Monday, 4 January 2016

Project 1: Explorers: Image #1 Development

This post describes the creative processes and critical choices involved with the production of the first of three proposed landscape images, which make up my first self-initiated project 'Explorers'

Inspired by trips to Dartmoor and Stoke Canon over the summer, this image is set in a woodland river. Thematic research can be found in an earlier blog post and drawn responses to these can be found on my worksheets, however beyond the draft pencil image, wherein I piece the landscape together and place the characters; all progression and rendering has taken place within photoshop.

A part 1 collage workshop with Caroline Pedler and a recent portfolio surgery with Tristan Manco led me to consider producing some images with collage. Curious about the process, I considered how I might generate a digital image that replicates the cut and paste technique; using scanned textures and photoshop image-editing capabilities to provide a quick way to produce textured papers of varying hues, rather than having to paint individual papers for each desired colour.

So as well as this project being an experimentation with working with landscape images and recurring characters, it has also been an experimentation of a drawing/rendering process.

Using the lasso tool in photoshop as my 'digital scissors' working on a layer that contained a scanned paper texture 'drawing' my desired shapes.

 I would copy and paste the lasso-formed shapes from that texture and then use photoshop's hue/saturation/brightness tool to edit the colour of the 'paper' as desired and where appropriate. In some cases the original texture suited the application - such as the white for the nails above.

The character eventually builds up. Feedback from Caroline at this point encouraged me to be mindful of the saturation tool - as seen in the comparison above she ended up being a lot brighter and more appealing than the initial muddy-grey tones.

I also had a conversation with Phil at this point; we discussed the use of the lasso tool. Phil noted that he felt the shapes weren't organic enough because of the tools nature. He described the lasso tools built-in smoothing capability and we discussed how more-organic shapes could also be achieved using more points to build up the shape - much like how the pen tool works in illustrator.

I found that I enjoyed the angular nature of the figure, feeling that if I were cutting the shapes by hand they probably would be a bit sharp on the edges. However, I took Phil's comments on board and had a play with the smooth function of the lasso tool:

Using the lasso to create the initial shape.


Increasing the Sample Radius increases the intensity at which the shape is smoothed into more regular shape resembling a circle - those points which are further outside the shape are moved inwards and angles become more curved.

The smoothed shape. I decided against using this tool as it was quite difficult to judge how the radius would affect the shape and I wasn't keen on the results. It did however inspire me to pay greater attention to how I rendered my shapes with the lasso tool and consequentially later characters in the image are less angular and have more organic shapes.

Still on the topic of how to render the image, I decided to see what the textures would look like within a drawn-line image.

Taking the above pen drawing, I used the fill and pencil tools to create solid colours - this allowed me to get an understanding for a palette that would work well together without having to play with the hues of any scanned papers. Using a layer mask, I then 'filled' these blocks with the scanned textures and edited them accordingly. 

The above comparison shows the two rendering techniques side by side. I have explored mixing digital and traditional methods before in earlier projects and as much as I enjoyed this way of rendering, I felt that I ought to create the same character through collage to get a better understanding of which I preferred. My initial thoughts were that the collage element had become secondary and was counter-effective in my efforts to include more collage in my images. 

What I found was that I had to edit the line-art image when making a transition to collage in order for it to be more consistent with the already existing girl. This led me to producing what I think is a more fun and dynamic image, comparing the two made it a lot easier to choose a preferred aesthetic. 

So I now had my way of rendering - lasso tool shapes, initially solid colour, then with a scanned texture layer mask applied and secondary layer masks of digital pen strokes to pick out details - a digital interpretation of cutting paper shapes and drawing on top of them in pencil or pen. Drop shadow layer effects then added a sense of depth to greater give the perception of an actual collage.

This technique informed other pieces of work outside of the course modules; 

A print produced for a secret santa within the christian society at college


Robins which were used for a Christmas card and to make my social media platforms more festive. 

Armed with the knowledge of how to render my image, I began the process of building the image up shape by shape. This is where I encountered the rendering methods key area of weakness. The technique works fine for vignettes or characters, when it comes to multi-layered, large, detailed images however, the process becomes a very long one. This coupled with my somewhat meticulous nature meant that this image took several more weeks to complete than anticipated.

