A Special Digital Art Tutorial

February 17, 2008 at 10:30 am (computer art, Digital Art, Photoshop tips and tricks) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , )

Scotty Serenades

A Unique Experiment

Scotty is my classmate and friend. At school, one of our assignments is to work in a team of 3 (me, Scott and Alex). Our task is to contribute to a website that Scotty has been building, utilizing leading edge technology and trends. Scotty’s site will host a community forum where people can communicate and share knowledge and ideas. As part of our team project, I offered to contribute a Photoshop tutorial showing the process I use when creating digital art. We thought it would be more interesting if I did the tutorial from scratch, using a photograph that I’d take of Scotty, then afterwards explain the steps. This tutorial will be useful for people who already have a basic understanding of Photoshop’s interface and tools, however beginners might glean an interesting tip or two.

First Step

To begin this image, I took some photographs of Scotty and his cat at his apartment during a time of day when there was sufficient indirect lighting shining in through his balcony window. By the way, the amazing guitar he’s playing is my gorgeous Taylor acoustic. I took photos at the highest jpeg setting that my digital camera would allow, as it is essential to obtain a high amount of pixel data. I could have taken the photos in Tif or Raw, but those modes would have slowed down my camera’s response, so Scotty would have to sit longer between each photo. This would have been less spontaneous, so instead I used the jpeg setting. I made sure that the lighting in the room was neither too bright, nor too dim. The best lighting is solid indirect lighting. I begin each digital piece with a full range of highlights and shadows. Any moody or dramatic lighting is created using Photoshop. BTW … Scotty is actually playing the guitar, not merely posing. He is an amazing musician and singer.

Detail of Graffiti

Layer Palette

I’ve done a print screen of all 47 layers from the layered PSD Photoshop file. I’ve printed the Blending mode that I used beside its layer, and I’ve assigned a number next to each layer so that you can easily refer to it while reading this tutorial.


I gathered about 30 images and began dragging and arranging them, sometimes masking out portions of the images until a mood began to emerge. I generally spend a lot of time experimenting, looking for interesting textures, colors and a hint of lighting that I will afterwards carry throughout the entire image. I merged several images to come up with the background image, displayed below. During this process, it’s necessary to merge images in order to continue superimposing more images over top, rotating them, blending them together until I arrive at a background that carries a particular mood.


I then extract Scotty and his cat from photos I’ve taken. During this process I take my time, extracting in several stages. I first make a loose lasso selection, then afterwards use a soft brush to Mask the edges, using progressively smaller and smaller brushes and zooming in to a detailed view. Masking has always been my preferred method to extract because it allows the flexibility of using different edged brushes. On areas like hair or fur I use a soft-edged brush, whereas on architecture or sharp edged objects I use a harder brush. I’m never in a hurry to finish extracting. I find the process tedious so after doing a bit of extracting I go work on some of the more artistic aspects of the image, then later come back and continue extracting. Often I don’t finish fully extracting until I’m almost finished the piece.

Adding Graffiti

For the graffiti on the door I overlayed an image of graffiti art, cutting, Masking and using the Free Transform Tool to rotate, skew and resize it to fit an area on the door. For the graffiti on the left wall, I blended it into the wall by using one layer with reduced opacity, set to Normal. Then I duplicated this layer and set the second layer to Multiply Blending Mode. (These 2 layers are in a folder labeled Pass Through on the Layer Palette diagram above).

Graffiti Face

The face on the upper right is from an image of a statue. I superimposed this image using Multiply Blending Mode, which knocks out the white and light colors and only preserves dark tones. I then overlayed several other colors and images over top of this to make it appear to be graffiti.

Graffiti Maiden

It might be difficult to view from the photo below, but in the final version at the top of the page you will be able to see the ‘graffiti maiden’ who is looking lovingly down from the door towards Scotty. She was created from an image of foreign money that I found on a stock image website. I used Overlay Blending Mode along with the Smudge Tool, Liquify Filter and Clone Tool to change her features and make it appear as though she was painted on the door as part of the other graffiti.

Additional Color And Wall Texture

I then add extra bits of color, highlights, and more graffiti to the walls and beneath the stair railing, using portions of images that have been Masked, rotated with varying degrees of opacity. I choose Overlay Mode to burn in the midtones.I now add many different layers in Overlay Mode to create texture on the walls. This process takes several hours of tweaking, rotating, changing opacity, experimenting with various Blending Modes, and mixing these layers together.


