Nature and Animal Fantasy art

December 12, 2013 at 11:28 am (Digital Art, Ilustrator, Photoshop CS6, Photoshop tips and tricks) (, , , )

Some illustrations, created using Photoshop CS6 a combination of image composits and digital painting using Photoshop’s mixer brushes and pressure sensitive settings for Intuos 4 tablet.  I also used Illustrator for some of the splatter effects.

Pegasus winged horse

Blessing Book – Pegasus – Winged Horse

The ocean spray was created using a simple custom-made Photoshop brush, set to scatter in brush settings.  Both the tail and mane were hand painted using Photoshop mixer brushes, set to Wet: 1%, Load: between 50% – 100%, Mix: 3%, Flow: alternated between 10% – 100% by using the shortcut keys Shift 1 = 10%, Shift 5 = 50%, Shift 0 = 100%, etc.

Swan Blessing Book

Blessing Book – Swan

For the detailing around the heart shape I used a custom scatter brush made in Illustrator, then imported into Photoshop where I then added various layer effects (bevel and emboss, outer glow).  Much of the detailing in the water and on the swan are painted using mixer brushes.

Blessing Book - Butterflies

Blessing Book – Butterflies

The water droplets were created in Photoshop, hand painted, then applied layer effects: bevel/emboss, inner glow and inner shadows.  I used the Liquify filter to smudge a few of the droplets to make them appear as though the water is dripping down.

Dragon scrap book

Blessing Book – Dragon

Most of the dragon was painted in Photoshop, although the pattern on its back was made using a snake texture which I afterwards painted and colorized.  The pattern around the text was made in Illustrator using vector shapes and pen tool, then imported back into the main Photoshop file.  The sparkles are a simple custom-made Photoshop brush set to scatter, with outer glow applied.

Blessing - Dolphin smiles

Blessing – Dolphin Smile

The kelp, background plants and coral on the far left (behind kelp),  and also the distant mountains were painted in Photoshop.  The spray is a custom made Photoshop brush set to scatter.  The dolphin is made with multiple composit pieces, then painted and distorted using Photoshop warp tool and Liquify filter.

Egret with babies in boat

Blessing Book – Egrets

Feather details painted using Photoshop mixer brushes, some of the details on the boat created using custom pattern brush made in Illustrator.  The fine spray on water is a custom-made Photoshop brush set to scatter, then afterwards I added blur and outer glow effects.

Monkey plays bugle

Blessing Book – Monkey playing bugle

Monkey compiled using multiple images, then altered using warp transform and Liquify filter.  Afterwards the fur was hand painted using mixer brushes.  Detailing around text is a custom-made Illustrator scatter brush, then imported back into Photoshop where I then added layer effects: gradient overlay, outer glow, etc.

Fawn and bluejay

Blessing Book – Fawn

Combination of composited images, then hand painted using an array of Photoshop mixer brushes.  I also use the regular brush, but I find that the mixer brush is more subtle for mixing colors and when adding very small soft lines.

Cat sleeping by fireplace

Blessing Book – Cat Sleeping

Much of the cat’s fur, especially around the edges are hand painted.  When extracting images, fine fur details are lost.  I used to try to replace these using Mask refinements and selective channel masking.  But recently I find that painting back these details creates much better results.  The sparks are custom brushes set to scatter, with outer glow effects added.  Lighting effects are achieved using a combination of Blending modes and layer masking, and also selective dodging and burning.


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Embedding Flash Swf Files Into WordPress

February 6, 2011 at 12:22 pm (Flash animation, illustrator CS5, Ilustrator) (, , , , , , )

Vodpod videos no longer available.

Animated Butterfly, posted with vodpod

Voila! This is an embedded SWF File

As you might have already discovered, WordPress uses some security measures that strip embedded Flash swf files from your posts.  They only accept video from trusted sites like YouTube, Google and a few others. But those sites also don’t offer the option to upload swf files. However, there is a work around using Vodpod with it’s “Post To WordPress” button that can be directly added to your browser toolbar.  If you’ve not already done so, simply sign up for a free account at  Then you can go to and drag the “Post To WordPress” icon (bookmarklet) onto your browser toolbar, and you can now upload swf files via VodPod. Drag This Onto Browser Toolbar


You then just go online to the web page where you’ve placed a link to your swf file and copy the URL pointing to that file. Then press the “Post To WordPress” from your browser’s toolbar. A dialogue comes up.  Copy and paste the URL to this html file.  On the right side enter your WordPress user name and password, Title for the Post and message and press “Publish”.  Then wait a few minutes for the video to post.  At first I thought it didn’t work, because when I went to WordPress and opened the post, in the Visual Mode it doesn’t display an image of the animation.  It just shows something that looks a bit like code.  No worries, it’s actually working, ie: if you can see the animation above of the butterfly, then it’s working.

