Photoshop tutorial: Create semi-transparent artwork

Man-Tsun shows how plastic can be a great medium for creativity


Printed illustrations usually appear on paper or canvas. However, as we covered in our November 2011 issue, Man-Tsun has experimented with an unusual way to present his art – printing it on transparent plastics for display at hip Hong Kong bookstore Kubrick.

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Man-Tsun positioned artworks so that they would form a series of connected pieces when viewed from certain places in the store. He placed a crow inside a woman’s veil to give the impression of being caged – and told stories like that of the guitarist in a deadly garden. This was the central piece in the exhibition, and here Man-Tsun details its creation, starting in Photoshop and moving to Illustrator to transform a flat artwork into a transparent installation.

Man-Tsun hopes the tutorial will inspire you to experiment with new materials and forms of illustration.

Time to complete

4 days


Illustrator & Photoshop

Step 1


As my illustration was to be printed on a 5.5ft x 2ft (1.7m x 60cm) transparent sheet, every corner had to be filled up with detail. Before starting to sketch I gathered a variety of photos for reference. I relied heavily on these to ensure accuracy and a sufficient level of detail.

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Step 2


I started with the guitarist, as I wanted to sit a skeleton within him. Using Photoshop’s Brush tool (B), I sketched a relatively simple figure in a light blue, so I could easily draw over it later in Illustrator. Once the basic structure was worked out, I moved on to detailing with a black brush. I then pasted the reference image of the guitar on top.

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Step 3


Moving over to Illustrator, I imported the sketch and set its layer’s opacity to 30%. Before I could start tracing it, I had to create a custom brush to handle long flowing elements such as the hair. I drew a thin line with long tapering ends, dragged it to the Brushes panel and selected Art Brush as the new brush type.

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Step 4


Switching to a standard brush type, I used the Blob Brush tool (B) to draw the character’s body and face. For some smooth lines, I used the Pen Tool (P) to create graceful curves. I also used Illustrator’s Live Trace function to create the guitar shape.

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Step 5


Now it was time to break out the new brush. Using it and the Brush tool (B), I could easily draw simple and fluent lines for the hair and the crumples in the shirt.

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Step 6


By now the guitarist was 90 per cent done. However, the line art looked flat and insubstantial. I added black shading to give it weight and upped the contrast.

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Step 7


Now it was time to create the skeleton using the same process. I copied and pasted the guitarist into the original Photoshop document, sizing it by referring to the sketch of the guitarist.

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I decreased the guitarist’s opacity to 20% and drew the skeleton within his outline. I also added a woman with lush, billowing hair to give a sense of mystery to the composition.

Step 8


Back in illustrator, I updated the imported Photoshop sketch by clicking the Update Link button in the Links panel. Using the Pen tool (P) for smoothly curving lines, I traced the skeleton and then expanded the stroke using Object > Path > Outline Stroke. I drew a rectangle on top of the outline, opened the Pathfinder panel and selected Minus Front to break the outline apart. This made the bones a bit seem cracked and worn, as though they were ancient.

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Step 9

Step 10


When the guitarist and the skeleton layers were ready, I made sure the skeleton was fully covered by the guitarist (far right) so that it would appear like an X-ray image when the work was on display.

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Step 11


The work was also supposed to feature a crow and gothic-looking flowers and leaves. I knew it would be time consuming if I had to draw every single detail. Therefore I immediately went to the Paintbrush tool (B) in Illustrator.

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For a flower, I drew a few random curves to form the basic shape of a flower. Following these curvy paths, I applied a lot of heavy black shadings to fill up the empty space. The result was full of smooth and rich detail, but not too cluttered.

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Step 12


With death being a major theme of the piece, I chose a sombre purple as the base colour. I decided on used light blue for the skeleton so that it would be visible behind the guitarist and not be lost amid all the crazy details in the foreground.

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Step 13


Everything was looking slightly flat, so I applied a gradient from the base purple to the outline black. It instantly gave the work depth. Some issues still needed to be sorted out, but as a composition it looked much more comfortable and focused overall.

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Step 14


Having two overlapping physical layers of illustrations overlapping was not enough to achieve the sense of depth I wanted, so I decided to make some transparent butterflies to go in a third layer. I created some graphic shapes to form one half of the butterfly, grouped the objects (Cmd/Ctrl + G), duplicated the group and flipped it with the Reflect tool (O).

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I then combined the two halves.

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Step 15


The artwork was now completeand really for output. The guitarist and skeleton were printed directly on the transparency using a UV flatbed printer. The butterflies were printed on very thin film and cut by hand.

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Step 16


Finally, we were at the installation stage. The two transparencies were hung from the ceiling with a one-inch gap in between, and I stuck the butterflies directly onto the guitarist layer. With the help of these multilayers, the story of the guitarist who was eaten by butterflies and thus became a skeleton had acquired visual life.

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About the artist: Man-Tsun


Born in Hong Kong, Man-Tsun studied Fine Art in Canada and is now a creative manager/illustrator back in Hong Kong. His illustrations have dark overtones, though at the same time he is constantly striving to impart beauty to negative themes. His work has been exhibited in Hong Kong, the US and Ukraine.

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