Phil Dunne shows us how to create a fresh Mixed Media Masterpiece with drawn Elements in Photoshop.

The concept for the piece called ‘Night Cereus’ was actually based upon a dream I had one night. There was a large pod like plant at the bottom of my garden one night. When I approached it, a man grew out of it. He had long hair and a beard and was very spiritual, like a Buddhist monk or an angel. It was such a vivid dream because I can remember the heavy cold air, the blue and black midnight sky and the serene feelings that this person was communicating to me. So this where keeping a notebook beside your bed is so vital. When I woke up I could simply scribble down a rough thumbnail, the sensation of the dream, the visual cues and the emotion of it.
This is hugely important to me, you need to be able to convey how exactly you feel through your work. Getting ideas down on paper before they slip away amongst the chaos of life can have such a massive benefit to your final work.

When I begin to work on an illustration, I always have a rough sketch of it in my notebook. I carry a notebook everywhere with me, so I scribble out ideas that just pop into my head. I keep it beside my bed as I tend to get the most ideas when I’m about to go to sleep and when I wake up. I keep a small biro pen with the notebook so I can quickly rough out a concept. I always write notes beside each doodle because in my head, I’m planning out what coloring, layers and effects I’m going to use in Photoshop. I keep a few gigabytes spare on my hard drive for a digital scrapbook. My digital scrapbook is a folder filled with jpegs, tiffs, pngs, scans, urls and mpegs from the internet of stuff I find inspiring, like a fashion shoot, websites or an old advert I’ve downloaded. I also collect a lot of clippings from magazines and books and take tons of pictures on my iPhone camera, like graffiti, street textures and urban spaces to use as reference points in my illustrations.

Several music videos also helped to get me fired up with this piece:
Madonna ‘Rain’ directed by Mark Romanek:
David Bowie ‘Ashes To Ashes’ &
Bjork ‘Who Is It’

Final Image

Step 1.)

I really loved the surreal qualities and the sharp and vibrant colorings in these videos so I felt that watching these a few times again would greatly help me in choosing a coloring palette. I began to build a colour reference from these videos and experimenting on Photoshop CS4 with these colours really helps to build up a strong illustration.

Step 2.)

To begin, I start by adding a very dark blue background to the piece to simulate the midnight hour. I add in some textures like scans of watercolor pieces I’ve done, and I blend in elements of stock texture images like frost and grain and dirt. By adding these textures, they help build up the depth of the image and also make the lifework that I create above stand out much stronger.

To add in the figure that grew out of the pod in the concept of the illustration, I select an image of a model.
In June 09 I did one of my own photoshoots of a professional male model and took over 300 shots to use
as a reference library with many different poses. I worked with an Irish male model called Sam Homan, who had excellent experience in photoshoots, TV and music videos. I selected him as a model because based on his experience, I felt he could give me a great variety of poses and emotion and react to elements that would not be there in reality. So if working with a model for a shoot, always have a good look back through their professional experience and how diverse their portfolio actually is, this will help to have a better idea of their range and ultimately ease your direction and communication on what you are trying to achieve in the photoshoot. I will keep these on my hardrive to refer to or to trace for any future illustrations. The photoshoot was shot in RAW format to keep all the detail and lighting in the image, again
just in case I need to use it as reference.

Step 3.)

I select the appropriate pose from my shoot with the model to use in the illustration. I copy and paste the image into
a new canvas and set the photography to 40-50% opacity so I can begin to trace around the model’s pose.
Notice that this model has short hair and was wearing a vest so I have add some essential details to the trace
to get the image looking right, so I add in long strands of hair and a beard. I use a standard brush (around 9px) on Photoshop and trace around the photo using my Wacom Intuos 3 tablet pen.

Step 4.)

When I have completed the traced image and finished off the drawing of the guy, I invert the whole image as I want this to black and to fit in with the entire colour scheme of the illustration. Depending on the direction of the illustration and exactly how much impact I want the piece to have, I have kept this drawing of the model looking almost comic book like in its execution.

I copy and paste the drawing into the main illustration but I also save the traced image (and the original photograph) in case I need to go back and make adjustments in the final illustration.

Step 5.)

