Valentine’s Day Jam

Did all kinds of Photoshop Kung-Fu on this one…

This is a piece I made up in Photoshop for Valentine’s Day. I decided to have a little fun with it and finally use some of the free swag I pick up from the design blogs I frequent on a daily basis.

For this one I kind of threw in the kitchen sink and used about every skill I’ve developed.

I actually started off with a bunch of pencil drawing of faces I scanned in that were going to be the focal point of the art, but as the piece evolved it turned out they just didn’t make the cut.

I started out with the heart shape, which I used to create a layer mask over a metal texture I had deep in the recesses of one of my drives. Honestly most times I use these textures for wrapping up my 3D models, so it was good to use these for once in a straight up design piece.

To add some depth I added a drop shadow layer effect. Sometimes to make things pop some more I might duplicate the layer and change the blending mode to overlay or something else until I get what I want. If that doesn’t do it I’ll use it in conjunction with a Levels or Hue/Saturation Adjustment Layer.

Next I wanted all the people silhouettes in the piece. I’ve had all these vector silhouettes languishing unused for practically years with nary a use for them until now.

Unfortunately, sometimes Photoshop makes it a bit of a chore to position and break apart some of the vector elements after they’re brought in and rasterized. To work around this, I opened up all the files in Adobe Illustrator, then quickly positioned and distributed the shapes in the rows that I wanted.

Working with Illustrator is many times a double-edged sword. Too many times. You can do so much with it but sometimes it acts crazy. I was able to use the Release to Layer (Sequence) feature (found in the fly-out menu of the Layers palette) to move every shape to it’s own layer. This would benefit me later in Photoshop, where it would be a huge pain to cut everything apart.

So that worked great, but then exporting the files to Photoshop was a problem. I like to export a .psd (Photoshop) format file straight out of Illustrator with Layers intact so when I get back to Photoshop I don’t have to monkey around cutting everything apart.

Well, as usual, Illustrator defeated my efforts. It reported that the file was too big too export. More specifically, it claimed there was not enough memory to rasterize and export the file.

Likely story.

When this happens, your only option is pretty much to take your .ai (Illustrator) format file and open it directly in Photoshop. When you do this, Photoshop will ask at what resolution you want to rasterize to, and you’ll put in whatever you want.

The key thing you’ll notice here is that the file will be rasterized and created. Provided you actually do have enough memory it will work. The problem is that Photoshop has superior memory handling capabilities than Illustrator.

Illustrator CS3 could only use up to 2gig of ram no matter how much you physically had in your machine. I’m using CS4, but apparently the same limitation is in place, as my machine (Mac Mini Intel) has 4gig of ram in it, and yet Illustrator was unable to use it. Damn you, Illustrator. As stated earlier, Photoshop was able to use the memory and rasterize the file.

The problem now is that all my vectors were rasterized onto the same layer, so I had to waste time cutting apart the layers in Photoshop when I actually had that all done in Illustrator. Adobe, get it together with Illustrator already…

So back to the piece. Now that I had all these shapes on their own layers, I spun them all around using the Free Transform tool (Command/control-T). I filled them with white, then added drop shadows and glows with the layer effects. I also made minor adjustments to the opacity.

With that done, I decided to throw in some background images. You’d think I would do that first but sometimes I just don’t work that way. Again, I have about a zillion free images that I get from the design blogs so I just searched through until I found some I liked.

I couldn’t find one single photo I liked so I combined the sky and water of two images, using a layer mask with a gradient to fade out the parts I didn’t want. As before, I’ll adjust Blending Modes and Adjustment Layers until the colors pop the way I want.

A note about these adjustments – I’m working in RGB here with the only intent for this piece being to show it on the web. You have to really know where your final output is going to be before you even start working most of the time.

If this was ever going to be printed, I’d probably work in CMYK or at least use the gamut warning in RGB to make sure I didn’t pick any unprintable colors. As it is, I just went hog-wild with this one and really blasted those Adjustment Levels until it looked good to my eye, and I didn’t really give any thought to going out of gamut.