How I Made The Butterfly Animation

I created the butterfly in Illustrator, then copied and pasted just one wing and the body into Flash. I converted the single wing to a movie clip, then double clicked on it to get into its own timeline. I did a simple classic motion tween to animate it, 20 frames with 3 key frames. Before animating it, use the Transform Tool and drag the “registration point” so that it sits on the inside of the wing so that it animates from the inside of the wing. Afterwards I place 2 of these wing movie clips on the stage, select both and convert to a new movie clip called “butterfly”. I then double click to enter this movie clip and I create a new layer and place the butterfly body on this.

Then back on the main stage I use a motion tween to animate the butterfly from one side of the stage to the other. I created the cloud in Illustrator, simply using Pathfinder to combine several circular white shapes, then copy / paste these into flash, convert to movie clip, then add Filter / Blur to make them look all soft and fluffy 🙂

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Create Camera – Illustrator CS5 Tutorial

January 29, 2011 at 5:22 pm (computer art, Digital Art, illustrator CS5, Ilustrator, vector art) (, , , , )

This tutorial will demonstrate several of Illustrator CS5’s new tools and functionality. The new Shape Builder tool is used along with creating blends, adding multiple fills with Blending Modes such as Soft Light or Overlay onto a single object.  I will demonstrate how to construct complex gradients using the Gradient Panel along with the Gradient annotator.

Video Part 1


The camera strap is created using CS5’s new Width Tool which allows you to easily adjust stroke width on a path.  Dashed strokes are  used to create the stitching on the strap.  The new Draw Inside function and Clipping Masks will also be explored.

Video Part 2


Video Part 3

Video Part 4

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Checking Out Illustrator CS5

June 28, 2010 at 11:51 am (computer art, Digital Art, Ilustrator, Photoshop tips and tricks) (, , , , , , , )

I’ve been so busy creating lesson content and teaching Photoshop and Illustrator that I’ve barely had a moment to myself to just romp around in Photoshop and Illustrator, just for the sheer fun of it. Much of my time is spent working on tutorial videos for the students. I’m about to begin a new children’s book about a small child’s dragon adventure. I will use Illustrator to create the dragon but will do the rest of the art in Photoshop. I’m looking forward to being able to work in CS5 to delve into all the new features. I was using the stroke width tool today and it is beyond fantastic. I also played around with the perspective grid. I haven’t tried it long enough to see whether it will be utterly amazing or whether it will have glitches similar to Photoshop’s Vanishing Point. So far it looks quite promising, but did have a few issues, when I dragged an object that was drawn on one perspective, offset path added and then grouped with other objects, when I dragged this object into a new perspective surface the perspective was not correct, it was adding the new perspective on top of the prior perspective instead of making the calculation as though the object was facing forward. So maybe I should have first created these objects outside the perspective grid, then placed them onto the grid surfaces. I’ll experiment a bit more to find out if this is the way it works.

Below is a gif animation I created from scratch in Photoshop, part of a class lesson on filters and effects.

See No Evil – created and animated in Photoshop

After creating all the parts from scratch in Photoshop, the eyeball is made with Photoshop’s 3D, and afterwards I opened Photoshop’s animation workspace and created the animation frames for the gif.  Here is a screenshot of the settings I used.  Each frame is 0.2 seconds, except for the middle frame which I set to 5 seconds.

I created this piece below in Illustrator CS5, then added some finishing touches using Photoshop CS5.  I wanted to let my imagination wander while acquainting myself with the new tools and features. The art below is the consequence of my meanderings. Enjoying CS5, there seems to be no major issues. I got a bit confused in Photoshop’s new mask edge panel, it looks quite different from the panel in CS4 which was very easy to use.  This new panel seems less straight forward but I will forgive it if the new detect edges feature ends up working as all the promo videos promise (I am always a bit of a skeptic at first because I still clearly remember all the hype around the Extract filter when it was first being launched.  Now Adobe seems to have abandoned it entirely and treats it like the unwanted step child, not including it with the installation DVDs).  What I’ve noticed is that with Adobe’s initial demo videos, they are careful to choose only those images which are ideally suited, and they avoid ‘regular’ images that most people use, where the results are far less than satisfactory.   I’m curious to see whether this new detect edge feature works on regular, ordinary, every day images, not the 50 MB high res tifs set on a perfectly smooth, one-color background images that are used in the demo videos ….. 🙂

