Quick art for the lazy

Lets make Quick art.

This is a full step by step breakdown of how I put together the art for Banksy Patrol. The phone booth picture that I am using as a base is by Banksy. This method is also how I do a lot of my placeholder art, as it is generally quick, and results in an interesting outcome. In this case I will be showing you how to make grayscale assets. This will be a little bit different than my normal process, as we will be starting with a 50% gray canvas opposed to my regular black. I will explain why later. I also suggest picking a hard surface object to start with as soft surfaces and organics require a higher level of fidelity to look right, and that comes with practice.

Step By Step

This entire tutorial will go faster if you are plugged in with some good instrumental music, a simple asset that you want to make, and actually have Adobe Photoshop installed…

1.1 – Setting up the file.

In most situations when I am not trying to develop finished art, I will start with a square size of 512 (for publish level art use 1024). I tend to keep my image sizes small even in Photoshop as this technique is not really designed for super as super high LOD(Level of Detail)

Set width and height as the same size to keep the art work square, as this is a good thing to do (Look into image compression if you want to know more). Resolution is how many pixels are in a square inch, Photoshop defaults to Pixels per square Inch (More info here). Give your file a name, if you want. and then you can normally leave the rest of the data as default, and I would advise you do exactly that.

1.2 – Get the image in and make a copy of it.

Once you have the file open, you can simply drag and drop the image into Photoshop like you drag any old file from one place to another. Why we want to drag the image in instead of simply opening the image through Photoshop, is the simple fact that the image you get will be the wrong size and resolution, almost every time. Once you drag the image in use the transform tools to scale (hold shift while scaling to lock ratio) and position the image where you want it to be on the canvas. For fine adjustments use the arrow keys to bump the selection one pixel. Click on any other tool in the tool bar, or hit enter, and click accept on the pop up, this is just confirming that what you just did is how you want it to stay.

Now you want to make a copy of the that image, and then lock it, and hide it to hopefully never be touched again. we do this so that we always have the source image for reference, and duplication.

1.3 – Making the silhouette Part 1

In order to have a good silhouette we want to make a good selection. Photoshop has some great tools to get a good selection, but we still want to be quick about it, as that is a large part of the point of this particular technique. To make selection quicker we can use a trick with levels.

To add a level simply click the half circle at the bottom of the layers tab, preferably while the copy of source is selected, click levels in the popup. From here you will get a dialog box of a greyscale, the box has three handles. These represent the black grey and white. For easier selection we want a high contrast image, to do this you want to bring the black and white handles closer to the center like you can see in the picture below, and then move the gray handle until you have a clean edges on the main shape as you can.

1.4 – Making a selection.

To make the selection you want to use a combination of selection tools, but I suggest starting with the magic wand. You want to make sure to have the Contiguous, and Sample All Layers, both ticked. It will give you a good general selection of the shape. You can get it to sample more, by holding shift when you click this adds to the selection, while holding Alt subtracts from the selection. This is useful if the shape has any holes in it or background has any solid colours. You can also use things like the box selection tool, or the lasso selection tool, to refine the selection. Just remember to use shift to add, and alt to subtract.

The selection does not have to be perfect, we can fix any issues in the coming steps. Now depending on the selection method, inside or outside. you want to make sure the selection is on the inside. you can tell by looking at the selection outline if it is hard up against the edge of the canvas with the shape in the middle much like mine is in the supplied image. You have the outside selected. In this case you want to invert the selection, so that you have the shape its self selected, you can do this by using the invert command ctrl+shift+i. Make sure you do not click on any other tools as to avoid deselecting the selection.

1.5 – Setting a mask.

In this next step we will be setting up a mask. Masks are a common concept in image software as it enables you to ‘hide’ or cover up a portion of the image, in a way that is easy to modify. Photoshop’s masking tool is very powerful. You want to move to the Layers panel and add a new layer. This is done with the little curled corner page icon. Once the new layer is added click on it, this will not deselect the selection. Then click on the hollow circle icon, this will add a mask to the new layer.