At the main figure’s elbow, I add in some drawing of flowers from my sketchbook. As I’ve mentioned above, I want the figure to look as if he is growing out of the ground or out of a flower, so the arms raised the flowers bunched around him give a great feeling to me that he is growing and reaching upwards.

Step 6.)

I begin to slowly and carefully build up the background. I add in a doodle from my sketchbook which will act as the crown for the character’s head. But I also want the crown to blend in with the rest of the illustration and give the piece an overall tight and unique look. When there are parts of any drawing missing, I add in sections with my Wacom tablet by copying the width of the line from my drawings. It helps to give me seamless integration of the drawing into Photoshop. I also like to keep people guessing which parts are digital and which are traditional!

Step 7.)

I select more scans from my notebook and begin to add them in carefully into the illustration. This is a crucial part because sometimes things can get too overloaded and too fussy; so I tend to leave a piece for several hours (or days) and go back to it with a fresh pair of eyes.

Step 8.)

When I add in my drawings, I adjust the colour to Grayscale, (Image>Mode>Grayscale) removing any unnecessary colours that might get mixed up into the piece. I then invert the image so the black lines become white, then I copy and paste the drawing in and set the blending of the layer in the Layers pallette to ‘Screen’ which completely removes all the black background. I work the drawings into the illustration this way so I can always have the option of replacing the black background of the drawing if it needs to be there. Rather deleting the whole background manually, this is a quick and easy way to save time and also give you the option of making some alterations later on.

Step 9.)

To add some more mysterious qualities to the piece, I scan in some ball drawings done with watercolor and as with the drawing step above, I completely remove the colour (Image>Adjustments>Desaturate) or shortcut: Cmd+Shift+U on Mac. Again, I invert the watercolor paintings (Image>Adjustments>Invert) or shortcut: Cmd+i on Mac and adjust the Brightness/Contrast as shown in the image below:

Step 10.)

I place them carefully around the figure, as if to suggest steam or bubbles of water.

Step 11.)

Now that the background elements have been placed and I’m content with them enough to finish up, I begin to
work up details. Detailing on an illustration for me can really make or break a piece. You need to be instinctive about it and as I always judge my working progress, it’s usually when I start getting goosebumps about a piece.
You need to be aware of the illustration as a whole too, not to get focused on one section of it or to be focusing on a new technique you’ve discovered. I’ve noticed that digital illustrators today tend to discover a new technique in their work and just simply use this as a focal point in their image. For me a successful image is one that breaks new ground in image making but is also an aesthetically pleased and exciting image to look at and this must be every time you see this piece.

Step 12.)

I begin to add the detail to the figure. I work almost like a comic book artist highlights and inks their pieces; I use the line to define and exaggerate certain elements in the figure. I start by adding a new layer set at Normal and opacity at 60%. I use a large soft edge brush and select a dark blue colour to paint in around the figure. I felt that the figure being completely black he was disappearing into the texture and just not sitting right in the illustration.
I create another new layer, set to Screen at opacity 65% and begin to draw in some body lines around the male’s physique, I imagined this character to be very spiritual and traditional so I likened the lines on his body to be like tribal body paint like a Shaman or a Warrior would have painted on them.
I build up the detailed line work to accentuate his skin and body and also his eyes.

Step 13.)

I feel now that the image has really come on a lot and that it is almost finished. I take a few hours rest from it and when I go back to and reopen the file, I look at it in a mirror on my monitor. This is something I do with every single piece I work on. If it looks good in the mirror and I feel that there is no more work to done, then I feel that it’s a successful piece and ready to be finished up. By doing this, I’m getting a completely fresh perspective on my work that without me knowing it, might possibly have become stale after spending so many hours working on it.

Step 14.)

Just to finish off and give the illustration a really sleepy, dreamlike quality, I add in some light white dots of paint to suggest a starry night sky and also suggest balls of pollen and seeds emanating from the plant that the figure is growing from.

Final Image

This piece was called ‘Night Cereus’ which is named after a plant that only blooms at night time. I developed this piece with the help of my fellow artists in the Depthcore collective. This piece was also nominated for a Daily Deviation on It was nominated by Justin Maller who is Creative Director of Depthcore

This Tutorial was written by Phil Dunne