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The Road to Web designing

Art Illustrations

Do you want to look great?

29 August 2010

Cut & paste cool background textures

Take cut-&-paste further by compositing elements onto textured, colour backgrounds. Brian Grant shows you how on a piece of his fantastic work…

Image backgrounds in digital art can be more than simply act as incidental scenery to a piece of work. Rather, with good planning and some honed colour skills, it’s possible for backgrounds to frame an image in an incredible variety of ways.

For this tutorial, leading designer and artist Brian Grant shows us how he has created one of his latest pieces, and in the process using the background to transform a basic image of a model to create a futuristic work of art.

The key to this is to successfully manage a great image extraction of the foreground object, then use the gradient tool to transform a background.

Step 1
The image that we start with is Rachel, a model from a recent fashion show. To start, convert the image from RGB to CMYK by choosing Image > Mode > CMYK.

Step 2
Choose Filter > Extract, and choose 100 as your brush size. Draw around the model, and then fill it, then click OK. Everything that is not filled in will be deleted. If your hand is not that steady you can hold down Shift and click to create the outlines more easily.

Step 3
Now to clean up the image. Add a layer mask by clicking on the rectangle with the circle inside it located at the bottom of the layers panel and, using the Pen tool, do a detailed cut out of the model. For the softer areas such as her hair, I use the Eraser Brush. I start with it on 17 pixels, but vary it for smaller and larger hairs. The hair at this stage does not have to be perfect. They will be adjusted once the background texture is added. Do not try to be perfect – just get into a rhythm and things will seem to flow.

Step 4
Finally, this is the model cut out with coloured background. The cut out is placed on a different coloured background to show that the image is cut out properly. Test on different colours because sometimes cut outs look better on light colours than dark colours.

Step 5
Now we will create a background for the model to stand on. For the background of the main image, create a radial gradient from the colours of C: 13 M: 9 Y: 11 K: 0 at one side and C: 45 M: 27 Y: 17 K: 0. The image will have a blue tint, so all of the future layers of colours will need to reflect this.

Step 6
Next, we will put a textured background over the top of the gradient. You can find any old piece of wood, board, paper, wall or anything else that has a kind of organic texture. Overlay it using the multiply effect on the layers panel with 100 per cent opacity.

Step 7
Add a new layer, and create another radial gradient with the colours C: 84 M: 57 Y: 2 K: 0 at one side and C: 81 M: 73 Y: 60 K: 82. The image should now have a kind of deep dark-blue textured feel to it.

Step 8
Now place the model on the blue texture, scaling her so she fits. In this case, she is scaled down to 70 per cent of her original size. Duplicate the model layer as you can use this to reinstate detail in your work later on.

Step 9
De-saturate the colour of the model layer to -40 by choosing Image > Adjustments > Hue/Saturation. Now it is time to put an abstract blur over the whole image and give a 40 per cent hue. The central figure is starting to look more at home now, but we still need to focus in on her skin tone.

Step 10
Next, create the light and dark areas of colour that will make the model at home in her environment. Selecting a soft-edged brush around 30 pixels wide, then draw in the areas and blend it to make it look realistic. To blend the colour on her skin, click on the smudge tool (R). Once it is finished use the hue effect on the layers panel to make everything look more realistic and integrated.

Step 11
Finally, we add more blurred layers and give a shadow to her so that she seems slightly more balanced in this environment. At this stage it is really a case of using your best judgement to create the effects that look best to you. Also you can get into a pattern of continually playing around with layers and effects.

Brian Grant

27 August 2010

Create an iconic T-Shirt artwork

Joshua Smith, aka maverick illustrator Hydro74, has a style that’s instantly recognisable – combining the thick, clean lines of graffiti with the iconography of tattoos and the symmetry and patterns of vector art. Here he takes you through how he created his latest work, based around his regular motifs of skulls and swirls mixed with this spring/summer’s illustration icon, the owl.

As you follow this tutorial, you’ll discover lots of tricks to help you create better art and work faster in Illustrator. You’ll learn how to improve your skills with line art, shading using flat fills and colour techniques for limited palettes (to keep printing costs down).

Joshua says that as his techniques are more about drawing vector shapes using the Pen tools than brush strokes, you’ll get better results from a mouse than a graphics tablet. Joshua adds that he wrote this tutorial using Illustrator CS3, as he finds the Pathfinder tool – which features a lot in this tutorial – in CS4 to be painful when dealing with complex paths.

Step 1 First off, I did a really rough drawing of the head of an owl to get the piece in motion. Then I went into Photoshop and made it symmetrical. The goal here with a rough, basic drawing is to allow yourself to be more creative in Illustrator as you click away. You never just want to trace what is there, but add your touch on what feels right and allow that inner creative demon to ask: ‘What if we did this?’. You can use your own sketch here, or download from the Download Zone.

Step 2 Import your image into Illustrator, enlarge it to a decent size and drop the transparency down to 50%. From there, set up a guide in the centre of the image. The goal is to save time, thus drawing one side and perfecting that. Create a new layer to allow you to click off the drawing to see how progress is going.