Now that you have a layer mask you will see the shape of the selection in the layer mask. You can select between the two by clicking on the one you want to edit at any time. Right now we want to edit the standard layer, so make sure that it is selected, you can tell by the little selection markers, around the active window.

Masks are a grayscale only layer attached to the standard image layer, where the black to white values control opacity. Black is transparent. White is Opaque, any gray value in between will represent a percentage of Opacity, this is only using the B channel of Photoshops HSB colour values.

1.6 – Adding some gray

At this step we will be adding in some colour! specifically 50% gray (in HSB). #808080 in Hex. The reason why we use this particular gray colour is to allow us to have a nice middle ground, that also works with Photoshop’s lighting modes (I will touch on this later).
You can do this by making sure the standard image layer is selected as before. And the using the bucket fill tool to fill the layer. Just click anywhere in the layer.

1.7 – Understanding Ctrl+z in Photoshop

Now that we are almost all set up we need to set up a another layer to work with. Yep another layer! I use a lot of layers, when I use this technique because it is inherently destructive, meaning you can only go back as far as ctrl+z (or command z for you mac weirdo’s <3) will let you. By the way if you have tried to undo something in Photoshop like you would in almost any other program you would have noticed that it will undo, then re-do the thing you just undid! That is because Photoshop stores every ‘thing’ as a step, meaning that if you undo a ‘step’ and then undo another ‘step’ you will be undoing the undo ‘step’. Yep took me a while to get the hang of that as well. So in order to go back more ‘steps’ you need to add the alt key into the mix to form alt+ctrl+z. Hooray for hot keys (I am looking at you blender…).
Now that we have that fun mess out of the way, back to the whole layers thing.

1.8 – Adding working layers

For our working layers we will add them just like we did before, with the little folded corner page icon at the bottom of the layer stack. But we will be using another useful little tool! Clipping masks! Right click on the new layer and in the drop down click on the Create clipping mask option. The layer will indent and have this little down arrow next to it. Make sure it is above the Mask filled layer, that step is very important as the clipping mask uses the layer below it as the clipping part of the clipping mask. What this means is that what is visible in the parent layer will be visible on the clipping layer. These can be stacked up as well.

1.8 – Brush settings

We are almost at the painting stage! Now it’s time to talk about brushes in Photoshop. Brushes are how Photoshop interprets inputs onto the canvas, it takes these inputs and formats them into a shape, this shape is formed by the brush property’s. Start by selecting the brush icon in the tool bar. You will see at the top of the screen will be the tool overview. In the tool overview is the brush preset picker dropdown. Click the little arrow to open the dropdown. This is how you can pick different brushes, change the ‘size and ‘hardness’ of a brush. The hardness effects how the brush overflows outside of the size representation of the brush, that you will now see as the mouse cursor over the canvas.

1.9 – Hotkeys for real!

Now lets talk hot keys! Again! These are specifically to do with the brush so make sure you have the brush tool selected.

You can change the brush size a number of ways, same with hardness. To change brush size you can use the [ & ] keys to increase and decrease, and use { & } to change hardness. These are super useful as mousing up to the brush settings can be a huge time drain. Additionally you can also use the super funky way through mouse movement. Ctrl+alt+right mouse button hold these and move the mouse. Horizontal movement changes size. Vertical movement changes hardness.

In a addition to brush size and hardness I use flow, to slow down the output of the brush. This makes working with a mouse for painting a lot more forgiving.

You can change opacity using the number keys 1 through to 0. They will change the opacity to the number value. Tap to number quickly to get an exact value, such as 75 or 12. You can do the same with flow by holding the shift key and using the numbers. One thing I hate, is that changing opacity works on the number-pad, and that is super helpful! But holding shift to change flow will not work with the number-pad, this is due to how keyboards actually work, so unfortunately their is no way around it.

We will be making lots of layers that will be clipping masks, so the the hot key for a new layer in Photoshop is ctrl+shift+n. This will bring up a dialog box, make sure you name the layer, and when you want it to continue to be a clipping mask, make sure you check that option.

