The Illusion of Light and Shadows

There's something about light and shadows that really soothes the eye. I guess I could do research on the scientific reason as to why us humans are attracted to depth in images, but I already spend too much time on the net. I'm guessing since that we live in a 3-dimensional world our eyes are built to receive and digest lovely indications of depth (i.e. shadows, light vs. dark, cool vs. warm colors) and by nature we crave that. I tend to indulge in lighting my illustrations so I thought I would share how I go about doing that - from sketch to finished image.

The key here is to make the scene believable, even if it's not 100% accurate. So I guess in a sense you become a car salesman convincing a customer that not only is the Hyundai Elantra a great car, but the most awesome car you will ever buy in your life.

1. I start with a hand-drawn sketch. Why not go digital? Eh, the tablet doesn't feel right and I guess I need to feel paper and pencils in my hand. I then scan the drawings in Photoshop.

2. In Photoshop I clean up the images and create separate layers for the different visual elements. This allows for more control over placement, size, coloring, and opacity. For example, in the image below I have a layer for each character, the background, and several additional details I added in later (the plane, smokestacks, birds, fence, and sticker on signpost). Keep in mind that all the coloring layers are in the "multiply" blend mode - and the texture layers are in "color burn" and "overlay" blend mode. I suggest playing around with those settings and see what you come up with : )

Here is a video tutorial on How to use Blending mode in Photoshop CC.

3. Now I block in the foreground shade. I imagined this bus stop scene taking place under a large tree. And as we have all observed - shade from trees are not one massive blob, but a shadow dance of many, many leaves. I made a layer of a dark blue and masked it out. Then I removed bit by bit the "shadow dance" until I thought it was convincing. Sometimes I consult with Google Images to make sure the lighting is believable.

4. I added additional shadowing on a separate layer.

5. And now the color! We begin with the background color. The blue sky on a separate layer from the tree/grass.

6. Another layer is added for the foreground objects.

7. Now the characters are colored in on another layer.

8. One of the biggest challenges of working in Photoshop is to make the images not look so "Photoshoppy". So I have added a yellow layer (6%) and a water color image to add "texture". I have also added several details, such as the balloon reflection, text on the bus sign and the little sticker on the sign post. As the image comes to life, I have fun adding in little details - this also helps with the "believability" factor.

9. Additionally, I have added another "texture" layer (image of paint strokes on canvas) and a faint shadow around the edge of the image to give a more old-photo look.

Voilà! If you have any questions - please feel free to comment or email me at anna_guillotte@yahoo.com.