6 February 2011

Give your art that cosmic look

In this tutorial I will walk you through the steps needed to create the cosmic lady opposite, complete with overlay effects, colour treatments and elements that you can easily create in Photoshop. The project is based around a photograph from ThinkStock.com, which they’ve kindly provided on the Download Zone.

We will move fast, but don’t let that stop you from experimenting with colour and form. Make this image your own by trying out ideas that may occur to you along the way.

This tutorial relies heavily on using overlaid objects in order to change and bring about new colour palettes. We will be making frequent use of the Layers panel and blending modes.

Throw on some music and let’s get rockin’.

Step 1 Open the file jameswhite_canvas.psd in Photoshop. Now create seven groups in the Layers panel and name them as follows: Flares; Highlights; Lines; Model; Orbs; Colour Spheres; Background Colours.

Step 2 In the Background Colours group, create a new layer called ‘Gradient 1’. Select the Gradient tool (G), hold down Shift and create a vertical gradient of browns and blues. Now add a blue-to-transparent gradient at the top in a new ‘Gradient 2’ layer. Make another new layer, ‘Gradient 3’, and create two orange-to-transparent gradients at the sides. Add a Layer Mask to this layer and, using the Gradient tool with the black-to-transparent preset selected, fade out the top and bottom of the orange gradients. Set this layer’s blending mode to Overlay.

Step 3 Select the ‘Model’ folder. Go to File > Place and bring in thinkstock_model.jpg, adjusting the scale if necessary. Add a Layer Mask to the model. Select the Brush tool on a soft setting and with black as the colour, do some selective masking around the base of the figure. Set the layer’s blending mode to Overlay.

Step 4 Create a new layer called ‘Highlight’ in the ‘Model’ group. Select the Gradient tool and the Radial button on the Options bar. Create a radial white-to-transparent gradient near the model’s face. Set the layer’s blending mode to Soft Light and the opacity to 40%. Remember this method of creating highlights – we’ll be using it again later.

Step 5 Create a new layer called ‘Spheres 4’ in the Colour Spheres group. Using the Ellipse tool (U), make a circle around part of the model’s head in this layer. Hit the ‘Lock transparent pixels’ button on the Layers panel. Select the Gradient tool, set it to a radial gradient of black-to-white, and apply it to the circle. It should now look like a sphere.

Set the layer’s blending mode to Overlay, with an opacity of 85%.

Step 6 Duplicate ‘Spheres 4’ three times so you have layers beneath named, from bottom to top, ‘Sphere 1’, ‘Sphere 2’ and ‘Sphere 3’. Make the spheres in these layers solid green, solid brown and a gradient of varying blues, respectively.

To add a bit more colour and interest to the head area, set the opacity of the new layers to 45% while leaving the blending modes set to Overlay. Offset the green and brown circles slightly.

Step 7 In Illustrator, select the Ellipse tool and draw a simple oval, with no fill colour. Use a 3pt dotted black stroke with a 2pt dash and a 5pt gap for this. Copy the oval and paste it into the Orbs group in Photoshop, calling this layer ‘Track 1’.

Step 8 Add a Layer Mask to the dotted oval and, using the Brush tool (B), mask out a portion to make it look like the line goes behind the model’s head. If the oval is a Smart Object, rasterise the layer. Hit the ‘Lock transparent pixels’ button and add a linear gradient of beige, red and black to the oval. Duplicate ‘Track 1’ as ‘Track 2’ and rotate and move it to form a second ring around the model’s head.

Step 9 Now let’s scatter a few orbs around the hair. Start by creating a new layer, then select the Ellipse tool and make a small circle. Make sure you hit the ‘Lock transparent pixels’ button, then apply a radial gradient to the circle using black-to-white. It should now look like a sphere. Set the blending mode to Overlay.

Step 10 Go to the Lines layer and, using the Line tool (U) set at 5px, draw a horizontal line intersecting the model’s eyes. Set the blending mode to Overlay and the opacity to 75%.

Now duplicate the layer five times. Select all the ‘Lines’ layers and hit the ‘Distribute vertical centers’ button on the Options bar to even out the spacing of the lines. Add a Layer Mask to this group and use the Airbrush tool to mask the areas around the eyes.

Step 11 Duplicate the Lines group, calling the new version ‘Lines Blur’. Alt-click on Lines Blur and select Merge Layers to flatten its contents. Then go to Filters > Blur > Gaussian Blur. Set the blur to 8px. This should give those lines a nice glow. Bump the opacity back up to 90%.

Step 12 Create a new layer called ‘White’ in the ‘Highlights’ group. As in Step 4, use the Gradient tool to add some white-to-transparent radial gradients to both ends of the lines we just made, and to the model’s right eye. Set the blending mode to Overlay and the opacity to 70%.

Step 13 Now change the colours of the Gradient tool to black-to-transparent and use some radial gradients to add shading to darker areas. This will add more depth to the overall piece. Try to concentrate on the eyes, hair and mouth to bring out details. You can even add a third layer to add some red in the same way.

Step 14 Go to File > Place and bring in the image called jameswhite_flare.jpg into the Flares group. Give the new layer a Screen blending mode, add a Hue/Saturation adjustment layer in the Adjustments panel, and turn Colorize on. Now slide the Hue slider to 45 and the Saturation slider to 85. This should give the flare image a nice yellow tint.

Duplicate the layer a few times and disperse the results randomly around the top. Scale a couple to add depth.

Step 15 Create a new layer at the top of the layer stack and fill it with a medium brown. Set the layer’s blending mode to Soft Light and the opacity to 50%. This will alter all the colours at once and add a warm golden hue to the entire canvas. Experiment with a few different colours to see what looks best.

Step 16 I like to add text to my posters as I feel words provide an anchor to the design. You can add any text you like, but if you want to use my title, go to File > Place and select jameswhite_text.eps. Scale the word ‘Cosmique’ and centre it near the bottom of the design. Finally, add a Layer Mask to the Colour Spheres group and mask out the circles to bring out the model.

James White

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