Image Alchemy

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A Many Blended Thing    Artist Javier ROca used Photoshop's layer-blending tools to make the shapes and colors of his piece The Spine merge, mingle, and interact.

Creating layered images in Adobe Photoshop can be risky. It's all too easy to end up with art that looks like a disparate collection of flat parts. But you don't have to settle for such a look if you use Photoshop's layer-blending tools. They let you change the way pixels in different layers interact, so that in the resulting artwork the separate pieces don't look separate–instead they look organically interwoven.

Santa Barbara-based artist Javier Roca for years has been tackling the challenge of creating compositions that have a multitude of separate pieces. To create the artwork shown here, The Spine, he started by gathering images from many sources, such as old books, stock-image collections, and libraries of 2-D and 3-D art that he created himself.

Once he assembled the elements, he gave this piece that organic look by using Photoshop's layer-blending modes Multiply, Darken, and Lighten in conjunction with assorted filters. He also used duplicate layers and varied resolution to give the illusion of depth of field.

The Spine is the fourth in a five-part series of images inspired by the medieval notion that alchemists could turn lead into gold–in short, the art deals with expectation, frustration, and futility.

To create The Spine, Roca used Adobe Illustrator 5 and Photoshop 4 and MetaCreations Infini-D 4 on a Power Macintosh 8500/120 with an external 4GB hard drive and a 300-dpi scanner.

July 1999 page: 108

1 Roca first gathered all the elements. He scanned the alphabet/number grid and geometric figures from old books. He created the 3-D gyroscope, shiny metallic spiral, and three vectors himself in Infini-D and exported them as PICTs. He used Illustrator to create a lettered sundial and then rasterized it. He culled a hand outline and a photo of an X-ray from CDs of stock imagery.


2 Roca's next step was to create the background. Since his background is made up of many images, he used filters and layer-blending modes to get interesting interplay among the elements.

He imported the sundial image into its own layer in Photoshop, applied the Noise filter, and made a duplicate of that layer. He applied the Radial Blur filter to one of the layers and then applied the Clouds filter to the whole image. Then he imported the X-ray image at low resolution and used the Multiply mode at various percentages in each layer. This created darker colors with the blended pixels.

3 Next, he imported the number/alphabet grid into its own layer; cut out a circle for the sundial shape, using the circle selection tool and the delete key; and applied the Darken mode. The next images he imported were the geometric sketches (which were first scanned in and then turned into negatives with the Invert command). After importing the sketches, he used the Colorize command to give them a sepia tone and applied the Lighten mode to that layer.

4 Many times during the process, Roca used the Adjust Hue/Saturation command in separate layers to get colors that worked together in the whole composition. He also used the Adjust Selective Color command to modify groups of colors.

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