Photoshop tutorial: Create a psychedelic colour scheme for an artwork

Steve Scott takes you through his techniques for building truly trippy colour palettes.

Intro


Lo and behold, it’s the psychedelic wizard. This snazzy enchanter has been conjured up for us by none other than that master of the art of sorcery (and sorcerer of art) Steve Scott.

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Steve initially summons such sages by calling upon the infinite powers of the Pen and Pencil tools in Illustrator. He also invokes dot patterns to imbue them with the spirit of op art.

Follow Steve’s methods and you will learn how to choose colours to give your work real impact, one that persists long after the magical metaphors have been exhausted.

Step 1

STEP 1

I began by roughing out the concept. I wasn’t particularly interested in a great-looking sketch; it’s about getting the idea down quickly.

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 My initial idea was to create a prog- rock-influenced image, complete with wizards and dragons. I also wanted to play around with the idea of scale, so there would be a tiny knight in the image somewhere, and a small island on which the wizard is standing. I also wanted there to be a platform-game-like path through the drawing.

I started by sketching the idea onto an A4 canvas using the Pen tool (P) in Illustrator. This was just for trying things out and for the sake of having a reference sketch with all of my ideas on it. I’m going to use a different tool to construct a ‘blueprint’ sketch of my artwork.


Step 2

STEP 2

Moving over to Photoshop, I used a simple brush to do another sketch. Photoshop’s ability to rotate the canvas makes freehand drawing a lot simpler than in Illustrator; it’s easier to get everything in proportion.

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Though fairly loose, the sketch has given me a clearer idea of the composition, and let me introduce new elements to add interest.

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Step 3

STEP 3

I imported a jpg of the sketch into Illustrator, reducing the opacity of the layer to use it as a faint guide for the final image.

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Then I started to draw the image with the Pen and Pencil (N) tools. I wasn’t trying to slavishly copy the sketch as I wanted the image to have its own life and energy. I made sure to draw sections of the drawing on different layers for ease of editing later on.


Step 4

STEP 4

I filled the shapes with white to help me see the forms more clearly when tweaking the composition. Other changes at this stage included introducing a triangular hole at the top of the hat, and lots of smoke behind the wizard’s head.

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However, at this point I had space around the wizard’s right leg which I wasn’t sure I liked, so I roughed out some alternatives.


Step 5

STEP 5

I added a monster head on the left to add interest, and redrew the hand holding the staff to look more identifiable. The knight entered the scene at last, battling the tentacles, and I gave the dragon fewer teeth to make its mouth less busy. At this point, I felt I had drawn all the elements the image would need.

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Step 6

STEP 6

I then imported the image into Photoshop to try out some colour roughs, as Photoshop’s Paint Bucket tool (G) is a lot quicker to use than Illustrator’s Live Paint Bucket tool (K). Although the result wasn’t perfect, it gave me a palette I thought could work for this image.

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I also used a brush to sketch in ideas, adding details and creatures around the edge of the image (I enlarged the canvas slightly to make room). When I was done, I imported a jpg of the piece back into Illustrator on an artboard next to my initial vector linework.


Step 7

STEP 7

I sampled the eight main colours of the jpg image and began to colour in the vector line art using these as a guide. I concentrated on the main areas of colour and didn’t worry about elements such as the knight or the dragon’s tail – these could wait till later.

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This was also when I started adding dot patterns. Illustrator has some standard dot patterns in its swatches library, and I created variations of these for every colour in my palette.


Step 8

STEP 8

More detail was called for – a white line to separate the dragon’s tail from the wizard’s leg, for instance. I also felt I wanted to add some text – “Habra Ka Dabra” (which is what I ended up calling the piece).

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Step 9

STEP 9

The background needed fleshing out, too. I exported the image into Photoshop again and roughly sketched out an idea I had for waves and clouds.

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Step 10

STEP 10

Using my Photoshop sketch for reference in Illustrator, I drew some background elements with the Pencil and Pen tools. At this point, I also tried a free font called Musa (dafont.com/musa.font) for the text.

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Step 11

STEP 11

Not entirely happy with the colour scheme, I tried a series of variations. This first one felt a bit polite and pastel.

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Step 12

STEP 12

I recoloured the artwork to get a more punchy result, and added more dot patterns to the background. Then I decided to add a gradient of yellow and grey to the edge of the waves and clouds.

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But I wasn’t sure it had the right feel for the image – or maybe what I had was just a little ugly. Oh well, on to the next variation.


Step 13

STEP 13

My third experiment had me trying to achieve a more unified look, ditching the pink and going for greens, purples, yellows and greys.

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The smoke around the head was feeling a bit too busy, so I deleted about a third of it and added more dot patterns to the clouds and waves. However the image was now looking a bit drab.


Step 14

STEP 14

I tried to remove as much of the grey as possible in favour of yellow and cyan. At last, it felt like the image was heading in the right direction. An additional curl of smoke on the right helped to cheer up an area that felt a little dead.

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Step 15

STEP 15

I made some subtle changes too, altering the look of the sunglasses and playing around with the contrasts between the colour palettes.

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Step 16

STEP 16

I exported the image to Photoshop to overlay a flat bronze shade using a Color Burn blending mode at an opacity of 17%. This immediately meshed the colours more closely together and added an aged comic book feel. It really felt like it could be the back page of an old hippy comic.

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About the artist: Steve Scott

STEP 17

Steve creates his stylised retro artwork with a Wacom tablet. The following tags could describe his output, he says: psychedelia, sci-fi, pulp, smoking pipes, pin-ups and robots. His clients have included Nokia, Sony Ericsson, Volvo, Led Zeppelin, Modular Recordings, Channel 4 and Wired magazine. Steve’s work has also been featured in the Guggenheim Museum in New York and at the Pictoplasma Festival, Berlin.

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Contact

jellylondon.com/talent/21/Steve_Scott

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