So, after that, I pulled up some marble textures I had and stuck those into the background. I used layer masking once again to hide most of it. I created a layer on top of the marble, filled it with white, and then added noise to it. I set the Blending Mode to Linear Burn (what I normally use for shadows) and then hid the whole thing by using a ‘hide all’ layer mask.

My intention here was to brush in the shadows on the marble using a brush filled with white on the layer mask. When I brush in shadows I set the brush opacity to about 20%, this way I can really build up the shadows and it’s easy to see if you’re going too far. Also I still have more control at the layer level of opacity, so it’s good to leave yourself some options that way.

After this, I dipped into my archive once again for the burnt paper in the heart. There are plugins galore for paper edge effects, but I actually don’t own any of them. I do have a bunch of photos of burnt paper though, so I just cut out the parts that I wanted and lined them up inside the heart. Again with the layer masks to keep the paper contained in the heart shape.

I used two other paper textures to make the paper filling up the sides of the piece behind the metal, and also to make the backgrounds for the ‘Happy Valentine’s Day’ text. To make the ragged edges on the bottoms I used a ragged brush from the brush palette with a layer mask to create those in such a way that I was not destroying anything.

I’m a bit paranoid with that, having really screwed up in the past and lost work. So these days I rarely throw away anything, and I try to use non-desctructive workflows like Layer Masks and Adjustment Layers so I can always go back, if necessary.

But moving forward, I hit up my vector archive again and picked out a Cupid shape that I liked. I actually modified the shape to have more of an afro and also one of those picks with the fist on the end of it, but after my modifications you really couldn’t see it any more. Oh well.

For some reason I decided to use our Red, Yellow, and Green traffic lights (here in the U.S.) as inspiration. I had some mineral/gemstones photos in my archive, so I pulled those out for texture. The red cupid has a ruby texture, the yellow has an amber texture, while the green one has an emerald gemstone texture. I added drop shadows, strokes and glow layer effects to give some depth to the Cupids.

At this point I still didn’t have anything for the center of the heart. I wanted it to be a man and a woman, but no one really specific, so most any couple might imagine themselves to be them. As it turns out, I actually did not have anything suitable in my archive, so I thought I would draw it, but then I changed my mind.

Instead, I decided to do a quick 3D render. I opened up DazStudio, quickly posed the two stock models (Michael and Victoria) and backlit them to remove most of their features. After about 15 minutes I had a decent render that I could adjust further in Photoshop. One good thing about rendering out of most 3D programs is you can save them as a .png file, which supports transparency and usually will get you a file that has the background already removed.

This was the case here, and I moved the two figures right into position. I adjusted the levels to increase darkness, plus I added a dark outer glow layer effect to really add contrast to the figures and the background.

Now I was almost done. I added in the text, adding drop shadows and strokes to make it pop out more. The “Love, Peace and Soul” I threw in as an homage to the days of my youth watching Soul Train on the weekends. I had to brush in some black on a separate layer and adjust its opacity to give the type a little more readability.

Finally, on a separate layer I added some lens flares to the Cupids to give the piece a little sparkle. Hey, we’re talking about love here so let’s give it some shine and luster.

When I add lens flares, I usually create a new layer and fill it with black. Then I add the lens flare to the black layer and set it to screen afterwards. You can’t add a lens flare to an empty layer, and as I mentioned, I like to retain control of things, so I don’t want to add it to a layer that it will then become a part of, denying me the ability to separate it later.

Sometimes you have to guess a little about where the flare goes but you can usually place it pretty correctly within one or two tries.

Many times you’ll hear people bemoan the overuse of lens flares in artwork since the advent of Photoshop, and I know I have a tendency to go to that filter probably more than I should, but to Hell with it. I’m gonna do my art my way, and if I think it looks good, that’s what matters.

Now if this was for a client or something, then what they think would be paramount, but since it’s a fun piece, I ‘ll just go with the flow.

With that, the only thing left to do was to add my signature on a separate layer and do the final save. With all my layers and adjustments and such the final file size on this psd file was 1.03 gigabytes. Whoa. Back in the days that would have brought my old machine to its knees.

So that’s the end of that one. It’s a piece with fairly little re-use but maybe we’ll see another version of this for Valentine’s Day 2011.

Thanks for sharing!


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