Make a Freezing Cold Snow-themed Abstract Piece
In this tutorial, you'll learn how to create a snow-themed large piece. You'll learn how to plan the composition of the piece, to add elements into the composition, how to recycle the piece itself to generate more elements for the piece, how to incorporate pentools into a design and finally how to finish off and fine tune the piece to make it look great.
Put on a scarf, jacket and gloves, switch on your heater, make yourself some tea and let's get started!
Create a new document that is roughly 650px wide and 850px high at the default Photoshop resolution. Grab your gradient tool, and fill the "Background" layer with a radial gradient, with the foreground color as 9ab5c1, and the background color as d3dde0.
Drag the gradient fill tool fromt he middle, all the way to the right, far out of the canvas to create a smooth gradient. You should have something like this:
Before starting the piece, we must first plan out a "skeleton" for all the elements to go on. I decided to base the piece off a zig-zagged shape flow. When trying to compose your own piece, ensure that you don't have a composition that is simply a rectangle, square, or something boring. Use loads of edges and angles so you can have more to play around with when you start adding elements.
Using the pentool, create a few simple long shapes. I chose varying shades of blue and as you can see, I chose to make all the angles 45 degrees.
Pentool the lines vertically and then as you free trasnform and rotate a bunch of the shapes, hold down 'Shift' so the rotations will happen in short movements.
Composition wise, 45 degree angles help give the piece variety in composition so it's not just one square as mentioned. Since they're all sloping diagonally or horizontally, there is a sort of geometry created.
I'm quite happy with the base skeleton of this piece, so now it's time to add some elements. With the theme of this piece being snowy, I decided to add some renders of snowy mountains. I chose a stock image of people skiing on the mountain. For you, a good choice would be stock with detailed mountains that are mostly snowy, but with a few rocks. A few rocks will add detail to the piece, while too many will make it too complicated. Avoid mountains that are just rocks or just snow. The stock I chose is from cgtextures.com. If you want to use this as a texture, I suggest you make an account there and download it yourself.
Take out the magenetic lasso tool and use the settings pictured below to render the mountain. Move the magnetic lasso tool without clicking along the edge of the mountain. The magnetic lasso should snap to the edges of the mountain. Next, create a selection of what you don't want in your render, and hit delete. Erase the little bits that remain. The great thing about rendering mountains is that they're meant to be rough and craggy, so a quick render in this case works and no real edge refining needs to be done. The outcome is clean-cut, as shown.
Take the render and place it on your initial skeleton. In my composition, I decided to put the mountains against a corner. I did this because the right side of the mountain was cut off in the picture, so it made sense to put that side against an edge. Select the layer with your render, hit Ctrl - T for free transform and hold down Shift while transforming. This ensures that the render rotates the same way your pentooled shapes do.
Rotate the render until it looks good to you. I had to do a bit of erasing to make it work with the pentooled shapes. Use the eraser tool as you need it.
Continue cutting out mountains, and putting them where you like them best. As you can see, I kept the types of mountains fairly consistent - snowy with some rocks. It's a good idea not to put all the mountains below the pentooled lines, since that would make everything quite boring. I layered the elements so that sometimes the mountain peaks went over the pentooled shapes. Make sure that you leave space in your piece for elements that you will add later. Notice that my bottom mountain isn't really even against the pentooled shapes. You might want to vary what you do so the piece isnt over-organised.
At this stage, you should be confident that your base composition is good. From now on, we'll be refining the base and adding things to what we have. My mountain shapes are looking very raw, so I duplicated each of my mountains and selected the lower layer of the two. Select > Blending Options > Color Overlay, and select a color that you used in your initial pentooled skeleton. Try not to use other colors, as we are trying to keep the color scheme quite uniform at this stage. Nudge the color overlayed-shape a few times so it gives one side of your mountain render an outline. Now we have managed to "tie in" the mountains with the shapes.
It feels like my piece is slightly too edgey and angular. What about yours? Adding some rounder elements would make the piece work much better. I decided to fill up the blank space I left in the middle right of my composition. To start off, I made a round circle using the Shape tool, holding down Shift as I make the circle so it's a perfect circle.
The next step is to clip-mask things into the circle. Create a new layer above the shape layer, then right-click this new layer, and select "Create New Clipping mask". Whatever you do on a clip masked area, it will only show within the perimeters of the layer below the clip masks. In this case, we want whatever we do to only show in the circle we created.
