Dany “Dede” Scar reached out to me a couple weeks back to sign me onto a birthday gift for his lovely partner. He provided me with 97 photos of their life together in order to get a flavor of their interests and better understand the energy between them. We had a 250 Euro budget so I had to work fast. I started yesterday and finished today for a total of 12 hours; a bit behind schedule but I think the final product justified the extra time:)
I start by bringing my photo reference into my working file and lassoing out the unused areas. Just focusing on the faces as I need to build an abstract, freeflowing background. This stage is done in Corel Painter 15 using the Concept Brush. I get some nice rough coverage very quickly, some sharper angles to work from later, and a slight amount of texture.
Next, in Photoshop, I position the portraits where I think they will suit the composition and lay in some quick flowing shapes using the lasso and an airbush. I then pull the background into the Liquify Panel and use the rotation brush to distort the colors that I laid down. I continue to work on the portraits, defining forms and facial features.
Back in Painter, I open my arsenal of pattern brushes and spring jitters and begin to stack layer upon layer of chaos. Once I am satisfied that I have a solid amount of form to pick and choose from I return to Photoshop and start blending layers and carving out substantial forms. Throughout the process I shift between expounding abstraction and refinement of the portraits. The subject’s teeth are roughly painted in and there is particular attention paid to overall form and anatomy. If I ever struggle with capturing the essence of a person when I am using exact reference I will overlay the original photograph and nudge facial features into place. At that point I discard the reference layer and begin to work intuitively, allowing the underlying skeletal structure to begin to work with the environment it is married too. I will return to the reference again later to complete important features and maximize the lighting.
A key to rich colors is Photoshop’s Brightness/Contrast Adjustment Slider. When I reach a satisfactory composition I will slam a Brightness/Contrast Adjustment Layer over the whole image and slide the Brightness way down and the Contrast way up. I then take a big airbrush and begin to spotlight certain areas, removing the mask as I see fit. This allows for the rich oranges and blues and high and low lights to really solidify their presences and help to secure the rhythm of the piece. A lot of lining and details are painted in over the adjustment layer to ensure my control over color, value and intensity of my brush strokes.
I begin to white out stray shapes and muddy background elements. I also introduce 3D renders made with the Array Mesh in Zbrush and continue to refine and detail everything in passes. Dede’s Lady’s glasses were looking a bit dull so I introduced a 3D Galaxy that I created in Adobe After Effects. I’m not super proficient in AE but there are really incredible tutorials out there. I just create a new file and follow along and add my own tweaks as I see fit.
This stage saw the introduction of a technique I had not before explored. Still in Photoshop, I collapse all of my layers and then duplicate the image. Then, under Filter>Pixelate, I use an effect called Color Halftone. The default setting works perfectly. I apply the filter and begin to erase away to reveal the softer image below. I choose to keep the Halftone around the edges for an interesting digital depth blur. At this point we are about 8 hours in and I send the image off to Dede for his approval.
It never ceases to amaze me how many flaws I am able to see in balance and refinement after I send a piece of art off for review. Its almost like I am able to view my piece with fresh eyes just by the very fact that someone else is seeing it. Because of this strange, alchemical event I can usually anticipate the client’s feedback before they say anything. Sure enough, Dede asked if we could bring something more into the white areas. I took the revision as an opportunity to level up some of the features of the portraits and push myself to complete the image below.
I add more dynamism to the quiet white areas to support the overall movement of the piece and bring in a few more 3D objects. I tie everything together with some stars and fairy dust and make sure all of my highlights are strong and crisp. And with that we have a finished Birthday Gift.
Thank you for taking the time to appreciate my work. I hope you have a beautiful day/evening wherever you are.