I then begin overlaying random images that I’ve chosen only for their colors. It doesn’t matter what the images are because they will be blurred using the Gausian Blur Filter. This takes some experimentation, but results in amazing lighting highlights when superimposed over the image using Blending Modes. I then Mask portions of these images. For this image I used Color Dodge Mode, but for other images a different Blending Mode might work better. I try all of them to see which ones work best. I overlay these blurred images over Scotty and the scene I’ve created.

Dodge And Burn Tools

I also use the Dodge Tool to create highlights throughout the image. The Dodge and Burn Tool functions like a paint brush and has 3 modes. These 3 selections are available from the Options Palette at the top of the screen and becomes available once you click on either the Dodge or Burn brush in the Tools Palette. The 3 modes that you are able to burn or dodge are: highlights, midtones and shadows. I always experiment with all of them to see what ones work best on a particular portion of the image. This process requires patience and a lot of trial and error.

Final Result


I then begin to mold in a 3D appearance by burning in some shadows using the Burn Tool and by using Multiply Blending Mode.

Detail of Cat

Finishing Touches

I then add back the fine hair around Scotty’s head that was removed during the extraction process. I do this by taking a close up photograph of Scotty’s hair against a dark background. This allows me to use Screen Blending Mode with this layer, which knocks out all dark colors and preserves only the light colors, such as his blonde hair. I also add extra whiskers to the cat that I extract from an image of Scotty’s other cat which has black fur. Again this is perfect because I can apply Screen Mode to the layer which reveals only the white whiskers and knocks out the black fur. I then add intense highlights on Scotty’s clothing and on the cat’s fur to make it appear as though there is a light source casting a glimmer of light onto the scene. I do this with the Color Dodge Blending Mode.

Detail of Graffiti Maiden

I hope you’ve found this tutorial helpful and that it provides you with some new ideas for using Photoshop with your images.


Gale Franey

Visit my website: The Graphic Groove
Or my gallery on Flickr

Return To Gale’s Home Page


  1. mygomedia said,

    Just wanted to say nice job.

  2. galefraney said,

    Thanks! How do I view your blog? I was trying to find a link on your comment but there doesn’t seem to be one. 🙂

  3. junbert said,

    Great great job!


  4. Sheryl said,

    You are the most creative and exciting artist I have seen in a long time. Please give us more tutorials. Continue the beautiful work and bless you for sharing such wonderful art to brighten our lives.

  5. galefraney said,

    Thank you all for such inspiring comments ! 🙂

  6. JQ said,

    Gale, great result and superb insight into your method. Congratulations on your creativity and skill. Thanks for sharing. Best, JQ

  7. galefraney said,

    Hello JQ,

    Thanks so much for the comment regarding my digital techniques. I took a look at your link to your photography website. I particularly love the first image in Portfolio 3, and also the image of the gorilla. Excellent work !

  8. Jon said,

    I ran across this image doing an image search in google and it caught my eye since it is the kind of work I would love to be able to eventually (I’m still learning Photoshop but got sidetracked into Illustrator by my design course work :P).

    I would love to see this tutorial broken down step by step so I could try to replicate it using other photos and such.

  9. galefraney said,

    Hello Jon,

    Each image is different in lighting, mood, subject, colors, etc., so there is never one step-by-step or procedure that I use. But I always use at least a few of the techniques described above. It is a matter of experimentation. I always have my left hand on the “CTRL/Z” (CMD/Z) and each time try a Blending Mode or use Dodge and Burn, etc., if it doesn’t look right, I just undo it and try it again with another setting, or try a different Blending Mode, etc. The steps listed above are just what happened to work well for this particular image. I described a number of processes that I often implement, in order to give people an idea of how I work, but unfortunately there is not a step by step recipe that could be automated or repeated from image to image. 🙂

  10. papah said,

    Poha bixo =\
    nice tutoo
    there are too interesting things

  11. galefraney said,

    Thank you !! 🙂

  12. Frank Marshman said,

    Thank you for the information you are providing. I have been into your site quite a few times. I am just starting to teach myself Photoshop, a daunting task. I come to digital from 40 years of traditional fine art photography, mostly large format, as well as being a camera repairman for 35 years. (I repair mostly digital cameras since the film cameras are almost non existent.)
    My 18 year old daughter has a wonderful feel for digital but does not know photoshop but, like me. is teaching herself. I am excited for the work she is doing.
    Your work is very interesting since I believe that in digital photography, unlike silver photography, taking the picture is the jumping off place to create your work not the end. Jerry Ulseman used to use as many as 9 enlargers to create his remarkable images, “post-visualization”, and that is how I see digital and especially your work.
    Again, thank you for your sharing your knowledge. I will attempt to understand as I muddle through the morass of digital.


