Signalnoise Tutorial: Rainbow Shards

As some of you know, I spoke at FITC Toronto last month where I included a small and simple Photoshop tutorial on how I achieved the rainbow shard effect seen in many of my poster designs over the last few years. What I showed to the crowd was a stripped down version so I could demonstrate easily and quickly how the effect was created in about 4 minutes. We can’t have only those who attended have all the fun, so here is the web version of the tutorial in the exact way I presented it at the conference.

But before we begin, please PLEASE try experimenting with various steps along the way. I understand tutorials are meant to be a map from point A to point B where you can create the exact results shown, but screw that. Try your own stuff, add images, change the shapes, switch up the colors. Anyone can read and follow instructions, it’s the exploration and playing that makes it your own and can lead down other creative paths. I endorse learning, not replicating.

Bear that in mind, and lets get to it.

Step 1: In Adobe Illustrator, create some basic shapes using a few varying degrees of greys. Try to get a good range so they don’t look so monotone. If you are looking to get things lining up later on, be sure to hold down the Shift key while making these so all lines are perfectly horizontal, vertical or 45º.

Experiment tip! After you’ve run through this tutorial once, try creating some other shapes to play with later on. It’s super fun, trust me.

Step 2: I originally used Flash in order to create these random little groups, but you really don’t have to. Take the shapes you created in Step 1 and make a few groups with a variety of size and dispersal. Take a bit of time here to play with the shapes and get the groups looking as random and interesting as possible. If you are adjusting lengths, be sure to hold down the Shift key to maintain that 45º angle so things line up properly.

Experiment tip! Seriously, don’t cut corners here because it will hurt you later. The more interesting the groups are here will improve depth later. Try using different shapes and arrangements to see what results they might yield. Think of these groups as your tools, the better they are the better they will work for you.

Step 3: Copy and paste 2 of the groups you just created into Photoshop onto a black canvas, then drop the opacity of these layers down to 50% each. Expand the size of the shapes a bit so they bleed off. You can set the dimensions of the canvas to whatever you like, I just chose this format because my it was for my Keynote presentation.

Step 4: Copy and paste 2 more groups of shapes into Photoshop on top of the previous ones from Step 3. Again, expand the groups so they bleed off the edges of the canvas.

Step 5: Set the Blending Mode of those 2 new layers of shapes to Overlay. You should now be able to see some interesting things happening as the shapes react to those underneath.

Experiment tip! Try adding as many layers as you wish to this step. Also try adjusting the scale and opacity of the shapes to see what happens.

Step 6: Now it’s time to add color. Create a new layer, select a full spectrum linear gradient and apply it across the canvas. I then selected the shapes below in order to apply a layer mask to the color layer. Looks pretty gross, huh?

Experiment tip! Try using different colors, radial gradients or using the airbrush tool to create custom color fills.

Step 7: Set the Blending Mode of the color layer to Overlay, and set the opacity to around 35%. This coloring doesn’t look too interesting but there is a method of applying color I discovered quite by accident, which is by way of layering colors over top of one another …

Step 8: Duplicate the color layer 3 times so you have 4 layers of color. This will improve the saturation of your colors without over-blowing or pixelating the shapes. You might have to adjust the opacities of your color layers individually of they are reacting too harshly with one another. I included my layers palette in this image to show you how I have things set up so far.

Here is the clean version of Step 8.

Step 9: Now we are going to add some subtle highlights and shading to the shapes in order to create a bit more dimension. Create a new layer and set the Blending Mode to Overlay. Select the gradient tool with a setting of white to transparent, and apply a radial gradient to the upper-right corner. Do the same steps and apply a black radial gradient to the lower-left corner. You can adjust the opacity of this overlay if the highlight or shadow are too harsh.

Experiment tip! Try using this method of highlight and shadow in different areas to either bring elements forward or knock parts back. It can add quite a bit of dimension to your work.

And there you go, nothing to it.

This is a fairly simple tutorial, but I hope you can understand the possibility of experimentation particularly in the early steps. It’s nothing to just follow instructions to yield to same outcome, the real power comes from playing with elements along the way to see what results might come about.

So have fun, and feel free to post your creations in the comments. I’d love to see what you come up with.

The girls of Signalnoise

I’ve been using a few lovely ladies in my poster designs over the past year or so, and I thought it might be cool to talk a bit about the photographic elements I use in my works.

Right off the bat, no I don’t do my own photography. It has been suggested in a few comments that I should be taking my own photographs to use, but in all honesty it’s too expensive. To get the quality and size that I need for an 18″ x 24″ poster I would require a camera that is a bit out of my budget. Group that with lighting, studio set-up and all that, it’s a big can of worms and I’d rather focus my effort on Photoshop. Gotta pick your battles, y’know?