Step 3 Now it’s time to click and drag using the Pen tool (P). As you click away, start adding small amounts of detail and exploring what works. Don’t follow your lines directly from the drawing, but allow yourself to be free – you’re doing this to explore.

Step 4 When you get to a good spot, copy the art and flip it. Once I put the two sides together, I can see where my mistakes are, or if I’m on target. This is a good point to step away for a few moments and get a cup of tea, so you can look at the piece with fresh eyes.

Step 5 Once you’ve drawn the outline, it’s time to add some details. I’ve worked a little etching into the piece by creating long, thin triangle-shaped pieces arranged together in a row.

Step 6 Take the etching element and play with it by stretching it then placing it over the owl’s eyebrows. To funnel it between the eyebrows, select the element, open the Pathfinder (Shift + Cmd/Ctrl + F9) and use the Crop function. One downside to this function is that every time you crop, you’ll notice annoying blank lines. To remove them, use the Pen tool to make a line with no colour or stroke, then click on Select > Same > Fill & Stroke. Hit Delete and you’re done. Keep a copy of the etching lines nearby.

Step 7 Detail the forehead by creating some half circles and aligning them in a row. Stack these rows to cover the area that you want to fill. It helps to group (Cmd/Ctrl + G) these shapes before placing them on top of the illustration so you don’t have to click them individually if you make a mistake.

Step 8 Repeat the techniques from Step 6 to add etching to these ‘feathers’ (this is why I told you to keep a copy of those etching lines.) You can fill each half-circle separately, or fill the whole section with this element to save time. I’ve decided to do each one individually, as it looks better.

Step 9 To fill each half-circle individually, duplicate the cropped element you just created, rather than cropping each area. Once done filling those areas, select each one and crop it into the head. If you want to experiment here, try using wider or smaller shapes, or halftone dots.

Step 10 Now for some detail. This is a good point to start filling in areas with black, and adding little texture scrapes. The goal is to make it look somewhat organic. At this point, I also like to start deleting things I don’t need, but I don’t want to lose anything I worked on in case I change my mind. Create a copy, drag it to the top and you’re free to experiment without worry.

Step 11 Add some feathers at the sides, flowing downwards to tie in the body elements. They also fill out the artwork’s dimensions to better suit a T-shirt print. I want to put a skull under the head, but if skulls aren’t your thing, add a fluffy little cloud, or a happy little tree, or something.

Step 12 If you have a Hydro74 trademarked skull handy, feel free to use it now. Custom typography would work well here, too. Drop in the skull and start building the surrounding areas. It’s starting to come together a little now.

Step 13 Section off the different components – the owl and the skull – as individual elements. To do this, group together the owl head and trace around it in white. Repeat with the skull. This way, you can resize those elements more easily.

Step 14 Since you have the two heads filled in, start dropping in some highlights and dark areas onto one of the wings to add detail. Play around with some etching elements and send them to the back, behind the owl head and skull. To detail the other wing, take the side you worked on, duplicate it and flip it. Finally for the outline, add some eyes to the skull. Try to ignore the fact that your owl now has eyeballs for nipples.

Step 15 Time to add colour. This is the hard part, but here’s a trick: create a line-art version of your artwork under the ‘etched’ one, so you can fill the parts without fiddling with the shading. To do this, place a large rectangle over the top and select Crop in the Pathfinder palette. Delete all blank fills and strokes. Lock down everything except the current piece. Click Cmd/Ctrl + Shift + D for a transparent background. Select a piece of white in your illustration, then click Select > Same > Fill Color and delete it. All that’s left should be the black. Merge it together. Now create a new layer and place it under your line art. Lock the line art layer.

Step 16 To fill out the print and make it seem more iconic, I’ve added some organic swirls and shapes around the main design.

Joshua Smith

23 August 2010

High-end photo compositing techniques

Want to merge a number of images seamlessly into one design? In this tutorial, Kevin Roodhorst illustrates how to make an Africa-inspired graphic compiled from a number of photographic elements. You will be shown how to add several textures and effects, including lighting effects, using Photoshop and Illustrator.

Step 1 In Photoshop, start with a dark background that has grungy textures. Download the images you want – I chose anelephant (, a frog (, bongos ( and a tiger ( You will also need a model shot. Paste them into the image and desaturate usingImage > Adjustments > Desaturate.

Step 2 Now add a background image. Here, I wanted the hair of the model to combine with shapes in the background, so behind the objects I have placed a 3D design that I made using Cinema 4D.

Step 3 Begin to add more detail. Make some shapes in Photoshop, such as circles and lines, and copy them to the project. The purpose is to use these elements to focus attention on the objects.

Step 4 Try adding some small particles behind each object, to create more unity. Here I’ve used two different kinds of particles. One with the Lasso tool (L) in Photoshop, in which you grab the Lasso tool and select tiny particles and copy and paste them elsewhere. The other way is to create particles in Cinema 4D using the Explosion FX effect.

Step 5 Create some light effects to add to the project. Go toLayer > Layer Style > Blending Options and set each light effect’s Blend Mode to Screen, which should have a nice effect on the colours. Create other 3D shapes in Illustrator and place them in the image – the combination of Photoshop and Illustrator components should form a good balance of variation in the work.

