Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Step By Steps: "Do You See What I See?"

I'm happy to say that my 2011 Christmas card seems to be a hit!  Since I mailed it out and posted the pic to my blog a few weeks ago, I've been asked many times, "How do you do that in Photoshop?"  First, I'll disclaim that I am NOT AT ALL an expert when it comes to this technology!  But, I loooooove to get a peek of behind-the-scenes stuff myself, so I figured I'd oblige and show you the basic process of how I currently make digital art.

Step 1: Sketch 'n' Scan

I always first sketch out my piece then scan it into the computer.  (Thus far, I've never been able to sketch something directly in Photoshop without it looking like it was made by a preschooler.)  To make my life easier, I measured out the card dimensions in my sketchbook and drew the picture accordingly so I wouldn't have to worry about resizing the whole thing later.

Step 2:  Lineart

After I scan my sketch into the computer, I go over all the lines in black using a "hard brush."  When I'm done, I basically have a coloring book sheet which I can fill in with paint.  I usually draw each character on their own layer so I can move/re-size them independently.  This is the first time I've ever drawn a city background, but it was easier than I had initially feared.  I simply went over each sketched building edge with the "line tool," merged my resulting 40+ layers into one, and voila!  Instant Bethlehem!

Step 3: Basic Background/Re-sizing

You may notice, I added an extra sheep to the flock here, too!

At this point, I like to lay some primary background shapes in the pic before I color the characters.  By doing so, it makes it easier for me to visualize the end result--and it lessens the chance of me having to move fully-colored, multiple-layered characters later.  Here, I can move the characters anywhere I please with the greatest of ease, and I even re-sized Bethlehem since it seemed a little looming in comparison to the sheep.

Step 4: Basic Coloring

Once the characters and other lineart features are where I like them, I paint them in solid colors, using the mid-tone of what I imagine their ultimate shading will be.  Depending on the complexity of the character, I put the colors on different layers.  (For example: the big sheep in the front had three levels of color--one for his coat, one for his face and ears, and one for the pink in his ears.)  This may sound confusing, but it helps me keep the colors separate when shading and makes fixing any mistakes a breeze!  Just like when coloring in a coloring book, I stay inside the lines and clean up any messy parts with the eraser.

Step 5: Shading 

I thought that middle building needed a door here.  I was wrong.

For shading, I like to create a palette for each solid part of each character using two lighter colors and two darker colors.  Then I use the "airbrush" and start shading, changing my opacity along the way.  To make sure I don't go out of the lines, I "lock" my layer so I can only color on the confines of each base.  (For example, when I lock the white of my sheep, I can draw on top of it, but the program won't let me draw on the green or purple parts around it.  Neat, huh?)  I was worried about the buildings in this picture because it's not something I'm used to shading, let alone in Photoshop.  But, with my discovery of how to use the "gradient" tool, I simply used the "lasso" to select each side of the building and added a gradient of two colors--one darker than my base, one lighter.  Voila!  Instant shaded Bethlehem! 

Step 6: Cleaning Up and Merging

This is where the illustration really comes to life!  After I'm done shading, I make sure the characters and features are EXACTLY where I want them, then add the final details like the shadows and palm trees.  Here, I also redid the milky way and finished the sky using pre-made star brushes.  (The goody two-shoes in me cringes at this shortcut.  I try to use pre-made brushes as little as possible.)  At this stage, I also clean up any bits of paint outside the lines that I might have missed earlier.  I debated coloring the lineart here to match the characters, but decided I liked the cartoony look of the heavier black lines.  I also played around with white shines on the eyes, but ultimately left them off since they didn't print well on my NOSCBWI calendar piece.  Once everything is to my liking, I add my signature, merge all the layers together, and save as a JPEG.  (Total layers of this piece: about 55--not counting the 40ish lines that made up the city before merging.  Total hours: A lot.)

Step 7: Color Palette

This is the smallest amount of colors I've used yet!

To keep all my colors easily accessible (and to avoid losing them on all those layers), I've started using a separate document as my painter's palette.  I keep it open the entire time and add more colors to it as I go.  (When I don't do this, colors are lost, mistakes are made, and tears are shed.  LOTS of tears are shed...) 

And that's how I do it!  I'm sure this is not the most efficient way of doing things, though, so I'm always reading online tutorials to help streamline the process.  (Heck, if you have any pointers, I'd LOVE to hear them!)  This is just how I can do it right now to the best of my ability.  :)


  1. You are a freaking genious!!!!! Thanks for the tut and I will be sure to bookmark it for the next Christmas card or baby announcement... Whichever comes first I guess lol.

  2. Glad you found the step-by-steps helpful! Let me know if I can be of any assistance when you get started. (Hopefully, the baby announcement will come first!)

  3. I am in LOVE with this piece... So cute! Would you consider possibly sending me the line art eps file? I help teach Sunday school at our church and feel like this would make an AMAZING coloring sheet for our kids this Christmas...

    Thanks for your consideration!