The photoshop document was definitely a living image, a true working file in which the form and colour of every shape was considered, concluded, reconsidered and for a fair few elements (here's looking at you, rocks.) edited under the direction of critical thought and feedback from tutors and peers.

Earlier within the images production - flat areas have been laid down, the banks, sand, river. Rocks have begun to be placed - it was decided through discussion that the cold colours displayed on the rocks made them difficult to make out against the river. To provide greater contrast I edited the hue and saturation of each individual rock. The shape of the river was edited too - using a new layer and the dissolve brush, I created a seam between the water and sand/pebble textures that gave the edge of the water a semi-transparent quality and greater defined which layer was on top. 

The left hand half of the spread. Each character took a fair amount of time to render from the basic sketches, most lacking prior thought for colour palette or refined forms. Each character; apart from the two initial characters shown in the process images earlier in this post; took around an hour and a half to form, place and scale within the image. Eventually I had to design the characters in a separate document, as they contained so many layers each before merging, reaching multiple GB of information. Some elements (the butterflies and goosander) were edits of each other and thus took less time to draw up. This may seem like a lot of time to spend on elements that are scaled down and may become unnoticed, but I truly believe the value of my images comes from the little details and narratives scattered around them. 
A majority of this half of the image remained the same throughout it's formation; asides from the tufts of grass which were initially quite uniform, having been duplicated from 3 separate shapes. Speaking with Phil we agreed a more random spread was required, so I created several brushes within photoshop that utilised a large scatter radius to create several tufts at once.  

This second half of the image called for the most edits - trying to get a good contrast between the rocks and the water, the trees and the rocks, the trees and the other trees. Perhaps more detailed images with a lot of elements would benefit from combining hand-cut and digitally rendered elements. With a deadline looming I would like to produce at least two of the proposed three images; so I will wise up to this, perhaps with less concern for making each individual element unique and possibly avoiding such a high concentration of individual, overlapping elements. 

The whole image. 

I am looking forward to final feedback before the deadline. Although producing this image took a lot of focus away from following my time-table and progressing with all three projects in equal measures; I really am delighted with the end result. I think the process of creating this image overall has truly fulfilled the purpose of a module entitled 'experimentation' - it has helped to push the way I create my images in a new direction as well as really made clear to me the pace at which I work and how I work. I am perhaps a bit slow and meticulous for short run-times when considering large, detailed illustrations. However the rendering technique works great for the production of character/vignette images and has produced what has been my best received work on social media so far.

Post-crit development:
I presented the image at a group crit this week, where I gained some suggested edits from Caroline Pedler. She noted that she felt the trees and the rocks from the middle to the right of the image were too complicated in comparison to the rest of the image and their composition distracted the viewer from the rest of the image. At first I was reluctant to agree, considering I had spent some time trying to capture the behaviour of the tree roots and rocks, echoing my time swimming in the woods on dartmoor, however I was not reluctant enough to prevent myself from trying out her recommendation and I did agree with her other comment that the grass section was overpopulated by the various tufts of grass.

Removing some rocks and editing the tree shapes led me to a general re-positioning of the background elements and a fair bit of editing the hues of several elements too.
Further feedback from Phil included speaking about the bush in the bottom left hand corner. We had spoken before about reversing the tones from light in the centre to dark on the outside, which I tried and didn't like. Now with a much more completed image he noted that the variety of hues and layered effect was inconsistent with the rest of the image and that the lack of contrast between the bush and the grass behind it prevented the bush from fulfilling it's role as a framing device.

I tried swapping the progression of hues once more and to my surprise quite liked the effect this time. I decided to continue it across the whole image. (above)

I also edited the bush in the foreground to stylistically fit with my previous rendering of the bushes.
This second image has a more consistent aesthetic than the first. However I liked the multi-layered effect a lot, so took to social media to get the opinion of my peers.

The resulting comments were unanimous in their decision that the less tonal bushes were more cohesive; resulting in the above image. For now I can see no further amendments and am content in submitting this piece.

As the deadline looms, it is unlikely that I will be able to render a complete image in this way. As much as I would like to produce all three of the images for the module submission - I think they will be long-term portfolio building pieces. I hope to work towards creating rough images for the other two landscapes for the submission; but for now my priorities lie with making progress with my third project, Oliver's Monsters.


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