2 June 2009

Cool graffiti techniques

Mark Mayers shows you how to mix pixels and spray paint to create edgy urban art.

Graffiti has influenced many of today’s graphic designers and illustrators: skateboard graphics, clothing, and the music industry have all drawn on it heavily, while the distinctive graffiti style pops up in ads, magazines and elsewhere.

From modest beginnings in the 1970s as simple tags in New York subways, to the modern-day hip hop behemoth, graffiti art has gone global, as likely to crop up in chic art galleries as on the streets.

Here, you’ll learn how to add some chaotic, urban grit to your artwork using selection and layer blending techniques. You’ll also learn how to replicate a three-colour graffiti stencil using Photoshop’s filters and channels – then you’ll get the chance to get your hands dirty by adding some overspray and drip effects.

Finally, to pull off the effect, you’ll apply blending modes, as well as using Photoshop’s lesser-known Displace filter to map your graffiti to the contours of the wall.

The skater image for this tutorial is kindly provided by Paul Frost, www.theimageworkz.com. Some other images for the tutorial can be bought online for a small cost.

01. In Photoshop, create a new RGB landscape canvas measuring 29.7- x-21cm at 300dpi. Download the wall image from iStockphoto http://tinyurl.com/6k6x47, or use a similar image of your own. Import the wall image into your document as a new layer, then use the Clone tool set to All Layers to extend the plaster on the left-hand side plaster. You might also like to clone out the black paint area in the top right corner of the image. When you’re happy with your wall merge the layers (Cmd/Ctrl + E).

02. Save the image as Graffiti Tutorial. Next, desaturate it (Cmd/Ctrl + U), then give it a Gaussian blur of 2.5 pixels (Filter > Blur > Gaussian Blur). Now hit Shift + Cmd/Ctrl + S to Save As, check it’ll save in Photoshop format, and label it Bumpmap.psd. You can now close the image – we’ll be using it in the final step as a displacement map for the graffiti.

04. Continue adding layers, remembering to leave areas clear for the skater stencil and mural. Experiment with different blending modes: for this image I’ve used a combination of blending modes. Try filling selections with paler colours and dropping the opacity for a weathered look. You can also blend layers by doubleclicking their thumbnails and dragging the whitepoint Blend If slider to the left (hitting Opt/Alt and dragging to split the slider will refine the blend).

05. Open Skater.jpg from the cover CD and crop the excess background. Now use the Pen tool (set to Paths) to isolate the skater. You don’t have to be 100% accurate plotting your points here because the final stencil result is fairly crude. When you’re done, save the path by double clicking its thumbnail.

06. Press Shift + Cmd/Ctrl + U to desaturate, generate a selection from your path by Cmd/Ctrl + clicking its thumbnail, then hit Shift + Cmd/Ctrl + I to invert the selection and fill with white. Now access the Levels (Cmd/Ctrl + L) and set the blackpoint to 71, the midpoint to 3.37 and the whitepoint to 187 to increase the contrast.

07. Intensify the contrast by selecting Image > Adjust > Posterize and entering a value of 3. We now need to simplify the level of detail to mimic the way a hand-cut stencil is produced. Paint within a selection from your path using a hard-edged brush on the black and white areas, then use the Eyedropper tool to sample the grey and paint on those areas. Now go Filter > Noise > Median and enter a radius of two pixels.

08. With the Magic Wand tool set to Contiguous and a tolerance of 2, select the black areas from the image. In the Channels palette, create a new channel. Now use the fly-out menu to access the Channel Options, and click the Selected Areas option. Changing the default channel settings will make the following steps clearer.

09. Label the new channel ‘Black’, then set your foreground colour to white and hit Delete to fill the active selection with black. Now the black is independent from the white and grey you can paint out areas using a white brush to simplify it further. Remember – you’re aiming for a hand-cut effect.

10. Select the grey areas from the image and fill with black in another new channel. Paint out any fine hairlines that appear and simplify as in the previous step, then label it ‘Grey’. Select the white areas and fill with black in another new channel, then generate a selection from your path, inverse and hit Opt/Alt + Delete to fill with white. Clean it up and label it ‘White’.

11. Add a new layer, then delete the Background layer. Generate a selection from your ‘Grey’ channel, and fill the active selection with a pale brown (R = 243; G = 165; B = 114). Use a selection from the ‘White’ channel, and fill with an off-white (R = 200; G = 240; B = 224) on a new layer. Repeat using a selection from the ‘Black’ channel, filling with black on another layer.

12. Select the Crop tool and expand the bottom of the canvas, before accepting the crop prompt. Rotate it anticlockwise as shown. Now for the overspray effects: open Paint_1.jpg from the cover CD and use the Magic Wand tool (with the Contiguous option unchecked) to select the image and Copy > Paste it above the ‘Black fill’ layer. Transform and position, then set the blending mode to Multiply. Now erase any excess areas, then continue using the remaining paint files to further the effect.

13. Now use the same off-white and pale brown to fill more overspray areas using default blending mode – we’re aiming for a fairly subtle effect, so don’t overdo it. Once you’re happy, Merge Visible (Shift+ Cmd/Ctrl + E) and name the layer ‘Skater’. Now access the brush presets and pick a medium, soft-edged brush with Noise selected. Add some gentle overspray using the same colours as well as black. Drag and drop this as a new layer into your working document above the group folder.

14. Download the graffiti image from http://tinyurl.com/6nt584 or use a similar graffiti photo of your own – it must be bright and bold enough to work as a centrepiece for the image. If you’re using the downloaded image, you’ll see the bottom left-hand graffiti is missing. To restore it, first use the Crop tool to extend that side of the canvas by approx 2cm. Now draw a path for the missing area, then using the Clone tool set to All Layers, paint within a selection from your path. Finally, invert the selection to fix the remaining area.

15. Hit Cmd/Ctrl + E to Merge Down and label it ‘Main graffiti’. Drag and drop it into your working document above the skater and position in the bottom right. Next, use the Eraser tool to blend out the hard edges. Change the ‘Main graffiti’ layer’s mode to Screen and the opacity to 60%. Duplicate the layer and set its mode to Linear Burn, then increase the opacity to 77%.

16. Set the skater to Screen and 75% opacity, duplicate it, setting its mode Linear Burn and opacity to 77%. Open ‘Tag.tif’ from the cover CD and drop it as a new layer at the top of the stack, transform, set the blending mode to Screen, at a 50% opacity. Target your top layer and apply the displacement map by going Filter > Distort > Displace, in the next window set the Horizontal and Vertical Scale to 5, check Stretch To Fit and Repeat Edge pixels, then click OK, navigate to your saved bumpmap. psd file and click Open. Finally, target all your remaining layers in turn and hit Cmd/Ctrl + F to repeat the filter. Your graffiti now matches the contours of the underlying wall.

Author: Mark Mayers

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