Snow Globe Card Art

August 30, 2008 at 9:01 am (computer art, Digital Art, Photoshop tips and tricks) (, , , , , , , , , , , , )

Another Card In The Series

Photoshop Techniques Revealed

I just finished another card in the series, soon to be available at

I began by creating a storyboard in which a mischievous kitten is playing, causing the snow globe to tilt, setting the snowflakes in motion. I wanted the elements to appear dynamic, emphasizing movement. I juxtaposed bright colors against an ornate antique background to give a sense of a traditional Christmas. 

Under the snow globe I built a box, beginning with an image of a wooden dresser, then began adding colors and a 3-dimensional bevel to resemble an old hand painted metalic box.  I spent hours painting and adding bevelled bits, combining multiple techniques to create a metalic, texturized appearance.  I tried so many techniques that it’s hard to remember exactly what ones I finally settled on, but I do remember painting with the Blending Mode “Color Dodge” to add a fantastic lighting effect and then burning in the colors and shadows with the Burn Tool.  This is the kind of stuff that I enjoy the most.

The ornate edges are taken from small details of an image of an East Asian carving of Ganesh while the base of the snow globe is taken from the bottom detail of an image of an antique figurine.  For the child, I dressed her in whimsical colors and placed the snowball in her hand as a final touch.

Back To My Old Habits

For several weeks I was determined to rid myself of my midnight marathons, where I had fallen into the habit of working throughout the afternoon and deep into the night until the sun came up the following morning. I knew this was taking a toll on my health and probably isn’t the most productive way to work. I started going to bed at a much more reasonable hour, around 12:30 a.m. But while creating this image, I fell back to my old habits, working all afternoon and through the night until 5 a.m. When I get into that state of concentratoin that I call “the zone”, I completely lose track of time.

Although there aren’t many elements in this scene, each required a lot of tweaking because they are prominent. I wanted to ensure that each detail fit perfectly within the scene. I go over the smallest details until I feel that it fits perfectly.

Viewing at Various Zoom Levels is Important

I continue tweaking until the art appears just right at all zoom levels. As I’m working, I constantly switch between zoomed in view and fully zoomed out to a size not much larger than a thumbnail. I find that comparing various zoom levels reveals very different aspects of the image. At the fully zoomed out view I am able to just see the overall lighting and silhouette of the image. I can judge whether or not the general lines and lighting are harrmonious.

For example, I made some changes to the snowman, making the top portion of the hat more symetrical and adding a more symetrical rosy hue to the left cheek. But as soon as I zoomed out, I realized that it was the asymetrical aspect that gave the snowman it’s character. Making it symetrical actually took away from its charm. This wasn’t visible when I was zoomed in. Had I not checked the ‘before and after’ by clicking on various stages on the History Palette at a fully zoomed out view, I wouldn’t have noticed this important fact. I quickly undid the changes I had made.

Alternately, at a zoomed in level, 100% or above, I am able to see all the finer details. Anytime I change a major element, I always zoom back out to a very small size to ensure that the lines and lighting have not been disrupted, while pressing CTRL / Z numerous times.  (Unlike other software, Photoshop alternates back and forth between the last change when CTRL / Z is pressed more than once.  To do continuous undo’s in Photoshop you must press CTRL / ALT /Z  or CMD / OPT / Z on the Mac.  This makes it very easy to click back and forth between the before and after version of the last change you’ve added.  I find these steps to be so important. My art really began to improve when I started taking the time to do this.

I even stand back from the computer and take a look at the art from several feet away, with the zoom level set to “Fit To Screen”. I usually do this when I am having a tea break. I sit on my couch which is about 7 feet away from the computer. For some reason by viewing at this distance, lighting problems become glaringly apparent. I discovered this by sheer accident while relaxing during a break. I was able to see huge lighting errors that were not apparent from a closer view. It also is great for revealing any issues with positioning of body in relation to other elements.

A Tip Gleaned From Robert Bateman

Wow! Just as I was writing this, in the background I have a documentary on TV about Robert Bateman, whose work I completely admire. He just said the most amazing thing related to this very subject. He mentioned that he stands back while he is painting and with his wife Birgit, views his art reflected in a mirror so that the image is reversed. He said this reveals hidden rhythms and forms that are not visible from the ordinary view and he then makes adjustments to the piece he is working on! Amazing! I am going to begin using this technique from now on!