On the clip masked layer, go to Image > Apply Image and hit OK at the default setting. What you have showing in your circle is an image of the whole piece so far. I'm going to recycle the piece we have so far and use it to create new elements. I desaturate the clip masked image by hitting Ctrl + Shift + U, and move it around a little until it looks good. Next, create a new layer above the 2 layers you just worked with and also make this a clip mask. Grab a soft brush, size 300, make it black, and brush around the sides of the image. Create another clip mask layer on top, and then brush on some light blue colors. Use colors that match your piece.
You should now end up with a collection of layers that look something like this.
Three layers clip masking one shape layer.
The next step is simply to continue adding circle shapes as elements using clipping masks like in the last step. In my other circles, I decided not to desaturate the applied image. This makes it blend with the piece much better. Experiment though! You might come across something that looks much better. Here's my outcome. I added circles near the corners of the piece to fill up the composition, and another at the bottom left again just to spice things up.
After using the color applied images to form the images in the circles, I realise that my desaturated applied image didn't really work well. Instead of just changing it, I added another circle with a clipping mask on top, but this time, instead of brushing black though, I brushed white. The initial logic of brushing black was because it was under the rendered mountains. Now, however, since this circle is on top, brushing white to give it a 'shiny orb' effect makes sense. Unlike other elements, I made sure this one was right on top of other layers and covered significant parts of other elements. Layering properly with the correct shadows is extremely important. This gives your piece depth.
At this stage, I'm quite happy with the weight and composition of this piece. But I'm not really happy with the overall feel of the piece - it's really boring at the moment, with only mountains and recycled clip masks of the same image. It's time to add a new element. I decided the piece needed something edgy, and also, as a rule, I try to include as much detail in everything I put into my piece. This is so that in the end the effect of "Fineness" shows through, and the elements arent huge chunky blocks. I decided on this stock image of an industrial plant. The stock is also from cgtextures.com.
The high spire on the right of this image is a good choice, it sticks out the most and is very usable in our piece.
Zooming in, I begin to isolate that part of the piece I want. I do this using the polygonal lasso tool. I don't usually do this to render, however, the magnetic lasso misbehaves on this, the white in the background and the white of the pipes are way too similar, causing the magnetic lasso to cut this image quite badly. Go all the way around and close the lasso.
Hit Ctrl-I to invert your selection, which is the object you actually want. Hit Delete. This deletes off everything else and you'll be left with a fairly clean cut-out object.
The reason I chose a long-ish (vertical) element was because I wanted to have an element that added detail into the piece, but not ruin the shape of it. Now I'll adjust the element and align it with my initial composition.
Aligning it with my composition means that the elements will have to be parrallel with those red lines above. This ensures that the new elements do not mess up the flow and weight of this piece. Taking the render, I hit Ctrl - T to free transform it, and hold down Shift as I rotate the render to be parrallel with my skeleton.
You might have noticed I varied the sizes of the renders and made the one at the bottom lighter and desaturated. This is to try to give variety to the elements I added.
I'm done with adding renders and high-detail elements, so now for some simpler shapes. While I think of what shapes I should add, I'm always bearing in mind that the shape shouldn't disrupt the flow and weight of this piece. However, I want to avoid using boring straight rectangles just to fill up the composition. I need to use something simple yet appealing. I decided on an L shape.
I started off holding down Shift to pentool a normal, L shape, but I felt was slightly boring, so I decided to curve it. For those who are newer with the pentool, you can achieve this by adding two pentool points on either side of each of the L corners and then remove the initial corner so a curve is created between the two new points you've made. By dragging the 2 points and by moving the curve, I'm able to make a nice curved L shape. After my shape is done, I right-click > Create vector mask.
Hint - It's a good idea to hold down Shift while you manipulate this shape. This will keep everything straight.
Now we have these shapes, it's time to apply them to the piece. Again, using an L shape is a good idea, because if you rotate it 45 degrees, whichever direction the L shape points to, it will always be parallel with the flow of the piece.
Vector masks mean you can paint whatever you want to the layer and it won't affect the overall shape of the object. I fill each layer with a dull blue and vary this slightly for each of the shapes. I take a soft brush and brush the edges of the shapes slightly white and black to make it look better. This is similar to the brushing of the orbs using clipping masks in Step 8.
