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.
THREE and FOUR
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.
I do hope you’ve enjoyed this journey into digital portrait creation and perhaps you have gained an insight or two along the way.
Thank you for taking the time to appreciate my work. I hope you have a beautiful day/evening wherever you are.