He also said that he doesn’t use the “Rules of Composition”, that he doesn’t believe in them, except for not placing key elements along the center line of the image. Tears came to my eyes when I heard him say this because in my gallery on Flickr I’ve had numerous discussions with people about this topic. I’ve always said that don’t follow any rules of composition, that they stiffle creativity and make an image appear stilted and rigid. To hear Robert Bateman say the same thing filled me with joy! When I work on my art, I often have the TV on in the background, tuned to the documentary channel. It often inspires my work.

Thank Goodness For CTRL / Z

It’s so fantastic working in a digital medium, where any paint stroke can be undone with CTRL / Z (CMD / Z on the Mac). I am constantly experimenting with different effects, lighting, Blending Modes, painted elements, etc. I try everything and this is what takes each piece so many hours. If the effect doesn’t work, Voila!! I simply press CTRL / Z. It is so wonderful that sometimes, after working for hours at a stretch, I go to jot something down and if I make an error with pen and paper, my fingers begin to do the motion of CTRL / Z before I realize that this can’t be done on real paper. If only life were so simple, where any mistake we make could be corrected with a simple CTRL / Z.

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

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Creating Art For Cards

August 23, 2008 at 10:17 pm (computer art, Digital Art, Photoshop tips and tricks) (, , , , , , , , )

Christmas Card digital art project

Christmas Card digital art project

A Closer View Of The Process

With the children’s book complete (I will post some samples to coincide with the official launch of the book, within a week or so), I now begin another project for Margo of, this time creating a series of cards where children’s faces can be inserted into that of the main character. I started with this Christmas card.

I had a rough idea in mind of a traditional scene with a child riding either a polar bear or reindeer. I spent days researching reindeers, trying to understand how their bodies differed from regular deer. I saw that the reindeer’s bodies appear more square, with a beard and patch of fur on the front of the mature adults. I was unable to find clear images of legs and was wondering if I could use elk legs instead. I found out that reindeer are related to cariboo, and are not as delicately built as elk or regular deer.

Important Tip ! – Let The Image Mold Itself

Luckily Margo is a delight to work for. She gives me a very loose idea (ie: Christmas card). She allows me to take the art in any direction I choose. This works fantastic with my art style, where I prefer to allow the art to mold itself, rather than having a rigid idea in my head and forcing the image to take on that exact shape.

For example, I started with an idea of child riding either polar bear or reindeer. I began extracting many images of polar bears, combining elements from each that I preferred, ie, facial features from a few different images, leg from another, halo of fur from another, ear from another, until I had built just the right personality I was looking for. But after several hours of working, I realized that with the image of only 5 x 7 inches, and wanting the child’s face to be prominent in the foreground, the adult bear was dominating the scene.

Despite having created a beautiful bear, I immediately deleted it when I realized that it would be better to use small bears. I do this frequently with my art, and have observed with fellow artists how they are sometimes reluctant to give up an idea that they have put a lot of work and time into, even if the idea isn’t working. I think the key to a successful piece is to be willing to immediately take a 180 degree turn in another direction if an idea isn’t working. All the ‘wasted’ work I just chalk up to experience and practice of technique. I don’t view it as a loss. Each time I do this, the final result turns out much better than the original idea. I think it is important to always remain completely flexible during the creation process, as though molding clay … regarding the art to be completely pliable until the final moment.

Faces are Most Important

Although I make these images knowing that face will be swapped with the customer’s own child’s face (I deliver the finished image with the child’s face on a separate layer, allowing it to be easily replaced with another face), I still spend a great deal of time choosing the ideal face for the scene. I’ve come to realize that faces are of prime importance, even the animal faces. Faces set the mood and can inspire the entire piece. I made this child’s face by combining 3 separate images. I really love the bright eyes, sweet smile and especially like the very ordinary features, the slightly messy, short hair … just a typical sort of child who might live in a rural setting.

I also spent more than an hour tweaking the polar bear cubs’ faces, using the clone and liquify filter, giving them each an expression that brought out their personalities. I also spent a long time with the mouse and bird. All of them, even the tiny ones, play a vital role within the scene.