Something I do with all my pieces is to add some sort of texture. In this case, I wanted to keep the background clear, so I decdided to use splatter brushes behind the composition. The 2 brushes below I downloaded from Deviantart.com - they're by artists quells and Osiris2735 respectively. I arranged these splatters behind the pieces so only the drippy parts show. Satisfied with some light splattering, I decide the piece needs some more effects.
Effects serve the purpose of hiding the "rawness" of the piece, and in this case, it'll turn a bunch of renders into an art piece. The piece has a snowy, icy atmosphere, but it's missing something that goes hand in hand with cold mountains... clouds! I downloaded a great cloud brush pack from Deviant Art, by JavierZhX.
After that, it's a simple matter of brushing them around the piece. Now the piece is starting to look less flat and much nicer.
I decided that more flashy effects were needed. By luck, I just finished creating a pack of fractals with ChaosScope. ChaosScope is open source software that generates colorful fractals. Below are some fractals I made with the software, which I then used in the piece. I simply desaturated the fractals by hitting Ctrl-Shift-U, and set it to a linear-dodge layer mode. The types of fractals I used are shown below. If you are generating your own fractals, be sure to use those with edges, and not smooth flowy fractals. You want to give the effects a sharp feeling.
Looking at the piece, the "raw" parts that stand out most are the pentooled lines. They form the framework for the piece but are looking lonely right now. Using the ChaosScope fractals, align them on linear dodge to the lines so you create a sort of 'rushed' effect. Erase anything that looks bad with a soft brush. I get something like this.
Time for some fine detailing. The piece is quite solid, but everything is stuck to the main frame. To fix this I added 2 small bits of detail.
Using Pentool > Elipse, I drew a circle. Hold down Shift while drawing the pentooled lines to make this circle a perfect one. Right-click the pentooled lines, and "Create Vector Mask". On the normal layer, I then go to Image > Apply Image and hit OK with the default settings. Although you applied the whole piece so far, only a little circle of it will show. Unlink the layers (as shown below) so you can move the layer or the layer mask around seperately. Below is an unlinked layer. As you can see, the chain between the layer mask and layer is gone, allowing me to move it around. The two added circles are shown below. Other than a clipmasked area, I also added a blue colored solid filled circle behind.
For more detail, I downloaded a set of bird brushes from WingsOfAHero on Deviant Art. There are many sets of bird brushes on Deviant Art, so find one which has many smaller birds. I brushed and erased a little, and here is the outcome. I decided to add birds in the middle.
Now to add a little more shine and detail to the piece, add some little sparkles. I like to add night sky stocks to the piece, since the stars in the sky work as good sparkles, and usually there is a glow to photos of the night sky. The flow can add shine to your piece. I used a few night sky stocks taken by a friend, but you can easily find stocks from Deviant Art. Nebula stocks will also work. I arranged the sparkles to come off the mountains, and as you can see, the sparkles are VERY slight and hard to see. Don't worry, the sparkles will really show soon enough. In this step, I also added some random 1 px pentooled lines in parts of the piece.
The background is looking a little flat, so going back to the background layer, I created a new layer above it and brushed the edges black with a very soft brush (I used a 1500px soft black brush). Do the same with white on the seperate layer, but brush in the middle. Set both of these layers on 35% opacity for the black and 40% for the white. This gives the effect that there is a spot light on the piece.
Using more chaos scope fractals, I added a blue effect to the background. The type of fractal I used is slightly different though. I created more explosive, effectual fractals for this. These are desaturated before I add them.
Finally, with everything in place, it's time to make the piece's atmosphere really solid. At the moment, it is slightly bright, so we will add a curves layer to darken things up. Using a curve layer on quite extreme settings, I darkened the whole piece.
I also added two gradient maps, both are black and white.
1- From Black to White - Set on luminosity - 12% - Adds a little contrast
2 - From White to Black - Set on Normal - 20% - This desaturates the piece slightly
The piece is almost complete! I gave the piece another black and white gradient map to desaturate the blueness of the piece's edges (again use soft brushing!), because I felt it was taking attention away from the center. After that, create a new layer, go to Image > Apply image and now you have your whole piece in one layer. Sharpen this layer and set it on 60%. And there you have a complete, polished piece.
I actually added some shiny effects that I made myself. These are simple to make - just draw random lines with a hard white brush, and motion blur it alot, and you get these fast, blurred effects.
And there you have it, a snow-themed abstract piece.