stem/leaves.  There are two main colors on the green parts, and then the burn tool is applied to certain parts for the rich dark areas.

NOTE: the slight texture to the flower would not have actually been there at this point, but it would have been a real pain to remove for this demo.

Step 5: The Blues

With the main flower done, attention shifts to the background.  The lighter and darker streaks are made with the burn and dodge tools.  The opposite of the burn tool, the ‘dodge’ tool lightens the areas where it’s applied.  Both terms come from photography, since Photoshop was really created to bring photo retouching processes out of the darkroom and only people’s computers.  Click here for a neat little explanation from Wikipedia.

At about the same time, the rightmost flower is filled in with a lighter version of the background color, then a little bit of burn is used.  I wanted this flower close in color to the background because it makes the picture less busy, and makes the flower seem farther back – closer to the background – thus, adding a sense of depth.

Step Six: Continue Coloring

I chose some colors for the other two flowers.  The idea was to use some version of the three primary colors.  However, the blue and pink competed with the main flower, so I used some variations of the blue and pink and the burn tool to “set them back” in the compositional depth.

A cloud was also added in another layer, then filled in using the select, fill, dodge and burn techniques.

Step Seven: Finishing Touches

Top picture:  On a final, top layer some finishing touches were added.  The brush tool from the very beginning was used to create the spontaneous red-orange details on the flower and the pattern in the cloud.

It was at this point that I added the texture to the picture.  This effect is achieved by using a Photoshop ‘filter’ called ‘Add Noise’ to each separate layer where it’s wanted (in this case, all of them).  It makes everything a little bit grainy, but it’s how I make things look less computer-y and sterile.

Lastly, the bottom picture shows some Photoshop trickery.  I applied a ‘drop shadow’ effect to the three foreground flower layers.  You can make the shadow more or less subtle by manipulating a number of different settings.  In this case, I use it to make the picture seem almost like a cut-paper collage.  Can you see the difference?

The whole shebang was completed in one night, but I can’t say how many hours it took.  When I’m in the zone, time becomes meaningless.

Hopefully this was interesting to some of you.  If you have any other questions, feel free to ask.

This entry was published on August 19, 2012 at 1:55 pm. It’s filed under About, Bold Color, Digital Drawing, The Artistic Process, Tools & Equipment and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Follow any comments here with the RSS feed for this post.

4 thoughts on “Secrets Revealed!

  1. Thank you so much for the awesome tutorial! Although I process my photos in Photoshop and have access to Illustrator, etc. I have thusfar resisted learning the basics beyond photo enhancement. This piece removes some of the fear I have in learning new digital techniques.

    Will you eventually print this piece?

    Great work, thanks again. ~ Jason

    • Happy to help. I haven’t ever printed any of my pieces, but a few people have inquired about this. Do you have any suggestions based on your photo experience?

      • I am working through this process currently, In my previous residence, I had access to a high-quality photo developer. Currently, though, I do not, so I am having to sift through the vast number of printing services on the web.

        Generally, what I know and am finding, is that your image should be at least 300 ppi resolution and be saved in jpeg or tiff. A typical size for printed art (in this case, an original print, and as they are saying, a giclee) is 11″x14″– this varies, obviously, on your own personal preferences, those of the client, and the quality of your image. Photographs taken from small format cameras have a printed size limit, usually 16″x20″ or so– for original digital art, I am not so sure.

        That said, an 11″x14″ image is a nice size that is easy to frame. Also, consider that about 1/8″ will be covered from each side of the image when a mat board is used in framing. Some people crop their image leaving a white space on all sides, others run the image to the edges, but ensuring all important “information”– the main view– will not be covered.

        As for paper choices, there are plenty. Digital artists sometimes like to print on canvas– like a painting. They also have some high-quality water-color style papers out there. When people talk about ‘giclee’ this is what they often refer to, a printed image on canvas or watercolor paper. Anyway, for my photos, I am choosing a 100% cotton rag, 100+years archival paper. There are some cheaper papers out there, “new advanced technology” yet what I’ve read, despite their claims of longevity, image quality tends to deteriorate quickly, colors fade and yellow within a few years of exposure to light (as in, hanging framed on a wall).

        Finally, but certainly not completely, you would need to consider getting a proof before ordering a large piece or in quantity, simply because your monitor calibration is different from the printers. I found that I need to lighten my pieces beyond what I thought necessary as they tend to look darker in print. I suspect it is because the monitor is ‘lit up’ while a photo print is not.

        I hope this helped some or at least confirmed ideas you already had. I’d love to hear what you found as well or your results.

        ~peace, Jason

      • Yeah, this is good stuff. Who knows… maybe I could do a little “investigative journalism” try it out and then post about it.

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