Creating The Background – AKA The Importance Of Sleep

I constructed the house out of 3 images, one of them being at an entirely different angle and perspective. To correct this I used the Transform / Perspective and Transform / Distort to shape them into the perspective I wanted. For the snowy background and sky, I went through too many versions to count. At one point, after working all afternoon and through the night until 6 a.m. the following morning, I finally went to sleep. When I woke up and looked at the background I had created the night before, I wondered what in the world had possessed me!! 🙂 It appeared way too busy. Refreshed with sleep, I immediately knew what I needed to do to fix it. In my prior fatigued state, I hadn’t noticed that all the house’s windows were dark. I had to add lights which I did by super-imposing a bright image, masking it completely, then painting back the portion within the many window frames. This only took a few minutes. I then added a glowing effect. I spent hours changing the rest of the background, but was very satisfied with the final results.

Anything Can Be Transformed

If you look closely, you’ll see that the fringe of the child’s scarf is constructed out of the frosty branches from the left hand side of the scene. I’ve duplicated these branches, colored them a bright orange color and used them as fringe for the scarf. I have always done this with my art. I use absolutely anything for any other purpose if it seems to work. In one of my prior images a sea anemone became the hair of a woman, reshaped and re-colored. I love doing this and it is part of that process that I described earlier, of thinking of the art as soft clay, able to easily mold it into any new shape that comes to mind. This is part of the challenge and what makes it so much fun!

I will keep you posted when this project is complete and when the cards will be available from

I Finally Chose The Fairy Wings Version

I mentioned in my last blog post that I would post a better quality image of my last digital art piece, once I decided whether I preferred wings or no wings. Martine replied and told me she prefers the ‘winged’ version. While I was waiting for her reply I came to the same decision. Above I’ve posted the final version. Thank you everyone for your generous and insightful input. Much appreciated.

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Fairy Wings … Or No Wings

August 5, 2008 at 3:34 am (computer art, Digital Art, Photoshop tips and tricks) (, , , , , , , , )

2 Versions – I can’t decide which version I prefer

Wings or No Wings, That Is The Question

If you wait 9 seconds, the image above will alternate between 2 versions, one with wings and one without. I usually have no trouble choosing between various versions of art that I create, but this time I like both versions equally and can’t decide which one to choose. I’m hoping that viewers might let me know which they prefer. I look forward to hearing from you.

I made this digital art piece for my friend Martine of her daughter Danielle. I began wtih this face:

and added this image for the shoulders and general position of the body:

I afterwards added different arms from other photos. I created the dress in Photoshop, overlaying it over her blouse, then changing it using the Liquify Filter. To make the dress I combined bits and pieces of lace and ruffle samples and bits white folded fabric. I overlayed some images of flowers and random texture to create the patterns on the dress, using various Blending Modes such as Multiply and Screen. I cropped this bits and continued to overlap and rotate them until they formed an interesting pattern. The background and surrounding elements are created with numerous bits and pieces of leaves, trees, ground, water, lily pads, etc. I love creating backgrounds and clothing, and look forward to the challenge of trying to fit each intricate piece together. I also enjoy piecing together the main character and watching the scene develop before my eyes, taking on a life of its own.

Final Unflattened PSB File 3.5 Gigs!

While working on the unflattened Photoshop file, it ballooned up to 7 gigs before saving. I learned awhile back that Photoshop’s PSD format only allows a maximum of 2 gigs to be saved, so I have gotten into the habit of saving in the large PSB format. The final unflattened file of this digital art piece is 3.5 gigs.

At one point I went to save the document and got a message that there was insufficient space on my drive. I have a terabyte of space on this D drive of my computer, so I was very surprised. When I checked, there was only 3 gigs remaining! This was due to the other project I recently finished, of the children’s book. The project consisted of 35 large PSB files and an equal number of smaller PSD files of each image spread. This took up a whopping 38 gigs just for that one project. So in order to be able to save this new art piece I had to shuffle a bunch of files over to my C drive that still had some space.

This image took about 4 days in total, not certain the total number of hours, somewhere around 45 hours. The little alternating gif animation is low res. Once I figure out which version is preferred, I will upload a good quality jpeg.

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

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