  13. Jackie said,

    Hi, I found your images on Flickr and followed a link to this page. You have an amazing and rare talent, and I hope it takes you far in life. Thanks for sharing your techniques – very inspiring. Jackie

  14. galefraney said,

    Hi Frank and Jackie,

    Thank you so much for your insightful comments ! Frank, that is great that your daughter is learning Photoshop. It is such a wonderful instrument, that will allow you to do virtually anything that your imagination can conjure up.


    Gale 🙂

  15. isabelle ann said,

    Brilliant techniques and such a clear tutorial. Of course it is your artist’s eye which makes everything work, but I am looking forward to applying some of these techniques to see if I can do them justice! Thank you so much for this, Gale.

  16. galefraney said,

    Hi isabelle ann, I hope these techniques are useful 🙂

  17. Sam said,

    Nice job. Thanks for sharing your PS techniques. I’ve always wondered how you’ve made so wonderful works of art.

  18. galefraney said,

    Thanks Sam!

  19. Karen Henry (ArteZoe) said,

    Hi, Gale!

    Thanks for commenting on my photo today! I’ve been watching your work on Flickr for over a year now, and I just so love it. You’re my fave artist there.

    I read this tutorial today, and it’s so great to see some of your process. Your backgrounds always blow me away!! And your people always look so beautiful, and your critters so Narnia-esque. And so much beautiful, beautiful detail!!!

    I use a very similar process in my composite work, but I’m still working in Photoshop Elements 4.0. I have CS3 but I’ve been feeling quite intimidated to make the jump. There are a couple of things in your screen shot that I’m not sure how to do, so now I’ll be trying to figure them out.

    I laughed to read what you wrote about extracting!! I totally relate– it is soooo tedious, and my eyes just burn after a while. I have several big things I’m working on, and I just get bogged down on that part. It helps to know I’m not alone in that. 😉

    I’m truly impressed with your ability to create a new place, like here, with such a rich sense of time and patina. I just love this piece (I have a Taylor 12-string), and it reminds me of a cellar-turned-coffeehouse I used to play in at college. Your highlight and shadow techniques rock!!!

    Thanks for posting this and I’ll be back to your website for more learning. Keep up the awesome work, and best of luck.


  20. galefraney said,

    Thanks Karen. The Taylor guitar that Scotty is holding is mine. Scotty is also planning to buy a Taylor, and by coincidence, our Audio Instructor when I was still in the New Media / Web Development program, his guitar was also Taylor. Taylor was a luthier student of Jean Larrivee. When I went to buy a Larrivee guitar, I was drawn to the bright distict tone of the Taylor and ended up buying it instead. So it was great to hear that you also have a Taylor guitar!

    Regarding Photoshop CS3, don’t be intimidated. I know exactly what you mean because sometimes I get intimidated over things like that, it took me almost a year to get over my intimidation of Masks, but now I use them on almost every layer.

    Let me know what screen shot was confusing and I will try to explain it better.

    Regarding extraction, I recently began paying attention to my extraction technique. I first make a very loose selection with the Lasso Tool, leaving a lot of extra stuff, then I add a Mask, then I slowly Mask with smaller and smaller brushes, varying the softness of the brush, depending if I am masking hair, skin, fur or clothing. I Mask very soft around fur, somewhat soft around hair, a bit harder around clothing, and quite hard around skin, and hard objects like jewelry, shoes, etc.

    But the thing I really noticed, is that the way I extract becomes dependent on the background that is sitting behind the object or person, so I extract in phases, alternating between building the background. The background is all important and I spend many hours building it (but it is one of the things I like doing most). And only when I figure out where major background elements sit do I know exactly where and how to extract the foreground objects. I never finish them until I’m really satisfied with the background.

