The last post on Photoshop was an attempt to show the convoluted creative process of trial and error once you start on the computer. I’m so used to having an open-ended list of possible solutions when I hit walls in Photoshop that it’s difficult to explain exactly what is going on as I do it, so hopefully this post will add a little bit of solidness to my ramblings. This stage will deal with finishing a piece, and by finishing I mean forcing all of the variables to snap together onscreen. Believe it or not, this stage is probably the easiest if all of the foundation has been properly layed. I can sum it up in three sections.
1. Broad highlights & shadows
I’ll backtrack a little bit to make this step really obvious. Once we have our flat colors in place we can then start rendering a few of the elements to give them a bit more depth. This means adding lighter and darker areas depending on where you want the light to be hitting. I use the Dodge and Burn tools because they make it really easy to get a shade higher or lower without de-saturating your original color, and in some circumstances they can really make the color pop. But be careful because these tools can be grossly overused causing your image to have that obvious Photoshopped feathered edge on your shading. Just turn down the exposure on the tools a bit and have fun adding some variation to your shapes (see image).
2. Sharp edges & highlights
This is my favorite step because it really makes the shapes pop off the screen if done correctly. I make a new layer at the very top of all the other layers, and set it to Overlay in the layer option dropdown. Then I use a simple small brush and paint in little lines using white along every edge I think light would hit. When set to overlay, the white should create a much brighter version of the color beneath giving the shape a nice bright solid edge. On the same layer, I inversely use black to add a few darker edges where a hard shadow might fall as well as a few defining outlines.
3. Broad shadows & texture
Finally, I’ll make an additional layer at the top of the layers palette, again setting it to Overlay, then do some broad shading using a bigger feathered brush using white and black. This stage allows me to really drop back some elements while bring other things forward with the lighter color. This is done by eyeing up the overall piece and making sure shadows and highlights are consistent and nothing looks too flat. Be sure to use a lower flow setting on your brush because this stage can be overdone as well. In the example image I added a few layers of texture on top of everything to give it a grittier outcome.
So, that is a basic version of my creative process. With every piece I do the process varies a bit with new challenges because I can never predict how some rust will mess up my color treatments. However, I hope this has been insightful. Any comments or recommendations of your own are encouraged.
You can check out the final piece here.