Step 6 Add more vibrance to the design by adding layers of colour on top – I used four: red, green, brown and orange. For every colour layer, experiment with different opacities and blending modes. In this design I opted for a brownish hue to best fit with the African theme.

Step 7 To highlight the light effects much more, increase the contrast in some places. Next, add clouds by going to Filter > Render > Clouds. Set the Blend Mode of this layer to Overlay, again by going to Layer > Layer Style > Blending Options. Around the design you can add all kinds of small particle and star effects.

Step 8 Use the Sharpen tool (Filter > Sharpen > Sharpen) to clarify the design in specific places, like the eyes of the model, the elephant and the tiger. Then check if more can be done using the brightness, contrast and colour options, found in Image > Adjustments. In this case I decreased the colour using Vibrance.

Kevin Roodhorst

21 August 2010

Discover tattoo illustration techniques

Want to produce clean and detailed line work but with a hand drawn edge? Not sure whether to use the pen tool in Illustrator or a tablet in Photoshop?

With his stunning tattoo-style designs, digital illustrator and ‘part-time thrasher’ Chris Parks has all the answers and more in this tutorial.

You’ll be introduced to Illustrator’s pressure sensitive ‘Blob Brush’ and you’ll learn some techniques for adding quick colour and detailed depth. You’ll also pick up some good tips on workflow and how to add detail by creating separate graphics and duplicating them to save time without sacrificing quality.

Step 1 To get started, you’ll need a healthy dose of inspiration, a pencil and a blank sheet of paper. ‘Death Goddess’ was inspired by Mexico’s day of the dead celebrations, Thai and Tibetan imagery, along with my own style and interpretation. If you don’t feel like sketching, you can download my original sketch file (sketch.jpg) from the Download Zone.

Step 2 When you’ve got a good, rough sketch of your idea, scan it in and save it as a grayscale at 300 dpi. You can adjust the contrast levels of your sketch in Photoshop to make sure it looks clean enough to be used as a reference for the line work.

Step 3 In Illustrator, open a new document and set it up as RGB at 16 x 24 inches. Then go to File > Place to insert your sketch image onto your art board.

Step 4 Once you’ve placed your image, centre it on the art board and scale it up to match the art board. With the image still selected, change its colour in the colour palette to Red – 110; Green – 205; Blue – 245 so that the image has a cyan colour to it. Lock its layer and click New Layer in the Layers palette.

Step 5 Next, start inking the image up with your pressure sensitive tablet. Double click the Blob Brush in the tool palette menu and set it up as shown in the screenshot. Set the colour to black using the colour palette.

Step 6 The Blob Brush is an amazing tool added to Illustrator CS4. If you haven’t used it before, I’d recommend playing around with it a bit and practice getting a nice, consistent, thin-to-thick-line. It’s much smoother than Photoshop’s Brush tool and retains a vector-style line quality.

Step 7 After you are comfortable with the Blob Brush, choose an area to begin attacking. You can save time by starting with elements you can single out and duplicate, like the fire and flower elements. Don’t worry about sticking to the reference exactly – you can make improvements as you go along.

Step 8 Move the flower and fire elements off to the side and start outlining the top of the headpiece. You can draw half of it and flip or duplicate it. I also drew in some areas that are not visible in the original sketch so that I have this full headpiece as an individual element.

Step 9 Draw a skull, then scale it to fit and make enough copies to go across the headpiece. Start filling in other details, duplicating where possible. Give the flower and fire pieces white backgrounds, scale and drop them back into the design as well. I decided to make the flowers bigger and duplicated more of them to make the design bolder.

Step 10 Next, draw the ear and earring parts and flip/duplicate them. Repeat the process for the hair. It’s best to hide elements after you’ve drawn them so you can focus more easily on the individual sections you’re working on.

Step 11 Unhide any of the elements if needed and get to work on the neckpiece. Again, tackle it one part at a time and add in as much detail as your ADD will let you!

Step 12 For the face, start with the outside and work in, duplicating and flipping wherever you can to save time. Have fun with the tribal markings and stray from the original sketch as needed.

Step 13 When you work on the eyes, nose and mouth, take your time getting it right and as true to life as possible. It helps if you place photos of human eyes, lips and noses into your art board for reference.

Step 14 Once all of the black line art is done, it’s time to merge it into one piece. Select your line art and click Merge in the Pathfinder palette. Then choose Object > Flatten Transparency in the dropdown. Click away to deselect and select any white areas and choose Select > Same > Fill Color. Tap Delete on your keyboard.

Step 15 You should be left with just the completed black-filled drawing. Select All and choose the Live Paint Bucket tool. Pick a colour and click away. Once all the base colours are in, Select All and choose Object > Expand. Select any black shape and got to Select > Same > Fill Color. Cut and paste the black line art onto a new layer.

Step 16 Create a new layer above the base colour and below the black line art. Make some darker shading colours and add them to your colour palette. Select the Blob Brush tool and put the finishing touches on your piece by adding shading and depth.

Chris Parks

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