Stencil poster effects in Photoshop

Digital artist Ian Keltie reveals how to composite elements in Photoshop and create a poster that deploys stencilled art to promote your message.

Fight for freedom!

Digital artist Ian Keltie reveals how to composite elements in Photoshop and create a poster that deploys stencilled art to promote your message.

For many, the humble stencil has been a part of a personal history from when we used them as children to trace out basic shapes of houses, cars, and cats using cheap, plastic stencils.

And for most, stencils have remained firmly in the realm of playgrounds and classrooms, as we abandoned our stencilling ways and learnt illustrative and design crafts.

Yet today, the stencil is big news. From the subversive art of the likes of Banksy and Blek le Rat, to a resurgence in its use as a graphic element in print and motion, the stencil is back and dirtying up creative work.

The stencil has a rich place in design history. Basically a template that is used to draw or paint identical symbols and shapes, its use as a technique in art is referred to as pochoir.

Stencil usage can be found in silk-screen printing, as well as mimeography. Yet the advent of cheap printing and DTP saw a fall-off in popularity in the stencil, as its main draw – the uniform application of shapes – could be done more effectively digitally.

It was street art and graffiti that rescued the stencil, where stencil art using spray paint is a quick and dirty way to tag a building – and it has proven especially attractive to political artists.

This masterclass by Ian Keltie uses Photoshop’s Threshold control to create the main assassin image, as well as various scratch and grunge layers to scruff up the image.

All the files for the masterclass are included on the cover CD of the magazine so you can follow along. The trick here is to use the Threshold adjustment control to create contrasting images, then layer on real-world dirt elements that you have scanned in.

For stencilling purists, the Threshold feature is a great way to create a real-life stencil – and instead of layering on digital elements, it’s possible to print contrasting elements onto card and use them as a template for spraycan stencil art.

One consideration from a creative perspective is to choose your subject with care – provocative is the order of the day.

01 Open the file Twistedsister.psd from the Digital Arts cover CD and, using the polygonal lasso tool, carefully cut out the assassin and paste onto a new layer. Go to Image > Adjustments > Threshold and set the range to 128. Select a section of the black areas and then go to Select > Similar. Copy-&-paste the selected area onto a new layer, and fill your previous layer with white and position it directly behind the black areas.

02 Select both layers and link them in the layers palette. We don’t want it to be all a single colour, so we can add a gradient to give it some depth. Lock your black layer in the layers palette and select a light and dark blue, then use your gradient tool to create the shading you desire.

03 With the Rectangular Marquee tool, create a series of rectangles to form some cool go-faster stripes, then rotate these to –25 degrees. Add some gradients, then use a soft-edged brush in your eraser tool to take out sections. This will help the layered-effect look later in the piece.

04 Open the circle.psd file from the cover CD, and paste it into your illustration. Again, use the eraser tool to take out elements of the circle, then duplicate and place it in front and behind the main assassin. Next, go to your blending effects drop-down menu in the Layers palette and select Colour for the foreground and Colour Burn for the background from the drop-down menu.

05 Open the file scratches.psd and place this within your illustration. Using the Polygonal Lasso tool, make a selection around some of the shapes. Go to Edit > Define Brush Preset, enter a name and select OK. Repeat this process with other shapes and add some extra scratchiness with the paint brush tool.

06 Open the file city.jpg, and use the same process as in step one. Select Image > Adjustments > Threshold to create a contrasting black-&-white image, then go to Edit > Transform > Perspective and drag the cursor out to get a fantastic cityscape effect. I have also repeated the process with an image of a helicopter.

07 Now it’s time to get away from the screen. I love to age my work, and to do this you need to make some grungy layers. Put a tea bag in a small amount of hot water and then apply to a sheet of A4 paper. Once dry, scan it in, then crumple up your paper and scan it in again for a different look. It’s messy, but fun. The scanned objects are included on the cover CD with the names PAPER.jpg and PAPER2.jpg.

08 Import your scans into Photoshop (or load them from the cover CD) and overlay it onto your work, using the blending effects drop-down in the Layers palette. Experiment with what looks best, and add as many layers as you like to get the desired effect. More layers equals more grunge.

09 Copy-&-paste the pattern.jpg file (on the cover CD) and place over your main assassin character. Using the eraser tool, erase all the elements that overlap her outfit until the image looks part of her dress. Then, select Multiply from the blending effects drop-down menu in the Layers palette to give her a floral type dress.

10 To add the gun smoke, use the Lasso tool to draw a swirly, smoky shape and fill this with a grey of your choice. Then, gently erase areas of the shape with a soft-edged brush to create a smoked faded outline. Once you have got this nailed, copy-&-paste and reflect it, then choose Edit > Transform > Flip Horizontal.

11 We have a great-looking illustration, but it’s missing some cool typography to give it some context. Play around with some fonts. In this case, all type has been kept white. To get the full effect of the grungy layers, add some drop shadows so it jumps out from the illustration.

12 For this step, sketch out a sunbeam graphic and trace over it in Adobe Illustrator. Copy-&-paste this into the piece, and fill it with a bright yellow. Erase the edges with a soft-edged brush, then set blending effects to Colour and Opacity to 40 per cent.

13 To add some spot lights to the police helicopters, use the polygonal lasso tool to draw a triangle pointing out from the belly of the chopper. Fill this with a white to sky blue gradient and select Soft Light from the blending drop down. Repeat for the helicopter bottom right.

14 To finish the piece you can add some blood. Again, you can get away from the screen to do this. Splatter some red ink onto a piece of paper, and shake the paper around to give it some dripping/ splattering movement. Scan this in, and select the bloody areas then place it above your type.

15 The finished artwork, which delivers a modern, stencilled effect with maximum impact.

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One response to “Stencil poster effects in Photoshop

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