Lastly Photoshop gives you two colour to work with in quick secession. you can see them here.

To change the colours simply click on the box of the colour you want to change, and change it in the colour picker. To swap between the colours quickly you can use the x key. And that’s it! all the hot keys you should need to move forward!

Hot Key’s

  • Brush Size = [ ]
  • Brush Hardness = { }
  • Opacity = 1 through 0
  • Flow = shift+1 through 0
  • New Layer = ctrl+shift+n
  •  Swap active colour = x

2.1 – How to paint light?

Great work!! you just finished the setup stage!!!!! But in all honesty this setup stage normally takes about 2 minutes, once you know all the steps.

This is where we actually start to do some painting! So make sure you have that top layer selected, the clipping layer one, from now on ill be using layer names to make things easier to understand, Here is how I normally name my layers.

We will be incrementing the layers as we go. Lets get started!

Painting light is much easier than you would think, because our eyes recognize objects through how light interacts with that object. The main rules you need to work with are;

  1. Closer to the light source is brighter.
  2. The sharper the edge the brighter.
  3. Light follows edges
  4. Behind edges are darker.
  5. Light works as a gradient.

You will be surprised by how quickly you can begin to recognize shapes with a strong silhouette by simply adding some dark paint to the canvas. For this I am using solid black and solid white. I find this simplifies things. I am using a large brush size, the hardness on a low setting, so a soft edge. And I have my flow set to 10%. This is three strokes:

You can already see the cubic nature of the phone booth coming together. Also you want to start with a large brush with soft edges, and big strokes, to rough in the general shape. I also find it helpful to use the base image to learn the lighting of the object. You can do this by having a low opacity copy of the source image above the image locked as to not draw onto it. Something like 10% opacity normally works.

This makes it harder to see how your canvas is coming along so I would suggest not leaving it on all of the time. But this is useful for roughing out shapes internal to the object. You also want to work from the back to the front. And every time you feel happy with how it is currently looking, make a new layer and work from their.

This is the first pass with the overlay:

This is the same pass, without the overlay:

As you can see I have focused entirely on the edges of the shapes, and this now already looks like the phone booth that we started with. This takes very little time to do. Simply play with the size and hardness of the brush until it produces lines that work for you, without being to high in detail. Try to avoid being too zoomed in at any point, you want to try and have the entire object in view to start with, so that you don’t end up focusing on fine details too soon. Then draw the edge with the white, and follow up with the black or draw with black then follow up with white, work with both methods, depending on the area one may work better than the other. Draw a line, see if you like it, if you don’t, undo and try again. Try to force yourself to work quickly, that way you wont bog yourself down.

2.2 – Repeat. Repeat. Repeat.

As you refine it, you can start to zoom in, reduce the size of the brush, and reduce the flow. Here I have just slowly worked my way down in brush size as I tighten up the edges. If at any point a layer starts to look to ‘heavy’ you can tone it back by reducing its opacity. I suggest you try this with all of your layers.

At this point, I am happy with the representation, of the asset. To see how you feel make sure you zoom the image until it is the apparent size that the final asset will be to make sure it reads well.
My next step is to work on the rocks to finalize the asset.

This is a sharp outline of the rocks, this layer is to dark and I will reduce it opacity once I have finished working with it. But now is a good time to show why we made the silhouette with a mask, and why we are using clipping layers, aside from the fact that it keeps all the work within the silhouette.

2.3 – Refining the mask

Layer masks can be modified as simply as painting with a brush. Select the layer mask.

This will allow you to use white and black to change the shape of the mask. We want to refine the mask to the final shape. I suggest using a hard edge brush, with full flow and full opacity, this is to avoid any smudges. And work from the outside in, so that you don’t miss any little bits and end up with floating islands that should not be their.

2.4 – Done!!

Now that we have the final shape how we want it I am going to tone back the black lines around the rocks then shade the same way that I have done with the phone booth.

Now make sure you have saved the file with a clear name so that you do no forget what it is, and export the asset!

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