That being said, shown above are some splits of my finished posters and the photos I used to make them. The majority of the stock I used has come from Thinkstock.com, where I am a proud member of their ThinkCorps team. I’m yet to stump their search engine with some of the silly things I search for, so hats off to them for building such a nice library of photos. You guys rule!

An interesting thing happened while I was creating the 2010 Tuts+ poster regarding stock imagery. I had already created the colorful curved elements and wanted a sci-fi image to place in the center. After searching around for a suitable “science fiction” photograph, an image of a girl with painted black skin appeared in the “you might also like” section. I was so taken by this strange image it actually changed to concept of my poster and took it in a direction I didn’t intend. So in a way, the search engine actually helped me complete the poster.

Sometimes I’ll find an image before designing the layout of a given poster, and other times I leave it for later. Either way, the stock imagery found (and suggested) can really influence what direction I go.

Broadcast: The art of James White

The next couple of weeks are going to be really busy and exciting as I prepare for a couple of events, both of which are happening on the same day.

As you can see by the poster above, I will be having my first official art show on April 25th at Resistor Gallery in Toronto. Check out the Facebook event page. I’m excited to showcase somewhere between 12 and 15 of my art pieces printed to canvas. I’ve never done canvas prints before, and will only be doing one of each for the show. Once they’re gone, they’re gone. The show is called Broadcast, same name as my online design discussions. Here are the details:

Broadcast: The art of James White
April 25 – 28, 2010
Opening reception: April 25, 7pm
Resistor Gallery, 284 College Street, 2nd floor (see map)
Toronto

On top of that, the art show will be taking place on the first day of FITC Toronto where I will also be doing a presentation entitled ‘Back to the Future’ on the morning of April 25th at 10am. My talk will involve some inspirational designs from the past and present, a showcase of my work, a short technical section where I walk through one of my process, some of the online tools I use to get my work out there, and a small advice section for aspiring designers. It will be a great time, I hope you can make it.

I’m looking forward to these two Signalnoise events, and have been for the past few months as I made the necessary preparations. The Broadcast poster above will also be available once I get some posters printed in the next week or so.

Looking forward to meeting all those who attend :) See you soon, Toronto!

In addition: FITC Toronto is also holding a gallery opening entitled Barricade at Function 13 on April 25th featuring the work of James Paterson, James Braithwaite and Jeremy Felker, 156 Augusta Avenue. Two cool events on the same night, Toronto!

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!

The process of Alex Varanese

Signalnoise Exclusive: Alex Varanese

A few days ago I posted some choice designs by the talented Alex Varanese. After leafing through his work for a few days, I reached out to Alex to see if he might be interested in writing an outline of the process behind one of his recent works. I was very interested to see how he tackles creating his unique art, and I’m sure other readers are in the same boat. I was thrilled that he agreed.

Check it out as Alex dissects the tools he uses, the planning and process he goes through to conceptualize his works, some ‘in progress’ shots and discusses some hilarious bits along the way.

A huge thanks to Alex for letting us all get a glimpse behind him and his excellent work. I’m very excited to announce the first Signalnoise Exclusive starring Alex Varanese. Enjoy!

. . . . . . . . . .

For me, producing a piece of art is a lot like child birth. Not so much because I’m bringing something new into the world, but because I’m hopped up on drugs so powerful that they have to be injected directly into my spinal column. I’m kidding, of course. Everyone knows that winners don’t use drugs. Winners do use a variety of tools, however, and I’d like to talk a little about the ones I use to create my work. Specifically, I’ll be dissecting the very first piece I created in my current collection; it’s called “February ’06″ (which is strange, since it was made in September of 2008) and it’s the first entry in a 6-part series called Circuit Bent Type:

The Process of Alex Varanese

Let’s start with the basics: I come from a 3D illustration background, so I tend to think in terms of objects and places rather than photographs or 2D shapes. I had a few goals for the Circuit Bent Type series, and I wanted to make sure the first piece hit them all:

  • A heavy emphasis on retro audio gear and hobbyist electronics (hence “circuit bending”) and a “found art” feel that looks convincingly like an actual arrangement of real objects.
  • The incorporation of both 2D and 3D typographical elements.
  • No use whatsoever of commercial typefaces, down to the model numbers on the chips and the signature in the corner. All text is either hand-drawn lettering or a custom-made font.

As is the case with a lot of my ideas, the general layout came to me all at once. I knew I wanted the term “LO-FI” to play a central role, and I had vague images in my head of some kind of homemade cassette-playing apparatus. I immediately committed the ideas to paper to make sure I wouldn’t forget anything:

The Process of Alex Varanese

If you’ve seen the rest of the Circuit Bent Type series, you’ll recognize early versions of other pieces mixed in here as well. As you can see, these borderline scribbles aren’t meant to impress; I generally sketch as fast as I possibly can to keep up with the flow of ideas out of fear that I’ll miss something. Then, approximately 7 seconds of frantic chicken scratching later, I catch my breath, notice that my million dollar idea didn’t abruptly vanish after all, and wonder what all the fuss was about.

