Process Part IV: Finishing

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.

Finishing 11. 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).

Finishing 22. 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.

Finishing 33. 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.






7 responses to “Process Part IV: Finishing”

  1. Anton Avatar

    Ah see, there you go. Right where you point out the dodge and burn technique, what I’ve figured out how to do is get the same effect that those tools offer – but by painting on a new layer with it set to linear dodge or burn. That way I don’t destroy the artwork accidentally.

  2. Aaron Avatar

    Thanks for posting these tutes James. Even for someone like me who’s pretty proficient in Photoshop, it’s always good to see what techniques other artists are using.

  3. james Avatar

    Anton, I’m going to try your Linear technique for sure because I have busted up a few good layers in the past. Thanks a lot, man.

    Aaron, I like reading other artists’ processes as well which is why I wanted to post my own. I’m constantly learning from other people so it was the least I could do. Glad you’re enjoying.

  4. May Andersen Avatar

    Hi…Thanks for the nice read, keep up the interesting posts..what a nice Monday

  5. artist brush Avatar


  6. Daniel Avatar

    I couldn’t understand some parts of this article Process Part IV: Finishing, but I guess I just need to check some more resources regarding this, because it sounds interesting.

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