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Photoshop Tutorial, Part One

Harry P.

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I'm going to post a pretty comprehensive, step-by-step tutorial on how I go about creating a Photoshop illustration. It will show you guys the process that I use to create a PS illustration from start to finish. Anyone with a basic knowledge of PS should be able to follow along and understand what I do and why.

I'm putting the first installment together now, and should have something posted later today.

Warning: It's going to have a lot of photos (obviously)... so for you guys on dial-up or slow connections, I apologize in advance. But there's no way to do a step-by-step PS tutorial without a lot of pictures!

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The beauty of PS is that there is no one "right" way to do things. PS offers you many different ways to do everything, and no two PS users use it the same way. This tutorial is not necessarily the "right" way to do things, it's my way of doing things, based on a lot of years of using PS. I've developed a lot of shortcuts and tricks that make it easy for me to get the results that I want.

This particular illustration will be somewhat simplified... I'm going to skip some of the finer details, but the basic techniques are still valid. How much detail you want in your illustration is up to you.

Ok...let's get started. First step is to find a photo of the subject... in this case a Tucker. A google search turned up a ton of photos. I picked this one. I opened up a new Photoshop document (16 x 12 inches, CMYK at 300 dpi), copied and pasted the photo into the PS doc, sized and cropped the photo to where I wanted it to be. This will be my base layer, a reference/guide to creating the illustration.


As you know, one of the handiest features of PS is that you work in layers. My reference photo will be the bottom layer, and all my work will be done on separate layers on top of my base reference layer.

My first step is to "draw" the basic overall shape (on a new layer. not on my reference layer), using the lasso tool and the elliptical marquee tool, and filling the shape with color, like this:


Next, I'll start adding the various highlights and shadows, each on a separate layer. Doing each succeeding area of color on a separate layer lets me work on each new area of the illustration without disturbing the rest of my work.

The first thing I'll do is add the bluish highight along the top edge of the body (the reflection of the sky in the sheetmetal). I'll take the layer I just created (the green shape), duplicate that layer, then use the "Color Overlay" function to change the color from green to sky blue. Then I'll use the elliptical marquee tool (circled in red) to draw an ellipse. (the white you see is actually a layer of white below the blue layer).


Then the "Feather" function to select how soft of an edge I want where I'll remove the unneeded area of blue (in this case I've chosen 50 pixels):



Now I'll hit the "Delete" key on my keyboard to remove the unwanted blue, leaving me a soft "feathered" edge (because I selected to "feather" the edge by 50 pixels, remember?)


I'll keep adding new areas of color (each on a separate layer), using my base layer (the photo) as a reference. Here you can see the roof highlight (on its own layer) and a large highlight on the side of the roof (on its own layer) over the green shape I created earlier (also on its own layer). In fact if you look on the right side of the photo you can see the "Layers" palette. Notice the bottom layer is a blank white "background," the next layer up (layer 1) is my reference photo, the next layer up (layer2) is the green shape, the next layer layer up (layer 2 copy) is the layer I created by duplicating layer 1 and changing the color, then deleting the unwanted area of color, and the top layer (layer 3) is the large highlight area on the side of the roof:


Much more to come... B)

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Each of the various areas of highlights are created on their own layer. Here's how it's done. This will be the highlight along the top of the rear fender. First I draw the shape I want (on a new layer), using my base reference photo as a guide. I used the elliptical marquee tool (circled) to draw an ellipse, then the brush tool to paint in the color. I then used the elliptical marquee tool again to draw a new ellipse. The area within the ellipse is the "active" area, the area that has been selected:


Now I'll hit the "Delete" key on my keyboard to remove the area of color selected, like this:


Note that I could have removed that area of color by using the eraser tool, or by using the "Edit>Cut" dropdown menu function, but hitting the "Delete" key is faster (that's one of those shortcuts I've developed over the years, and just one example of how PS lets you get a desired effect in several different ways.

Now I'll use the same elliptical marquee tool to draw a larger ellipse...


And then use the Eraser tool (circled in red) to "erase" the unwanted area. This time I couldn't just hit the "Delete" key, because remember... everything within the selected area is the "live" area. If I would have hit "Delete," everything within my ellipse would have been deleted. I only wanted to get rid of the part to the right of the first ellipse, so I used the eraser to remove just the part that I wanted to remove (here you can see part of the area removed, a swipe of the eraser to the right will remove the rest):


All the basic shapes are created this way. I draw the shape I want (always on its own layer!) with whatever tool is most appropriate... the ellipse tool for smooth curves, the lasso tool for odd and irregular shapes. (I'll show you how the Lasso tool works a little later on). Then I fill the shape with the brush tool and the color I want to use. BTW, the Eraser and Brush tools are adjustable. I can create any size brush or eraser that I want).

Here is the piece I just created as seen with the other layers I've created so far:


More to come...

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Let's do another highlight area.

Photoshop layers can be turned on and off... made visible or invisible. Here I've turned the base layer (my photo reference) on, and on a new layer, I've drawn the shape of the next area I want to create, using the Lasso tool to draw the outline of the shape (indicated by the dotted lines created by the Lasso tool):


Now I use my brush tool to paint in the color. Remember, even though the base layer (the photo) is turned "on" (it's visible), I'm actually painting on a separate layer on top of the photo layer (layer "7" highlighted in blue on the layers palette on the right). Here I've painted in the color:


And here I've added some brighter color at the lower right of my selected area, but again, on its own new layer (layer 8 in the layer palette on the right):


Here are all the highlight areas I've created so far with the green layer and the photo layer turned "off," but a white background layer turned "on." As you can see in the layer palette, I've merged all of these highlight areas into one single layer now, and the white you see is a separate white background layer


And here I've added some darker color using the brush tool, again on its own separate layer between the green layer and the other highlight layers. As you can see on the layers palette, my base photo reference layer is also turned "on" in this screen shot; that's why you can see it below the other layers... but all of the illustration work (the green shape and all the highlights) have been created on separate layers, not on the base photo layer. In fact, the last step, once I've completed my illustration, is to delete the photo layer. You can also see a highlight I created with the brush tool at the rear corner of the fender (again, created on its own separate layer).