Created With Illustrator and Photoshop CS5

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Illustrator Gradient Mesh Guitar

April 8, 2010 at 8:23 am (computer art, Digital Art, graphic design, Ilustrator) (, , , , , , , , , , , )

Created With Illustrator’s Gradient Mesh

This guitar is 100% Vector

Here is another example of gradient Mesh, used to add a soft contoured gradient on the body of the guitar. Illustrator’s regular gradient tool would not be able to add this kind of contour and this is where gradient mesh comes to the rescue. First a mesh is carefully drawn using the gradient mesh tool (the tool in the toolbox that looks like a Spiderman web). If care is taken in the beginning to place the mesh lines, then afterwards, coloring the mesh is quite simple, using the lasso tool, white arrow tool and eyedropper.

Other Parts Created With Gradients And Pattern Textures

All the other parts of the guitar were created by tracing them with the pen tool, then adding numerous fills set to various Blending Modes via the Appearance Panel. Some of the fills were set to Pattern textures to give the appearance of wood texture, and texture on the abalone inlay bits and tuning pegs.

Art Brushes Used To Create Wood Grain

I drew brush strokes and added the Artistic / Charcoal / Rough brush to create the wood grain pattern on the body of the guitar. I experimented until I found the one that best mimicked the wood grain I wanted.

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Illustrator CS4 Gradient Mesh

March 23, 2010 at 2:34 am (computer art, Digital Art, graphic design, Ilustrator) (, , , , , , , )

Created With Gradient Mesh

Gradient Mesh adds depth to Illustrator Art

I’ve been putting together some tutorials about gradient mesh and created this fish to demonstrate the basics of this feature. Once I finish recording the tutorial I’ll add the link here. Stay tuned.

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Smart Objects In Photoshop

February 19, 2010 at 12:19 pm (computer art, Digital Art, graphic design, Ilustrator, Photoshop tips and tricks) (, , , , , , )

Advantages of Duplicating Smart Objects

I am putting lessons together for an upcoming advanced Photoshop / Illustrator class and was trying to come up with a way of delving into the pros and cons of Smart Objects, passing objects from Illustrator to Photoshop. The shapes began in Illustrator, then were brought into Photoshop as Smart Objects, allowing me to duplicate and rotate them, then make changes to the one object, ie: use Liquify Filter, dodge and burn, etc. which then updates all of the duplicated objects simultaneously. This can be very useful when using an object that needs to be repeated many times. Especially if it needs to be resized and rotated numerous times, which ensures that the crisp resolution is maintained.

This exercise will become a class lesson, which will demonstrate to students how to easily go back and forth between Illustrator and Photoshop, taking advantage of the strengths of each software to save time. For example, I never pick up the pen tool in Photoshop. I always jump over to Illustrator to draw the object because Illustrator allows me to add multiple fills and strokes, to offset stroke paths, to add numerous borders and brush strokes to paths, patterns, etc. It only takes seconds to cut and paste them into Photoshop where I can either place them as Smart Objects, shapes or pixels. I’ve now gotten in the habit of always opening both software and I hop back and forth as easily as if they were just two panels of the same program. It is effortless!

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Illustrator Pathfinder and Gradients

February 12, 2010 at 2:14 pm (computer art, Digital Art, graphic design, Ilustrator) (, , , , , , , , )

Use of Gradients and Shadow Effects

Pathfinder Creates Complex Shapes

The wasps are created using a circular shape that I alter with the pen tool. I then create an arc for the stripes using the Arc Tool. After rotating it into position I Alt drag it to create a duplicate. Then I select both of them and create a Blend with Specified Steps for the stripes on the back. I then use a Clipping Mask to mask the edges and add an inner glow to the yellow body shape. The upper body and eyes are colored with gradients. I make the legs using a Brush with texture and use the Reflect Tool to create the legs on the opposite side of the body.

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Realistic Art Using Gradients In Illustrator

February 10, 2010 at 9:57 am (computer art, Digital Art, graphic design, Ilustrator) (, , , , , , )

Illustrator’s Pen Tool With Gradients and Textures

How I Created This Box

I made this box based on a little ornate wooden box that sits on the shelf above my computer.  It began as one of those spontaneous things. I was at my computer planning a lesson for teaching Illustrator and I wanted to draw an object.  I looked around me and chose this box because of all the little brass bits.  I wanted to see if I could make  an image that would make them look like brass.  I drew  the basic shapes using the pen tool.

