Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Tutorial: Creating the Josephine Pages with Clipping Masks in Photoshop

Sometimes, I don't feel like making stuff.  Really, it's just that simple.  It isn't that I don't love drawing & painting & such. I do.  But sometimes I need a break.

This weekend, my oldest son attended a birthday party and we had my younger son's birthday party at our house.  After that, I just wasn't feeling very creative. So I worked on genealogy research instead (which is loads of fun and I recommend it!) and today, I'm taking my mother to the doctor.  She broke her finger spectacularly and needed a crazy cast up to her elbow! Some weeks are busy around this house!

Today, instead of creating a page for Josephine, I want to share a little bit about how I make the Josephine pages.  The techniques here are also the techniques I used to create the Chanel paper doll, the Dupin paper doll, as well as the Akinye and Friends book and the Transformation Dress book.

Like most of my projects, this one starts with a sketch.

This sketch is from page 2 of the Josephine series.  To create the outfits, I use a black & white template and I draw over it.  The template is the actual lines from the finalized paper doll.  I lower the opacity & draw over it in ArtRage.  I'm using ArtRage 4 and I use the pencil tool to sketch.  This could easily be done on paper or in another program. I just happen to like the natural feel of sketching in ArtRage -- it also has a TON of features that I'm still working on perfecting.

Anyway, once I'm finished scribbling, I export the file as a JPG and bring it into Photoshop to line and color it.  I could line it in ArtRage but I'm not thrilled with any of the three pen tools available.  Could just be inexperience on my part.

Here's what my file in Photoshop looks like.  I'm a big fan of folders! I like to keep things tidy and labeled as I work.  Here, I have just the lines for the pants, belt, and shoes.  Each of this is on its own layer.  I do not re-draw the feet - I duplicate those from the finalized, colored doll and add them in here.  I'm a big fan of working smarter not harder!!

To outline the clothing, I use a custom oval brush.  Its gives me a little bit more variability and hand-drawn feel while I draw on screen.  It isn't an essential thing, just a preference. Any hard brush would work fine here. Just make sure your lines create a closed shape or the next step won't work.

Once the clothing is outlined, I fill it with one color.  To do this, I select the outside of the lines, then right-click and then Select Inverse.  This selects the inside portion of the lines.  Why do it this way? If I tried to select the interior of my image, I would only select the empty sections around the lines and not the *true* interior space.  Next, with my image still selected, I go to Select, Modify, Contract and choose a pixel amount, usually 1 or 2.  Again, why? This way, the selection is inside the lines and there won't be any color bleeding outside the black lines.

This is the modified selection.  The (faint) dashed lines are the selected area, now inside of the black lines.  I know there are other methods for doing this (see: Paper Thin Personas.  She uses a great technique!) but this is the one I like for me.

With the selection still in place, I create a new layer UNDER the selection and use the Fill paint bucket to fill it in with a color.  Doesn't really matter what color.

Here's the color fill.  It's highlighted in the group on the right side and labeled Layer 8 for now.  Name it something meaningful! These layers easily get out of control!

Next, I use this color layer as a clipping mask layer for the pattern on the belt.  This isn't the only way to apply a pattern.  Sometimes, I use a pattern layer style to apply an all-over repeating pattern, such as the velvet texture on the steampunk outfit.  Sometimes, I also use multiple clipping masks and merge them into a single layer once they look right.  That's what I did with the strip pattern on this belt.  But for the purposes of this tutorial, I'm using a different pattern.

Open the image you want to clip and place it ABOVE the color layer. In my case, it covers the whole page.

The image you want to clip needs to be above the layer you are clipping it to.  Now, this didn't make sense to me for a while.  Then it occurred to me that it's a lot like a stencil: the interior of the stencil is the thing you're drawing and the outside is the paper you're ignoring.  It's like that.  The color layer below the pattern is the interior of a stencil.  Right-click on the pattern layer and select Create Clipping Mask.