    Once I finish the background, then I fully finish the animals, people and then I also know what kind of highlights and shadows they will need to fit correctly within the scene. I never put lighting on these until I’ve built the background and know from what direction the light and shadows are falling within the scene.

    After completing the extraction and highlights, shadows of people, animals, and objects, I then add little elements to the foreground of the scene, ie: little plants, rocks, little branches, etc. This is the order I use when building my scenes.

    – Gale Franey 🙂

  21. galefraney said,

    Hi Karen,

    I received your email reply. Wow, that’s great that you got the Taylor guitar on Ebay.
    I play only occasionally now, but used to play folk, blues and bluegrass style mostly.

    I don’t think Airbrush would be really effective for extracting because it takes away fine control of the brush continues extracting as long as you’re holding down the brush. I
    think Masking is a much better technique which allows you to go back afterwards and ‘paint back’ areas where you might have made too hard or extracted too much.
    It gives you complete and total control and you can afterwards go back and change any aspect of the extraction. If you are ‘erasing’, then your extraction is permanent and errors cannot be corrected once the paint stroke is removed from the History Palette.


  22. Rob del Ar said,

    Wow!! I aspire to use this sort of creativity in my work. Wonderful job!!!!

  23. galefraney said,

    Thank you Rob! 🙂

  24. Bernie Burnalot said,

    Wow Gale! Unbelievable website!!! Its been a while, the improvements are fantastic!
    I take back everything I said about flash!!!!


  25. galefraney said,

    Hey, Shawn, thanks! I wrote you a long email. 🙂

  26. Leigh said,

    Dear Gale,I just found you and have spent the last few hours perusing everything you do! How absolutely marvellous your talent and imagination is!

    I wanted to find some inspiration for some of my characters which are rather gothic to look at, being ghost children, but they are not dark, the world they inhabit is. The children are innocents themselves. So the challenge is to show the light and dark side and your work has helped me consider the possibilities. I feel excited!

    I work with Photoshop, though not to the degree you do, so your tutorials are a Godsend. I will follow what you say to see if I can capture a bit of the side which is lacking now, the light side.

    I’ve mostly avoided masking, channels and blending – most of the graphics I’ve done has been for the web, but will give it a go now, following your examples.

    Unfortunately I have an ancient version of Photoshop – V 6.1. yikes! Do you think this will work all right? Sounds like it might from some of your toots. I know CS3 has tools to die for though. Someday maybe.

    Thank you for sharing. I don’t know how you have the time to do all you do. You must be cloned or a magician!
    I’m glad to have found you and know a little about you through your work.

    Best wishes,

  27. DB said,

    Hi Gale,
    I’ve been a fan of your work for a while… you’re great!
    I have a question:
    i have the hardest time doing clothes… i don’t even know how to start half the time… i used “dress” brushes, but usually they don’t work well with the position of the body. Where do you get patterns? do u usually work with brushes or do u clone patterns?
    The details, shadows, and folds on your outfits are amazing!
    Thank you,

    • galefraney said,

      Hello DB,

      Another person just asked me the same question. There is no set formula, I love doing something different each time. That is the enjoyment of it.

      I use so many different things to create clothing. In this image I took samples of a simple cotton dress and superimposed a lacey trim from another photograph. Then I created the “gold touches” by painting with Blending Modes. I also superimposed some leafy branches to create the pattern on the skirt. I also use distortion and cut and rotate to repeat certain patterns.

      I superimpose a pattern for the blouse and use the Liquify Filter to add the frilly portion at the top. The trick to creating clothing (or any other item) is to look at bits and pieces, even ones that are totally unrelated and if they have an interesting texture or pattern I use them for entirely different purposes, ie: I can superimpose an image of snow, or a sunset or a fish to create a pattern on a dress. I’ve used the pattern from a pillow to create clothes, anything at all. I rarely use items for what they are meant for. In one of my digital art pieces I created the woman’s hair from a sea anenome. I’ve created dragon’s wing patterns with giraffe fur …. this is the best suggestion I can give. Look at the color, pattern, texture even if the object has absolutely nothing to do with “clothes”. In digital art anything can be morphed into something else.

      What I find is that people sometimes limit their imagination and would never consider using an ornate spoon handle as a pattern on a dress, etc. It is much more than mere technique. It is unleashing the imagination. Removing all restrictions

  28. hjghg said,


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