The wood texture is made with one of the “wood” gradients that ship with Illustrator, but I then played around with the colors and gradient stops, then altered the angle to  mimic old wood grain.

Afterwards I added 2 separate textures on top via the Appearance Panel’s multiple fill function, setting  them to Blending Modes, Multiply and Luminosity.  I reduced their opacities until the texture begins to look woody.

I did the whole thing with the box at an odd angle above me, occasionally taking it down to examine the brass bits.     I drew it with my morning cup of coffee balancing in one hand and the pen tool in the other. I only put down the coffee whenever I had to press Alt (Opt on the Mac) to get the convert anchor point tool. 

Yes, I’m back on coffee after a long time away from it … turns out it spikes my creative ideas. After my last “artist’s block” where I couldn’t come up with any ideas and project deadlines were looming, I went back to coffee and within a few hours I was happily creating art again. But I digress …. only later in the day did I think to take the photo of the original box (below) to show you what I was using as my model.

Photo of Original Box

First I Drew These Shapes

The box was at an angle above me so I first created the basic shapes without worrying about the exact size ratios. The feet were created using a combination of shapes drawn with the pen tool and Pathfinder to combine them.

Created the Basic Shapes

All the brass bits except the circle rivets are drawn with the pen tool. The reason the shapes appear symetrical is that I draw only one half of the object, then use the Reflect Tool  to reflect the object horizontally while pressing Alt (Opt on Mac) to duplicate it. I then join both halves together using Pathfinder’s Add function and zoom in and remove any redundant anchor points.

The Brass Bits

Below is what the shapes look like when viewing in Illustrator’s Outline Mode, Ctrl Y (Cmd Y on the Mac). It turned out to be one of those days where I got lost in the moment, totally losing track of time. There was a get together later in the day for the new Illustrators Meet Up Group. But I got lost in the ‘zone’, and by the time I glanced up at the clock it was already 9 pm, 2 hours late … sigh, I had been looking forward to it, the first get together of Vancouver’s Illustrators, in an Irish pub with beer … alas, and me with my empty coffee cup, a few cold drips left at the bottom, missed meeting the Illustrators because I was too busy illustrating … 🙂

Illustration in Outline Mode

And here’s a slice of it with anchor points displayed:

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Making Manga Art With Illustrator

December 26, 2009 at 12:35 pm (computer art, Digital Art, graphic design, Ilustrator, Photoshop tips and tricks) (, , , )

I made this manga art using Illustrator CS4

I’ve been preparing lessons for the upcoming Illustrator classes that I’ll be teaching beginning in January. In my usual style, I began playing with the pen tool in Illustrator and somehow meandered away from my original task and ended up creating this piece. This is very typical of the way things often go for me when I create art. I start dabbling around and experimenting (my intention at first was just to draw a simple manga figure that I’d give to students to trace, in order to teach them the function of the pen tool). But after about 9 hours of playing, I came up with a piece of art that I conceived on the spur of the moment.

The Techniques I Used

First I drew this illustration using the Pencil tool, which is great for sketching out simple ideas, but it doesn’t have any of the subtle nuances of brushes. It is merely a quick and dirty tool to jot down an initial idea. I used a Wacom Intuos 4 tablet with pen (I wouldn’t have been able to draw this with a mouse, it would have been way too awkward and clumsy).

Pen Tool

Then I used the proper pen tool to trace all the outlines. Afterwards I used the white arrow tool to refine and manipulate individual anchor points, which allows me to easily alter and sculpt the character’s shape.

Warp Tool

To further change the shape I used the Warp Tools which work much like Photoshop’s Liquify Filter. I absolutely love these tools. I most often stick with the first Warp tool, the one that simply moves anchor points. With this I added extra curl to the hair, flair to the boots and belt, tweaked the biceps, etc.

Simplify Paths

Tip: after using the Warp tool or Blob Brush Tool, be sure to simplify the paths to get rid of unwanted anchor points and to smooth out the drawing. Even with a setting of 97%, the number of points can be reduced by half without any noticable difference to the drawing. This step is necessary if you afterwards decide to add a Gradient Mesh because meshes won’t work on objects with too many anchor points. It also speeds up processing time once effects and added fills and strokes are added to the object.

Label and Organize Layers

I then added new layers below the path outline layer and used the blob brush to color the various parts, and as I’ve become accustomed to doing in Photoshop, I label each layer: Body paths, Pants, Shirt, Skin, Eyes, Hair, Boots, Background, etc. This makes it much easier when adding additional effects and Fill Layers via the Appearance Panel.

