To start, I have to admit that I’m not much of a writer. Most of my expressions develop visually so please bear with me through the text of these posts and feel free to ask me to clarify anything that seems too opaque. That being said, I hope that this and future tutorials help to give insightful advice to other artists and mappers, both amateur and professional, who would like to add depth and visual punch to their cartography. Comments and questions are always welcome. Let’s get to it!
A quick note before I begin; The processes I will describe are specific to working in Photoshop CS6 on a Mac but can generally be translated to other digital illustration platforms. For an interface, I use a Wacom Intuos 4 and rely on a 27” Apple Cinema Display to view the work. If you can afford a big display with good resolution, it will do wonders. Most notably, it facilitates an ability to zoom out and view the work at distance without loosing too much detail. This helps immensely when assessing wether the map is working as a whole.
Today’s topic covers top-down object design in general and barrel illustration specifically. Though the techniques and principles can be applied to a wide range of subjects, I’ll keep the scope focused so as to avoid rambling.
Step 1; Working Environment
I have created a fairly compact Photshop file sized at 3x3 inches with a resolution of 300 pip and an 8 bit RGB color profile. In this new document I’ve filled a layer with a simple wood floor pattern and set up a series of working layers and groups for easy organization. Layer and group organization is key since without a good hierarchal system, things can get super confusing. I’ve also created a number of guides at one inch intervals so that I can draw at a standard printed battle map scale (1 inch to 5 feet @ 300 ppi).
Step 2; References
I’ve collected a few photos here that show era appropriate geometry, construction, and texture details.
Step 3; Sketch
Wether you sketch directly in Photoshop or on paper which is then scanned and imported isn’t really important since at this stage you’re just working out ideas. The drawing should stay fairly light though and if it’s from a scan, make sure to set the layer property to multiply so that the white of the paper isn’t obscuring the rest of your image. It also helps to reduce the sketch layers opacity somewhat so that it can serve as a template for your inks without becoming a distraction.
Step 4; Inks
Your choice of ink brush should be based on personal preference. One thing to note though is that if you plan on using your inks to trap or isolate areas for coloring, it will be helpful to use a brush tool that has limited or no flow and opacity variation and a sharp edge. The opacity variables can be set in the transfer preference panel of the brush dialogue box. To sharpen the brushes edge and tip, increasing the count in the scattering preference panel of the brush dialogue box and turn on the dual brush preference panel. Take some time to explore these settings and create a brush that is responsive and gives you the flavor of line that you like.
Now that we have our sketch in place we can begin creating the actual artwork. I prefer drawing my object’s border inks on a separate layer, keeping the strokes smooth and closed. That way, since there aren’t gaps in the outlines, I can come back later on and isolate quick selection masks for coloring.
Once the outlines are down, I switch layers and knock out the details. Try to give texture and character to your drawing but keep in mind that too much detail can become overwhelming and result in a confusing image. As a stylistic choice, I like to add a thin transparent colored stroke to my inks before beginning to paint.
Step 5; Colors
Using the magic wand tool and working on the border inks layer, click outside of the objects outline and then inverse your selection. From the drop down menu at the top, go to select > modify > contract and enter 1 pixel. You now have a selection outline that’s sized one pixel smaller than your inks. You can then fill your base color layer with an appropriate wood colored brown. By returning to your border inks layer, you can select areas with your wand tool to isolate and fill back on your base color layer. Don’t forget to expand your selection outlines by a pixel though before you fill them as this helps avoid color halos around the edges of your inks.
At this point you should have most, if not all, of your basic colors laid out and ready for shading. Additional colors can be hand painted in at this point. Additionally, if you click the small checkerboard icon beside ‘Lock’ at the top of the Layers window, it will lock the layers transparency and you don’t have to worry about your strokes wandering out of bounds.
Step 6; Shading & Highlights
Now select your Shading layer or create one just above your Base Colors layer and change the it’s blending mode to multiply. By holding down the command key while clicking on the Base Colors layer thumbnail you can create a quick selection outline of your object. This selection outline can then be used to make a layer mask for your Shading layer by clicking on the ‘Add layer mask’ button at the bottom of your Layers window. The ‘Add layer mask’ icon looks like a light colored circle within a darker rectangle. If you’ve created it properly, you should see a mask thumbnail appear to the right of your Shading layer’s layer thumbnail. The mask should look like a black square with a white barrel shape in it’s center.
By doing this, you have masked off all the parts of this layer that fall outside of your objects borders. You can then easily hand shade your barrel while keeping the artworks edges clean. Make sure to click back on the Shading layer’s checkerboard layer thumbnail since at this point the mask is active and if you simply started painting, you would be affecting the layer mask instead of the actual artwork. You should see brackets around the thumbnail telling you whether the artwork or mask is active.
Now paint in your objects shading. I like to use a fairly simple rounded brush with a lot of play in the opacity and flow pressure sensitivity. It also helps to have a little response, say 50%, in the minimum diameter field of the brush controls Shape Dynamics options. Warm shadows are good for interior objects while cooler blues work best for outdoor items. The theory being that your shadows reflect the color of their environment, thus, blue sky equals blue tinted shadows.
Repeat the above procedure for your Highlights layer but set it’s blending mode to Hardlight or Screen. You can then use something like a soft light yellow brush to add various reflections or ambient highlights to your barrel. Keep in mind that the harder an edge your highlight has, the more reflective the surface looks.
Step 7; Drop Shadows
Now you can select your Drop Shadow layer or create one just below your Base Colors layer and change the it’s blending mode to multiply. Hold down the command key and click on the Base Colors layer thumbnail again to make a new object selection outline. This time though, you will fill the selection on the Drop Shadow layer with white. You won’t see it though, since the layer’s blending mode is set to multiply and it’s obscured by the artwork in the layers above it. With the Drop Shadow layer active, click on the ‘Add a layer style’ button (Looks like the letters fx) at the bottom of the Layers window. From the drop down menu that appears, select the option Drop Shadow. Feel free to adjust the settings to taste.
Step 8; Final Touches
I like to add paper and/or canvas textures overtop of the artwork to pull the image together and give a naturalistic feel to the art’s surface. This can be done in a number of ways, one of which is to scan and import a desaturated, hi-res textile or paper surface into the Photoshop file. Run the greyscale surface texture through a Levels adjustment and push the contrast so that the surfaces peaks and valleys are well defined. You can then set this texture layer to Overlay or Hardlight and drop the opacity until it looks good and subtle.
Finally, a Brightness/Contrast adjustment layer (Black/white circular button at the bottom of the Layers window) placed at the top of your Colors group can bring punch to your art and really make it sing. Again, make sure to isolate the object in this adjustment layer by the ‘Add layer mask’ process mentioned above.
The finished product…
And that’s pretty much it. Hope you enjoyed the tutorial and come back for more next time.