Sunday, February 13, 2011

The even more better technical-er side of things... um... yeah.


Well, it was just as much fun coloring my Wicked Witch of the West bright green as I suspected it would be. I have no clue why some artistic moments are supremely satisfying and others not, but picking out her skin color and seeing her for the first time as her bright-green-bad-girl self was pretty exciting.

Here is a photo collage I put together showing the different layers that go into making a final colored piece. Sometimes there's more color layers, sometimes less depending on how "cartoony" I'm doing it. If I want a really realistic, watercolor-sort-of-thing then there's usually between 3-6 color layers all with a layer transparency of about 50%.

If the colors are brighter (like here) I usually keep it to just a main color layer and then a layer devoted to shadows in muted (usually gray-brown) palette. This keeps the colors from getting too muddy/soft. Less is more when you're dealing with bright green witches.


Wicked Witch of the West paper doll : photoshop color layers

So layer one is obviously the basic graphite sketch that's been scanned in - some of the shading is taken care of just from the pencil shading. The background has been deleted, so generally in Photoshop I'll "select all", then "nudge" with the arrow keys - and this will snap the selection outline tightly around the drawing. At this point I'll create a new layer, set the property to "multiply", and begin doing broad color washes with my brush at 50% opacity. (This allows me to do shading without selecting a darker color, I can just do another stroke on top of the first one and get a different shade and keep going till I near opacity.)

After I fill in the base (brighter) colors this way, I will create another layer as my "shadow" layer and select colors that are slightly desaturated shades of the colors I'm already using. Here in Layer #3 I selected a desaturated yellowish-brown to compliment the green. Since the witch's outfit is all black... two layers did the job. That and I'm obviously a very lazy person and willing to shrug at myself and say, "That looks ok" and chug a soda before proceeding on.

Layer #4 is the layer where I take pity on all the poor souls who will one day actually attempt to assemble my paper dolls by giving them a chunkier outline to squint at between their scissors. The easiest (i.e. laziest) way of doing this is to go to Layer#1 - do a "select all", then "nudge" to snap the outline to the drawing again - then go into layer #4 and do the "stroke" command. Usually I do a 10 pixel wide black line, and I do it in two different passes. The first time I will do 8px on the "outside" of the selection line, then do 2px on the "inside" of the selection line. This helps cover up that white-jagged-pixelated line that happens when you delete backgrounds on rasterized images.

Still with me? BORING ISN'T IT. (This is why Miss America contestants never do graphic design on an overhead projector for their talent portion of the competition.)

At this point, I usually have to grab an eraser and do a little touch up in some areas, but I call it good enough. It takes literally about 60 seconds to create outlines this way whereas with the pen tool (which is the RIGHT way that all professional graphic designers would salute as the one and true method of outlining) this process would take probably an hour if you're awesome at it, and four hours if you suck. I've never liked the pen tool - my brain and Adobe's design team aren't on the same wavelength. The pen tool has never felt intuitive and mostly I just get frustrated with it and have to go take a walk or lay face down on the floor pondering my existence which only ADDS to my total time in getting it done.

But... that's a quick little snapshot of how you get from the black-and-white pencil sketch to something which looks a lot richer and more complicated... but really isn't. Trust me that I've tried a lot of different methods - when I started doing this I would use colored pencils on my graphite sketches, then scan them into photoshop and use the "blur tool" as a 10px wide brush and smooth the drawing out so that it looked like an oil painting. Sure it looked awesome... but now I have two small children, a business, a house to keep clean, and a demanding schedule of watching disappointing horror movies and then complaining online about the horror movie genre (on forums that I'm pretty sure only 16 year old boys will ever read)...  so I just don't have the patience for that sort of nonsense anymore.

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