For example, The shirt is divided into 2 pieces, the top portion and the bottom portion below his arms. Because the shirt is on its own layer, it was easy to add the Inner Glow effect to the entire layer, rather than doing double the work by applying it to the individual shirt portions. Much more efficient.

Inner Glow Effect

I’ve discovered that this Inner Glow effect is a godsend because there doesn’t seem to be a proper way to add bevels or to burn and dodge shadows and highlights as can easily be done in Photoshop. In Illustrator the Inner Glow, if set carefully using blending modes can mimic a similar result as Photoshop’s dodge and burn tools. I set them to either Multiply or Screen using either dark or light edges and they can be positioned on the edges or at the center of an object, which allows me to use this effect for both burning edges and dodging center portions of an object.

Appearance Panel

I spent the majority of my time (having a great deal of fun) experimenting with added fills, textures and effects from the Appearance Panel. Illustrator’s default textures are limited so when I get a change I’ll go scavenging the web for free textures. I like to have a variety of simple textures that can be used for fabric, wood, and a dappled appearance of fur, tree bark, nature, basically anything with some natural texture that will soften the vector feel. It gives the scene a more painterly and natural appearance.

For Coloring Artwork Illustrator Rocks!

I also played for hours with multiple gradients, making them, changing them, rotating them, using blending modes with them. For me this step is intensely enjoyable! I love the ease with which you can drag and drop color swatches onto individual gradient stops.

And with Illustrator’s ability to recolor artwork with a few clicks of the mouse, it’s an obsessive-compulsive’s dream. I must have changed the colors for the shirt, pants, hair and skin so many times, way too many to count. And each time I change them, I then go and tweak the position of all the gradients again and again. This ate up a good chunk of the day, but it was entirely enjoyable. It’s the part I love best.

Each color change gives an entirely different mood and feel to the art. I liked so many of them that it was difficult to finally decide which colors I preferred. In Photoshop there is the Hue Saturation or Channel Mixer Adjustment, but they don’t allow you to choose specific color groupings and harmonies. So in this regard, Illustrator majorly Rocks !!

Creating The Background

The layers of hills in the background are created with one layer that I drew out with the pen tool in a matter of seconds, then warped a bit with the Warp Tool. I then duplicate and resize the copied layers, add different opacities, gradients and textures using Blending Modes to make them each appear different from one another.

I Love Photoshop

Once I finished the art in Illustrator, I couldn’t resist taking the image into Photoshop and adding a few final touches, just to soften up the vectors. Once a Photoshopper, always a Photoshopper.

Illustrator does many amazing things with ease and lightning speed, a wonderful stand alone software. But I suppose once I’ve fallen in love with pixels, vectors seem somehow a bit cold and stark by comparison. So I will always feel inclined to soften them up in Photoshop afterwards, ie, some of the texture on the clothes, the ground, leaves and some clouds.

Illustrator Can Be Glitchy

Illustrator’s interface looks deceptively like Photoshop but it behaves entirely different, especially layers. Each time you add a compound path, group, blend, live paint group, etc., layers order gets reassigned and nested. If you’re not careful it can strip away order and naming systems you’ve carefully set up. I’ve learned to keep an eye on this at all times by placing my Layer Panel on my second monitor and opening it up so all layers are visible. Each time I apply a significant function I examine what has taken place in the Layers Panel. I strongly suggest doing this. It’s the best way to begin to fully understand the inner workings and logic within Illustrator.

When I was learning Illustrator the Instructor didn’t fully introduce the behaviour of the Layers Panel until well into the course. Early introduction would have been far more beneficial because it is the best way to observe Illustrator’s logic and gain a full understanding of how it functions. It also saves a great deal of time to be able to simply drag and drop objects into clipping paths, groups, blends, etc.

Illustrator seems to be a lot more glitchy than Photoshop, ie: when adding effects or gradients to a path from the Appearance Panel, Illustrator sometimes deselects the object at random and I can spend 5 minutes piling on gradients and strokes, with no warning from Illustrator that this is being applied to nothing, to air, to void, to empty ether, because Illustrator decides to play tricks and deselects the object. It doesn’t beep to warn me, whereas Photoshop, like a kind and loyal friend always emits a polite beep and never deselects layers or objects. But I’m now savy to Illustrator’s tricks, I take care to avoid them.

Visit my website: The Graphic Groove

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