Make Magical Illustrations With Light
Since I published I Want Cake! I started illustrating other authors’ picture books. My Photoshop skills grew better and better as I learned more advanced techniques. Though illustration awards helped build my confidence, I wasn’t 100% satisfied with my digital images — but I couldn’t put my finger on the reasons why.
I’ve generally relied on Photoshop filters to produce unique illustration results. Plugin filters such as color toning, cinematic looks, and vintage effects can quickly add drama, depth, and pop to any type of illustration. Recently, however, I came across Story Art, the amazing digital illustration art by Karen Alsop — and that changed everything. Thanks to Alsop, I’ve learned how to use Photoshop’s native tools to create illustration magic. The main ingredient — light.
Here’s a before and after illustration example. The first image below was created for author Tamara Shiloh before we began working together. Its basic graphical style features elements from her story, Just Imagine… What If There Were No Black People In The World: Jaxon’s Magical Adventure With Black Inventors And Scientists. But Tamara wanted to use real people in her book, just as I had.
Before: The Original Illustration
After: The Current Draft
When I started illustrating Tamara’s book, I also began studying Alsop’s work. I watched every tutorial on her Story Art website, and took advantage of the private lessons she offered via Skype. After about 35 revisions and countless hours, the image below emerged. To my eye, it seems to have the luminous quality I failed to achieve with plugin filters alone. This translucence — this glowing light — is the magic that eluded me.
The magic in the scene above comes, in part, from layers of light using Photoshop’s levels adjustments. I still have lots of tweaking to do, but I’m getting there. In my next post, I’ll demo how to do these adjustments.
I should also tell you that I didn’t start with a photograph, in case that isn’t obvious. Since I’m a terrible photographer, I use stock images for individual elements — except for the boy/main character. His photos were taken by a professional photographer in a studio where he was posed for each image.
To create each scene, I incorporate all elements into a Photoshop composite. I highly recommend these resources for high quality stock images:
- Pixel Squid: A Photoshop Plugin with thousands of PNG and PSD 3D objects you can rotate for a perfect fit into any type of image. Requires a subscription, but offers some free content.
- Shutterstock: A huge collection of illustrations, vectors, photos;
Finally, I want to encourage authors to try creating story book images. Even if you can’t draw or take a decent photograph, it’s possible to make your own magical illustrations. I always welcome questions and comments!