The process behind Elle

The process behind Elle by James White

If you are following me on Twitter, you might have caught a bit of the process behind this new poster design last night, which I’ve dubbed ‘Elle’. I decided to show various stages of the design while I was working on it, something I’m not accustomed to and found challenging, a bit scary yet pretty fun.

So, I’d like to dedicate a post to talking a bit more about the poster as I progressed as the 140 character limit didn’t allow for a lot of explanation. This is, once again, a high-level version of the process as there are a lot of subtleties and details I will gloss over for the sake of time. So, here we go . . .

The process behind Elle by James White

1. As I’ve stated numerous times, everything I do starts with the sketchbook. Here are a few little roughs I created to see how the overall design might drop. It has a few variations here and there, but I generally had an idea of what I wanted to accomplish.

The process behind Elle by James White

2. I then needed a dame, and this image might work nicely. I had this image onhand while doing the sketches above which is why things look consistent. Much easier to conceptualize when you don’t have to guess or hope the right pose is found. I obviously need to tear this image to pieces in order to achieve my goal.

The process behind Elle by James White

3. Lets throw in a bit of inspiration to keep me going. I came across this Vogue cover a while back and really wanted to attempt a poster in this style. The palette is really light with the monochromatic face, very nice. I have also always loved the simplistic design of Bowie’s cover for Aladdin Sane, so I kept that image close by as well.

The process behind Elle by James White

4. Time to crop this lady out. I like the idea of smooth selective cropping and I wanted to try this with the neckline. I also chose early on that this wasn’t going to be a dark poster, so the background is lighter this time around.

The process behind Elle by James White

5. Now that the cropping was coming around, I started messing with the overall palette to see what works. I ended up working on the skin tones for a very long time as I wanted a slight blue/green tint but I didn’t want the dame to look like Frankenstein. I noticed the hair was also going to be a problem with where the image was cropped. I knew I needed to sort that out somehow, but it could wait.

The process behind Elle by James White

6. Now the skin was starting to shape up. I did a lot of blurring and airbrushing to get rid of the grittiness which resulted from me changing hues and levels several times over. I wanted to maintain a bit of roughness (like the Vogue cover) but I didn’t want the skin texture to look like a hack job. I also added a but of selective highlight and shadow bits to make the photo look a bit more interesting, and put in a flat pink for the lips.

The process behind Elle by James White

7. I ended up ditching this color idea because it made everything look blurry, but I wanted to show this anyway because the idea of using purple and blue as main colors would come back around later. Decent idea, but not this execution.

The process behind Elle by James White

8. I fixed up there hair with some scribbles. I like adding some hand-made elements to my work, like splatters and things, and the orientation of these lines made for a nice back piece for the hair. It also covered up that crumby hard crop that was giving me troubles earlier. I did some more skin color work here, and added some flares to make the sunglasses pop out.

The process behind Elle by James White

9. In keeping with the original sketches, I really wanted to add some tears or some sort of liquid streaming from the eye area. I got the idea of having the lens strangely melting down over the frame and cheek, so I got several photos of whatever dripping, cropped out the drops, and adjusted the levels to make it look like mercury. The lenses got completely blacked out as the reflections were competing with the drips. I also added a bit more color to this version with that pink burst over the scribbles.

The process behind Elle by James White

10. I realized that all of my mercury drops had the wrong lighting compared to the rest of the image, so I flipped them all around in order to match things up and added a touch of color to them. I hadn’t worked on the background at all until this point, so a bit of rough texture was added to put a little interest back there.

The process behind Elle by James White

11. And finally, I added a few more lighting bursts, some stars reflected in the lenses of the glasses and come subtle color overlays to bring all the different palettes into the same league. Those stripes were also a last minute decision as I didn’t want the poor girl just floating in empty space.

And there you have it. I would also like to point out that all of the photography and bits used in this design came from Thinkstock.com. Big thanks for the weaponry, guys!

21 Comments

  1. Super interesting stuff James :)

  2. Paul

    Cool to see your steps here, but honestly it would be more interesting to see you put the effort into doing your own photography for personal projects in the future. Just a thought.

  3. Can we buy it somewhere ?

  4. Remus

    Man you’re a god!

  5. I really like how it came out, I was following along the process during those dreadful Oscors…I really enjoy seeing hand-drawn elements like the scribbles and tears into these type of pieces. I also love seeing the creative process, I eat that stuff up!

  6. Viktor

    Just a WOW

  7. Very nice James! ThinkStock is awesome, aren’t they?

    BTW, would definitely love to see more of these types of posts, showing us your entire process. It’s very helpful.

  8. Oooh I love this James! I actually think adding the stripes was key to grounding the image and it also brings my eye straight to the center of the composition right away and then I work from center outwards when I look at it. Superb work, as always and thanks for breaking the process down for us mortals. Peace! Nat

  9. james (Author)

    Thanks so much for all the feedback, everyone. As I said in the post, it was a little strange showing the work as I went via Twitter. That’s not what I’m accustomed to at all, so I’m happy to hear you are getting something out of seeing these intermediate steps. I’ll hopefully get the opportunity to do something like this again.

  10. James,
    Great to see your process. I’ll for sure learn from reading this! Poster is rad.

  11. Jam

    Fantastic piece. I’ve been following your work for some time and am loving Elle.

    I’d love it if this were made into a wallpaper-size so we can admire her day-in, day-out. Just an idea.

    Keep up the great work!

  12. Love it! The colors you chose are fantastic! Great job!!

  13. gen

    really like the final piece and a great process post. keep em coming!

  14. I can’t get enough of this one.

    The line weight of the scribbling feels so right, making me question if they were scanned or drawn right in photoshop. The color is just tantalizing. Just enough to wet an appetite and lead me to further investigate the subtleties of the image. And the masking? Superb. I love that the edge is crisp towards the bottom (and in general), but softly blended when it contacts her face. It really helps to make something that’s striking without sacrificing the softness of her features. The end result is gentle yet bold. Was this your intent? I don’t know. Will I give you props on it either way? Hell yes.

    It’s interesting how certain details can add so much, even if we’re not always sure why we’re adding them. You’ve mentioned before that you have a very organic process, full of experimentation and unforeseen outcomes. I’ve always found this to be an exciting aspect of what we get to do. And I’m always happy to see how it takes shape within a particular piece.

    Great work, James. Thanks so much for sharing.
    Cheers!

  15. VS

    not a bad piece, seems like you are moving more and more towards a minimalistic style while also starting to deviate from your ‘old school’ style.

  16. Wow, this poster is great, I read your process and I find it very interesting and inspiring in a way that you would show your behind the scenes work. I have posted this on my blog and a link back to your blog
    http://loveyourdesignlife.tumblr.com/post/487953349/here-is-a-poster-by-james-white-called-elle-this

  17. Grats on getting Elle on the Digital Arts cover :)

  18. amor

    very nice one !!

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