Texture and light in digital painting

Discover how the artistic handling of light and texture when combined with layers in Photoshop can bring art to life.

This tutorial covers some methods of how to texture images in Photoshop with custom brushes and layer styles, and also looks a little at light sources and composition, which will really boost your creative artwork.

As an added bonus, the final steps in the masterclass take the artwork further, with tips on how to prepare your image for reproduction as a pin badge!

The lines and the jungle background layer for the piece, which I’ve called Walkies, are provided as a hi-res jpeg for you to work with on the cover CD (or by download), so you can jump straight into the tutorial.

There are many online resources that offer royalty-free brushes to use in your creative work, and I’d recommend visiting the following sites for the great brushes I use in this tutorial: Thierry Doizon’s site (www.barontieri.com/atelier.htm) and Thomas Scholes site (http:// crayonboxofdoom.blogspot.com).

This tutorial also requires Mac’s Remove white filter, which you can download from www.photoshop-filters.com/html/macks.htm.

01. Make a new layer from the Background to put the art on its own layer, and name the layer ‘Lines’. Run Mac’s Remove White filter to eliminate the white pixels. Click ‘lock transparent pixels’ in the layers palette and make some new layers called ‘girl skin/gorilla hair’, ‘hair & trees’, ‘ribbon’, ‘clothes & skull’, ‘kneepads & vines’, ‘blends’, and ‘background’. Place them all underneath the ‘Lines’ layer.

02. Fill the background layer with a neutral green/blue colour to give you the feel of the picture, and because you should never colour against a white background; it makes colours harder to read. Use the airbrush to make some variations in tone. Use a hard-edge brush to flat-fill the foreground colours on separate layers. Use the [and ]keys respectively to decrease/increase the size of your brush.

03. Before starting with any detailed textures, we need to set up the basic lighting of the piece to help establish the mood, so with your base colours in place, start applying some basic shading with a hard edge brush (press b). Don’t worry too much about being accurate, just concentrate on getting some colours down to help you think.

04. To start giving everything more depth Ctrl+Clickeach layer and using the gradient fill tool (g) set to radial fill at 26 per cent opacity, add some darker areas on the already shaded sections where less light would get to them. Also, add some radiant light from the jungle (colour-pick a light blue from the background by pressing Alt to get the eyedropper tool).

05. Create a new layer called ‘Floor’. Using a grass custom brush, add some dark blue grass to fill the empty area behind the Gorilla (fill up to the banana in the background, but no higher).

06. With the forms laid out, we can now get to the fun stuff! Ctrl+Click the gorilla hair layer to select it, then on the Blends layer start using a custom hair brush at 60 per cent to give the gorilla a more realistic look. The trick with hair is to remember that it follows form, so opposed to trying to render every last strand, start to add random strands that indicate the shapes/mass underneath the hair (such as muscle and bone).

07. If you look at hair, you’ll notice that although it looks like one colour, it’s comprised of different variations. As well as using brown and yellow, use hues from the background to show the ambient light from the left bouncing back onto the gorilla. Use smaller detailed strokes to break up the block shading we did earlier. For some of the lighter areas, set your brush to screen at a low opacity.

08. I’m happy with the hair, but it could use a little more punch to make the gorilla stand out. Create a new layer with the blending details set to overlay. Using an airbrush with a lowered opacity, add an orangey-yellow to the areas of the image where sunlight is breaking through the jungle. Because the eye is drawn to areas of the image with the highest contrast first, you should only put the direct sunlight on our main focal points. In this case, the gorilla and the girl.

09. Time to detail the tree. Because we’re using the tree as a framing device, it needs to stay relatively dark, so as not to compete with the main focal points. Use a hard-edge brush at varying levels of opacity to suggest the bumps of the bark, and the light softly hitting the right-hand-side of the tree. Then select the area and bring in a picture of tree bark with Edit > Paste Into and set the layer to Overlay at 32 per cent opacity to finish off the effect.

10. To detail the other framing branch, we need to consider that the image is further away, so a hard edge brush won’t cut it here. Instead, we’ll use a brush from my good friend Tom Scholes. Tom created this brush to draw hedges quickly in Photoshop, but we’re going to use it in a different way. Select the branch, pick a dark blue colour and use the top half of the brush to carefully add shading. One of the great things about Photoshop’s custom brushes is that you can use them in numerous ways, not just the one they were intended for, try to experiment with them whenever you can.

11. Create a new layer called ‘Above Lines’ (placing it above the ‘Lines’ layer) and use an airbrush at low opacity to add ground mist to add depth to the scene, varying the colours depending on where the mist is. Then start to tidy the overall shading with a hard-edge brush. Make some areas darker to help push the image contrast. When you’re happy with the shading, take the airbrush and add subtle light bloom by running along the border of the lighter areas with its respective colour; this will replicate the effect of light scattering.

12. To give the skull more texture we’re going to bring in a photo of concrete that you can get free from www.mayang.com/textures. Copy the entire image by pressing Ctrl+A then Ctrl+C and close the image. Back in our image, Ctrl+Click the thumbnail of the layer the skull is on, then hit L to select the Polygonal Lasso tool. While holding Alt, click around any part of the layer that’s selected other than the skull to subtract the selection. Then select Edit > Paste Into and set the layer properties to Overlay.

13. Time for tidying up the image. On the Lines layer, colour the girl’s lips a dark green (don’t worry about doing it carefully, we locked the transparent pixels on the layer earlier so you will only affect the black pixels). Add some more dark elements, such as vines for the background, onto the ground layer. Feel free to experiment, as every jungle is different, but try to make all of your elements point towards the focal point. It’s a subtle trick, but one that really tightens up the composition.

14. Preparing art for badges is quite simple, the only considerations you have to bear in mind are whether your art will fit in a badge template, and if it will read successfully as a badge. To fit a template, you have to use two circles; one that is the badge’s face, and an outer circle for the image’s bleed, which you need because the image will wrap around the badge.

15. Badges are usually quite small, so you have to be able to read the image from a distance. Because of this, I’ve simplified the shading of the gorilla’s face to make it easier to understand from far away. Then it’s a simple matter of pasting in the art, resizing it (Ctrl + T while holding Shift to constrain the proportions) and lining it up so the image face and bleed are correct so you can send it off to be printed. 


01. To block colours in, use a round hard edge brush with the following settings: Opacity and Flow: 100 per cent, spacing 1 per cent, size jitter set to Pen pressure, angle jitter set to pen tilt, with airbrush and smoothing ticked.

02. For more precise shading, hold Ctrl and click on the thumbnail of a layer (in the layers palette) to make a selection. Now click on the ‘blends’ layer. Almost all of the shading for this image was done on the ‘blends’ layer because it saves on file space and gives the option of altering the base colours.

Author’s URL: David Cousens – www.coolsurface.com


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