I recently posted a time-lapse video of my working process to Instagram. I had seen a lot of other illustrators posting similar videos, most of them using the action replay feature of procreate on the iPad Pro and I don't own one of those (yet?), so I thought i'd try my hand at a time-lapse of my image making process in Photoshop...I made a picture of my own face!
After the video went up, I received a handful of messages from people asking how I did this thing, or what shortcut I used to do that thing? I am always more than happy to share my 'secrets' when it comes to my work, so I decided to do a little break-down of how I use Adobe Photoshop.
I love to get a glimpse behind the curtain at other illustrators' process, not only because I'm a nosey bugger, but because I find it really interesting that different people using the same software can make completely different artwork using the exact same digital processes. It's also a great way to pick up a few tips and tricks that you may not have known about prior to the snooping!
So, here is the video and below I will detail the tools and shortcuts I use to create all of my digital images. I only use a handful of techniques and I'm sure the things I share will not be new to most people, but there may be someone out there who may learn something.
1. Just Press Play
I always begin my image-making process the same way. I make a bunch of shapes and textures by hand on cheap copy paper and scan them at hi-res into my mac. I then open up the scanned elements in photoshop, which tends to look something like this...
These are not the elements I used for the self-portrait in the video, I just picked one at random from my personal library of cut-out shapes. Every time I make a new image I save the scanned cut-outs to my shape library - my current file count is at 591 different collections of shapes. I also have separate folders for mark-making and textures...i really need to do something with them!
To make the shapes easier to work with I need to separate the black shapes from the white background. To do this I use a custom Photoshop action that adjusts the levels, selects all the white pixels and erases them, leaving only the black shapes on a transparent background. I can then isolate each element and bring it into a new document (i'll explain this in the next step.)
This is my most valuable asset when using photoshop and saves me a bunch of time and eliminates the annoying fiddly steps at the start of every job.
2. Lasso & Move
My Photoshop process is minimal to say the least, I can count the tools i use regularly on one hand. I use the Brush (B) & Erase (E) tools very occasionally, I use the eyedropper (I) all the time as i'm constantly tweaking my colour palette, but the tools I use the most are the Lasso (L) and Move (V) tools.
Once I have used the action I talked about in step 1, I am left with one layer that contains all of the black cut-out shapes together on a transparent background. I can now use the Lasso tool (L) to draw a selection around any individual shape. Once the desired shape is selected I switch to the Move tool (V) to drag the shape into a different Photoshop document. When you do this, it isolates each shape on its own layer allowing me to 'collage' the elements together, building them up to create my image. I like to do this as it keeps every single part of my image editable. I constantly nudge and tweak throughout the creation process - it also means I can colour and apply textures to each element individually
3. Lock Pixels & Fill Colour
Speaking of colouring elements, many of the questions I received in response to my video were with regards to how I colour my artwork.
My absolute favourite feature in Photoshop, and it's one I'd be lost without, is the ability to lock the transparent pixels on a layer. If you've ever tried to colour something in Photoshop using the paint bucket tool you will understand how terrible that approach is. The paint bucket tool doesn't care about anti-aliasing and those nice smooth edges you have spent ages painting will be reduced to a horrible jagged mess as soon as you click the fill button. Locking the transparent pixels preserves the anti-aliasing and keeps your artwork exactly as you intended it. I've made a little example image below to show you what I mean...
If you look to the top of the layers panel in Photoshop, you will see the word 'Lock' followed by 4 icons. Clicking the first icon that looks like a little checkerboard will lock the pixels for some lossless colour fill action! Alternatively, you can use the keyboard shortcut by pressing the forward slash key ( / ).
Once the pixel are locked, I choose a colour with the eyedropper tool (I) and fill the shape with either the foreground or background colour using the keyboard shortcuts.
Fill with foreground colour - ALT + BACKSPACE
Fill with background colour - CMD + BACKSPACE
4. Duplicate & Merge
A lot of the time, when I cut out the shapes I do it blind. I prefer cutting on the reverse of the inked paper as I like the surprise of seeing what kind of texture has been cut out. Although I prefer the chance involved, sometimes the outcome is not so desirable - lighter textures, when having the white background erased, show the background colour or whatever is on the layer below. If I want to retain the natural textures I spent time making but I want a more solid appearance, I duplicate the layer and merge them together. Doing this means that the transparent anti-aliasing in the shape get stacked on top of each other and gradually fills in the gaps more naturally than if i were to paint it in by hand.
The image below shows the difference between a starting shape (left), and the same shape that has been duplicated and merged a few times (right).
To duplicate a layer I use the shortcut CMD + J. This copies the selected layer and creates a duplicate above the original. I then merge down using the shortcut CMD + E, which combines the selected layer with the layer below. I do this a bunch of times until I get the desired effect.
So, that is a basic rundown of how I use Photoshop. I'm sure I could be doing things more efficiently so if you have any pro tips, get in touch and let me know how much of a luddite I am.
If there is anything I haven't covered or you have any questions, please just ask and i'll try to get back to you as soon as possible!