You’ll notice that quite an evolution took place between this initial idea and the finished piece. My sketches are always more of a loose outline than a blueprint. The following screenshots are taken from 3ds max, my full-time renderer and part-time lover, and give an idea of what the modeling process was like:

The Process of Alex Varanese

The Process of Alex Varanese

I tend to model and texture in separate phases, so my first goal was simply establishing the geometry of the scene. The following “clay render” is what the piece looks like without any materials applied:

The Process of Alex Varanese

With the modeling complete, I began the soul-crushing, thanklessly laborious task of unwrapping the texture coordinates of each mesh and painting textures to wrap back over them. In total, this scene required 44 separate maps, most ranging from 384×384 to 2048×2048. Here’s a little collage of a few of them:

The Process of Alex Varanese

The party then moved to Illustrator, where I prepared a few typographical elements for the final composition. I used an ultra abstract typeface I’d recently designed called Edgewise to spell out an appropriately cryptic phrase from one of the real audio cassettes I used as a modeling reference: “SUPER PRECISION ANTI-RESONANCE / CASSETTE MECHANISM HIGH BIAS EQ”. It was either that or “PAPA DON’T PREACH / I’M IN TROUBLE DEEP”. The combination of a meaningless message and nearly illegible lettering allowed for a text element that would fill the space in a visually interesting way but wouldn’t demand specific attention from the viewer.

I was then ready to start stirring it all together in Photoshop:

The Process of Alex Varanese

These are the three basic layers of the piece: the original render from 3ds max, the typographical lockup from Illustrator, and a grimey background I painted using grunge brushes I’d created from some texture photos I took around town. To really drive home the retro feel, I finished up by overlaying some noise and about a bajillion adjustment layers to tweak the color balance, saturation, levels and so on. Check it out:

The Process of Alex Varanese

The bottom half is the unmodified image, all drab and vanilla, while the upper half is straight up old school playa-hatin’ funk. The combination of a 3D render as the base imagery, vector and typographical elements on top, a grungy texture layer on the bottom and a heavy dose of hyperstylized post-processing to tie it all together worked well and set the pattern for most of the work I’ve done to date. Here’s the final piece again, as well a number of full-res closeups taken from the original 36×16″, 300dpi PSD file:

The Process of Alex Varanese

The Process of Alex Varanese

The Process of Alex Varanese

The Process of Alex Varanese

The Process of Alex Varanese

In summary, my approach to the creative process requires three fundamental elements: rendered imagery, thoughtful typography and fabulous hair. In practice I rarely achieve more than two of these at any given time, but it’s the constant struggle for the trifecta that keeps me on my toes.

Nike Track Nationals poster

Nike Track Nationals by James White

Here is a recent poster design I created for the Nike Track Nationals event. I had a great time working with the folks over at the mighty Nike, they wanted something bright and explosive to kick-of the event promotion.

This was a challenge as I was hired to create a design surrounding all of the elements they supplied me with, including the logos and photographs. My designs is typically more simplistic then this, so it was an enjoyable deviation from my Signalnoise work as I massaged the elements into the concept. I had a great time developing that colorful pixellated background.

As with most of my posters, I went through a few different versions before landing on what Nike was ultimately looking for. Here are a few working concepts as I explored:

Nike Track Nationals by James White

Thanks so much to the team over at Nike for this project. Lots of fun. You can also swing by Niketracknationals.com for more information about the big event.

Awesome: Type treatment steps

Awesome type by James White

Awesome type by James White

Awesome type by James White

Awesome type by James White

Awesome type by James White

Awesome type by James White

I’ve had a few people ask me about the typeface used on my Awesome poster, so I decided to post a few different versions I created as I built the 3D chrome effect. The type was 100% handmade in Illustrator CS4, no fonts involved. I’ve only attempted this a few times in the past and took this opportunity to really push the vectors. The inspiration comes from Judas Priest and Metallica’s Ride the Lightning.

So, I’ll let the images above do the talking. Nothing really advanced here, just a few shapes, skews and gradients. Enjoy!

Signalnoise in Advanced Photoshop Magazine

James White in Advanced Photoshop

James White in Advanced Photoshop

I was approached by the kind folks over at Advanced Photoshop Magazine to contribute artwork and an interview for their Retro Graphics feature (issue 57) which is currently on the newsstands. Considering I’m not accustomed to being so technical about my explanations (at least in written form) it was a great time contributing some ‘behind the scenes’ tips, tricks and techniques about my processes.

Great issue featuring contributions by the talented Nicolas Alexander and a wicked cover by Pete Harrison. Well worth a look if you have the means :)