Tuesday, August 03, 1999

Rajina (with Tutorial Commentary)

Here's my second "student pic" for our local airbrushing academy. (Hey, getting a bunch of artists together to swap ideas is a time-honored teaching technique.)

Being a beginner at this airbrushing, I hit a few surprises along the way. I think they might be helpful to other beginners, so I'll note them here before I start taking them for granted.

I started with a solid, flat base color layer for each object, as Bigboote recommends in his tutorial. Also set up a simplified outline drawing layer, a "lights" layer, and a "shadows" layer (for each object.) With only those four layers and a dummy blank background displayed, I selected the dummy background color and inverted the selection, so my subsequent thrashing about would stay inside the lines. 8^D*

I used Bigboote's suggested variation on his Insta-Shade™ trick to initialize the "shadows" layer. Took my cross-hatched sketch (I'm an old pen-&-ink, graphite, and colored-pencil guy) and subtracted my simplified outline drawing from it (copied the outline into a temp channel, used that as a selection on the cross-hatch sketch layer, and 'cut' out the stuff under the outline.) Then I Gaussian-blurred the heck out of what was left. Thanks for the warning, Bigboote; it is a lot easier that way.

I kept my "shadows" layer monochromatic for this time around; I know some color theory, but I figured I'd better keep the number of variables simple for myself when just starting out. (Desaturated the layer to grayscale, then used Image - Adjust - Hue/Saturation to colorize it.) Since I used an olive-ish (a bit rich in the green) base skin tone, I used a dark, saturated red, with transparency of the layer set to 80% or so. That way I got some of the neutralizing effect of a transparent complementary color, so my monochromatic shading wouldn't be entirely lifeless. (Mmmm, color theory-- aglglaglll...)

The "lights" layer was also monochromatic; however, its transparency was set to 100%, so I could have fully opaque highlights where needed. Kind of like gouache on top of watercolor.

Then there was much thrashing about with monochromatic airbrush strokes.

Here's an UNFAIR ADVANTAGE tip: Set the eraser to airbrush mode, with the same 20% pressure setting as your regular airbrush tool. Then paint boldly, knowing you can gently back out any goofs. (Seems to me this feature would be difficult to duplicate with real media.)

I figured out why the blur brush tool has little to no effect on airbrushed layers. Airbrushing uses the layer's transparency channel to do its smooth-transition effects. The blur tool only affects the color info of the layer, not its transparency channel.

However-- here's another UNFAIR ADVANTAGE tip-- the Smudge tool does affect both the color and the transparency of a layer! I "cheated in" quite a few subtle adjustments by smudging my airbrush strokes, instead of erasing and repainting.

I did the modelling using the "shadows" first, then switched to the "lights" layer. Man, just like my first time using a white Conté crayon (pastel pencil) on colored paper! All you have to do is think where the light would fall, and paint it. Too easy.

Once the first pass of rendering was pretty complete, I decided to amuse myself by sticking in a solid black layer, to check out the "Elvis on Velvet" effect. Hilarious. But also useful...

UNFAIR ADVANTAGE tip #3: This is a great way to make sure your lights are at balanced, appropriate levels. I had gotten a little too heavy on the toe highlights, for example; against a black background, they glowed like beacons. A litle gentle dimming with an airbrush eraser, and they receded to their proper place. I couldn't even see that error against the ordinary skin midtones.

Naturally, I immediately checked the "shadows" layer against a white background.

Being, as I've mentioned, an old pen-&-ink guy, I kept my outline layer. I did soften it a bit with transparency. It'd also be interesting to try colorizing it, or a very gentle Gaussian blur, or both.

=WHEW!= Bigboote, I don't think you have an exclusive on rambling... (Don't worry, Imaginos, I'm archiving this note for eventual tutorial use, in case anyone else finds it useful.)

Anyway, I think those were the the nifty tricks I stumbled upon. What an education this group is!


[Followed a few minutes later by...]

Oh no! An evil sorcerer has transformed the Princess into a golden statue! He then ran off, muttering some gibberish about "Gaussian blurs," "Image - Adjust - Levels," and "Find Edges." There was also a lot of nonsense about hue and saturation, too...


Well, since I still had the "lights" and "shadows" layers separate, I decided to try some color variations. Then it became a challenge to see if I could get a metallic effect just through transforms of layer copies-- i.e., no new airbrush strokes. Sadly, there are probably one-step filters available commercially to do this sort of thing. But, what the heck, I did it anyway. Fairly amusing.

It's too late at night here to write this up right now. (Thank your lucky stars: you've just escaped from another rambling diatribe!)


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