By doing all the work on separate layers, it's easy to go in and edit/change/rework areas of the illustration without messing up the other existing layers. For example, if I didn't like the way that white highlight on the corner of the fender came out, I can simply delete that layer, make a new layer and try again... all without disturbing any of the work on the other layers. Layers are the beauty of PS, and make doing all sorts of transparency effects possible. However, the more active layers a PS file has, the bigger the file size (I think the max, number of layers you can have going is 100. I've done that, and I can tell you it gets pretty confusing when you're dealing with that many layers!)

So once I'm satisfied with certain areas of the illustration, I'll merge those layers together into one layer, to keep the file size down and PS running faster. At this point I've merged all of the various separate highlight areas into one single layer, keeping the green shape on a separate layer (and of course the base photo reference on its own layer).

More to come...

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Things are starting to make sense! It looks like you are using the eraser as the "brush" more than the brush itself. Why?

Will you make the full .PSD file available when the tutorial is complete so we can fool around with it?

Once you get the idea of layers, everything makes sense. Think of the layers as a pad of clear acetate sheets. Each separate piece of the illustration is created on a separate "sheet of acetate" (a separate layer)... layers merged as I complete certain areas and am satisfied with the look... and finally, all layers merged into one single layer (the finished illustration).

I use both the eraser and the brush... it all depends on exactly what I'm trying to do. Sometimes it's easier/faster to create a soft edge by painting with the brush, sometimes it's easier/faster to use the eraser and remove an area of color. It all depends on what I'm trying to do, and with experience you get to know which will work better in a given situation without even thinking about it.

Both the brush and the eraser are adjustable... I can make them any size I want, and can control the "strength" of them anywhere between 1% and 100% (full "strength" or full effect). For example, if I have my eraser set to 50%, when I erase it will not remove all the color, just half of it. If I set it to 100% it'll remove all the color. Between the "strength" settings and the size settings, you can create a ton of different effects. It's like adjusting the air pressure vs. paint flow on an airbrush... you can control the output. PS gives you so much control it's almost overkill.

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Will you make the full .PSD file available when the tutorial is complete so we can fool around with it?

If you're interested, I can send you the finished file. But by that time the layers will have been merged, and you won't have the flexibility of playing with the separate layers. I think i may have another illustration in the works where the layers are still separate... I'll check.

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I continue to build the illustration piece by piece, using the techniques I've shown you. Here I'm adding an addtional white highlight to the rear of the large highlight on the side of the roof that I created earlier. Once again I use the photo as my guide, and draw the shape I want to create on a new, separate layer with the Lasso tool, like this:


I painted the area with white, but now I want to soften the edges of the white highlight a bit. There are a couple of ways to accomplish that in PS... I'll use the blur filter. Actually there are several different blur filters, but "Gaussian Blur" gives the greatest control. (Don't ask me what a "Gaussian" blur is... I have no idea!!!) Anyway, the Gaussian Blur filter is in the "Filter" dropdown menu:


Choosing the Gaussian blur filter opens up a pop-up window where you can specify exactly how much blur you want. By adjusting the slider bar (circled in red) you can increase the blur, and the result can be seen in the Preview window. You can see that the previously hard-edged white highlight now has nice soft edges:


Next, I'll add a white spectral highlight by using the Brush tool to paint a soft white highlight (again, on a new, separate layer). Then I'll use the Smudge tool (it's the one with the finger icon, circled in red) to create the "rays" around the highlight. The smudge tool works just how you would expect it to work... you place the "finger" where you want to smudge the color, hold down the mouse button and drag... just like putting your finger into wet paint and smudging it. Like the Brush and Eraser, the Smudge tool is adjustable, you can make the "finger" any size you want:


More to come...

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Way to go Harry, it's about time someone took the time to walk through photo-shop to dispel some of the "I can't do that" mystique that surrounds these programs.

Perhaps when you are through with this thread you could help me with Adobe Illustrator or teach me how to yodel?

Just kidding big guy....the biggest problem I have is remembering what tools do what, the rest of my problem is old age and my right hand automatically reaches for an air brush or pencil. You are spot on with the layer stuff.....but my mind thinks in hand cut friskets etc.

Is there a pill I could take? B)

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You are spot on with the layer stuff.....but my mind thinks in hand cut friskets etc.

Is there a pill I could take? :rolleyes:

Layers is the secret to Photoshop... it's what makes it all possible.

When you're airbrushing on illustration board, you only have one layer-the illustration board. If you mess up, the only fix is to paint over your mistake, and too many re-workings usually show... they give the illustration an overworked look that doesn't have the "freshness" of an illustration that hasn't been reworked. The beauty of layers is that if you goof up, all you have to do is delete the layer you don't like and try again on a new layer... all the while leaving the rest of your work (on different layers) untouched. No more cutting friskets! :D

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Thanx so much for this, Harry. I guess I'm a sort of beginner/intermediate user of P-shop, aware of all the tools and filters and what they do, but still learning how to create approriate areas and how to control my mouse for accurate shapes. Also how to use the brush and erase tools expressively. It's great to get to see an experienced (and talented) hand at work. Thanx again! :D:rolleyes:

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