The patterned paper is now only applied to the color layer below it.  However, if you look at the layer, the paper is still completely intact -- that's the little boundary squares on the work area.  What this means is you can still manipulate the pattern.  In this case, I would like a smaller pattern so I scale the clipping image.

This is the clipped pattern, scaled down and rotated slightly.  What's great about this is that the pattern and the color are still separate.  I can change the pattern at any time and I can still select the color layer separately, too.

Which is what I'll do next.

Use the Magic Wand tool to select the interior of the color layer.  Next, create a new layer to add the shadows.  I like to keep as much separated as possible because it allows for more flexibility.  I might paint the shadows in black and then change the blend mode until it looks right.  If I paint directly on the color layer, I lose that ability, so shadows go on their own layer.  The reason I SELECT the interior first is so that the shadows stay confined to the area I'm painting.  I don't need to go back and try to erase areas that I didn't want.

To paint the shadows, I use a large soft brush with a lowered opacity (maybe 10 or 15 to start) and gradually build up the shadows and opacity until it looks the way I want.  I do the same with the highlights.  Sometimes I use black and white for shadows and highlights.  Sometimes I don't. It depends on the image.  Keep in mind, too, that I'm using a pen and a tablet screen.  This is a bit harder with just a mouse.

Here's the finalized belt in the original pattern.  I have a color layer - that's the merged clipping mask layers I created to manipulate the pattern.  Merging the clipping mask layer with the color filled layer is totally optional.  Above that is the shadow layer and the highlight layer.  These three parts are the entire belt.

And that's basically it.  I color each section of the clothing like this, separately out sections into layers as needed.  I use Group to create folders with like items.  In this case, all of the layers comprising the belt are grouped together and called "belt".  You can further group up these group folders, which is something I do.

One last note about color: keep it simple.  I had a professor who taught me that you really only need three tones to create a realistic form: a mid-tone, a highlight, and a shadow.  That's really it.  So when I'm painting or drawing, I keep that in mind. With these Photoshop paper dolls, I have a color layer (the mid-tone or main color of the object), a shadow layer, and a highlight layer.  It's possible to create more depth with more colors and layers.  Occasionally, I'll do that but mostly, I stick to three colors.

I hope this demystifies a little bit of how I color these images.  It really isn't complicated, aside from making sure I'm on the right layer at the right time!   Any questions, etc, feel free to let me know!

Friday there should be another doll posted and hopefully a new Josephine next week.  Feel free to send me theme suggestions! I love those!


  1. I don't think I followed all of this, but I love getting to her about other folks process. Every once in a while I think, "I should shade my paper dolls..." And then I get over it as quickly as possible.

    1. I'll admit, it isn't the most lucid piece of writing ever. Select one layer, paint on another layer, etc... I swear, it makes sense when I'm doing it! It would probably be good for a video but I'm just not that savvy yet.

      I like the flat style of your paper dolls! Don't change a thing :)

  2. this makes me appreciate the work all the more ~ and reminds me just how lazy i am. the thought of doing this level of work is staggering to me!

    thank you for sharing your process. i am still waffling about what to do with all my black and white plates; this certainly gives me something to think about!

    1. So my plan was to demystify my process....pretty sure that didn't happen!! It's not as time-intensive as it sounds, really.

      If I wanted to do something similar in watercolors, well, it would never happen because it would take too long. With Photoshop (and to a certain extent, Illustrator), I can create the kind of things I always wanted to but never felt competent enough to create with traditional media. I guess the time spent is irrelevant if I get what I want in the end!

    2. hahahaha ~ i'm sure you're right. i work in Photoshop a lot to do the plates and cleanup work, etc. i just have so little patience for it, i guess.

      and somehow the vagaries of real media seem to work in my favor. i can never textures to look good like you do in a digital arena!

      but variety is the spice of life! the upside is i get to marvel at your cool stuff.