8 February 2011

Balance complex abstract images

The essence of abstract art is movement – of your hand, your eye and each element within the piece. In this tutorial, Rob Shields takes you through the necessary steps to create a balanced abstract image.

Balance within an abstract piece of art is not a simple matter of ratios or obeying hard-and-fast rules. Instead, it has more to do with finding harmony among each of the elements competing for the viewer’s attention. By giving certain elements more prominence, you allow the viewer’s eye to move purposefully through the work without becoming lost or jaded.

What you will not see in the following pages are all the mistakes that were made en route to creating this image. We mention this because making mistakes is an essential part of the process.

When you create an abstract image, you never get it right first time – it is all about trial and error. To get the most from this tutorial, you should experiment, explore a few dead ends and ultimately turn the piece into one that bears your own distinctive stamp.

On the Download Zone Rob has included some elements for you to use. The tutorial also makes use of some of our stock artwork from Photos To Go. Make sure to download both before you start.

Step 1 To create the background, start with a new document in Photoshop and add a black-to-white radial gradient with an Angle of 143° and a Scale of 150%. Open Stone Texture.jpg, copy it into your document and change the blending mode of this layer to Soft Light and its opacity to 12%. Now create a new layer, and with a large soft brush, paint black into the corners and set the blending mode to Soft Light and the opacity to 50%.

Step 2 Add an inverted triangle with the Custom Shape tool (U). Double-click on the layer in the Layers panel. In the Layer Style dialog, click on the Bevel and Emboss option, then select a Style of Inner Bevel, a Technique of Chisel Hard and a Depth of around 520%. Set the Direction to Down, the Size to 43px and Soften to 1px.

Step 3 Open Mountain.jpg and cut out the tip of the peak as shown. Flip it upside down, copy-and-paste it into the main artwork and position it below the V-shapes. Select another area of the photo to create a top for what will be a floating island. To make the crumbling effect, duplicate the island and then use Layer > Layer Mask > Hide All. Paint small sections back in until you get the desired result.

Step 4 Draw the central light beam as a thin rectangle with a slight outer glow and a purple-to-orange gradient (as a Gradient Overlay in the Layer Style). In a new layer, draw a black square with the Marquee tool (M). Create a lens flare (Render > Lens Flare) inside it and move the square so the flare sits at the beam’s top end. Set the blending mode to Color Dodge. In the Adjustments panel, click the Photo Filter icon and add a blue filter with a density of 100%. Now repeat to put a lens flare at the bottom of the beam.

Step 5 Open smooth sphere.jpg (above left). In the Liquify filter (Cmd/Ctrl + Shift + X), make small circles with the Mirror tool (M) over the centre to create a depression. Press OK. Erase part of this, leaving a bevel, and darken the whole in Curves (Cmd/Ctrl + M) (above). Copy Mountain.jpg into this image and create a clipping mask with it over the shape (above right).

Step 6 Using a small brush with a blue outer glow, trace small lines around the central hole in the object from Step 5. Create another lens flare (above, second from left), set its blending mode to Overlay and place it on the first shape. Open Capsule.tif, erase its left half and copy-and-paste it behind the shape. Make a hexagon with the Custom Shape tool and set its blending mode to soft light. Apply a Bevel and Emboss Layer Style, with Contour selected too. Now create a dark grey circle (U) and add an inner bevel to it with a depth of 350. Centre all of these elements and copy-and-paste them into the main artwork, offsetting them to the left.

Step 7 Open new sphere.tif and copy-and-paste it into your main artwork, on top of the elements you copied over in the last step. Set its blending mode to Linear Dodge (Add) and erase 75 to 80 per cent of its shape. You should have created something like the textured circular edge shown. Add shadow and light to the bottom of the sphere with a soft brush and clipping mask.

Open smooth cube.tif. Add the stone texture to it as you did in Step 1, then add a white circle with an outer glow above it. Now paint some rising smoke onto it with a soft brush. Bring the result into the main artwork above one of the V-shapes.

Step 8 Duplicate the lens flare from Step 6 and put it above smooth sphere.jpg with the blending mode set to Overlay. Add bright blue photo filters to both spheres, setting the blending mode of the smooth sphere’s filter to Exclusion. Break up the edge of the lens flare for added interest. Now bring the result in as shown.

Step 9 Copy-and-paste new sphere.tif into the artwork again, placing it beneath the largest sphere and above one of the V-shapes. With a soft brush, paint black onto the sphere’s upper left. Open original sphere.tif and copy-and-paste it above the new sphere.tif render, setting its blending mode to Hard Light. Open liquid dots.tif and copy-and-paste its contents to the right of the cube.

Step 10 Add the number ‘8’ in Times New Roman using the Text tool (T). Place the ‘8’ above the largest sphere and to the left of its centre. Save the whole image as a JPEG and bring it back into the original PSD, placing it inside the ‘8’ using a clipping mask.

Step 11 Now we’ll add a few smaller elements for additional depth and to give the viewer more to discover. Using the process outlined in Step 8, create the additional spheres arrowed above. Also, add another smooth cube (with texture), as well as another dark grey circle like the one created in Step 6. Make this one small and place it near the floating island.

Step 12 Add the deer from 18037611.jpg and yet another smooth cube (with texture) to the land. Duplicate them and flatten using Transform > Distort to create the shadows. Darken them by applying a Color Overlay Layer Effect: select a black colour and set the opacity to 60%. Using a small brush (set your pen pressure to opacity if you’re using a tablet), paint some lines rising like wispy smoke from the smooth cube.

Step 13 In Illustrator, type an ‘S’ in Times New Roman, then go to Effects > 3D > Extrude and Bevel and, with the Preview option checked, adjust the angle to match the lighting in the artwork. Click on More Options and change the Shading Color to none. Copy and paste the 3D ‘S’ into Photoshop, then partly erase the ends to make it more abstract, and add texture.

Step 14 Similarly, make a 3D triangle in Illustrator. Create the basic outline with the Pen Tool (P), then change the line weight to around 20pt. Now use Effects > 3D > Extrude and Bevel as outlined in the last step. Bring the triangle into Photoshop and position it sitting, relatively small, under the large central circular element.

Step 15 The final colour change is achieved simply by adding a purple-to-orange gradient map (Layer > New Adjustment Layer > Gradient Map) with the blending mode set to Hue. Also add a Levels adjustment layer (Layer > New Adjustment Layer > Levels) to give the work more contrast.

Step 16 Finally, to add yet another touch of realism, paint on some glows that would result from the central light beam. I’ve marked arrows on the artwork to show each place where the glows were added. If you paint these on a layer below your gradient map, they will automatically assume the appropriate colour.

Rob Shields

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