How to add light and effects to an illustration?
If you are struggling to add light and effects to your illustrations as you are painting and you are working digitally, paint the entire illustration in local colour. There are many ways to add light and effects afterwards. In Photoshop you can use Adjustment Layers. As I worked on this illustration in Procreate, where there are no Adjustment Layers, this process takes a few additional steps.
In the previous post I painted the main characters and ancient sea creatures for my illustration Ghost of an Ancient Ocean in Local Colour.
Local Colour — the colour of an object in white light with no shadows.
Illustration in Local Colour without effects.
The colours look a mess! This is because I have not considered the light source. As mentioned in the previous post the way we see colour depends on the light. If you do not believe me, take the photo of your room on a cloudy day and take the same photo on a sunny day. Do you see the difference?
For this illustration the scene takes place inside an illusion of a ghost ocean. Have you ever swam under the ocean? If you have, you know that though the water is colourless, the colour that dominates everything is blue.
Digitally, the easiest way to achieve this is to pick a blue colour of your choice. Create a New Layer, and Flood Fill (use the Bucket Tool) to fill the new layer with that colour. Then, you can play with Layer Mode and Opacity to achieve a blue-filter effect.
Note how adding a colour filter layer immediately creates colour harmony.
Note how the colours look dull — the way to fix this is to up the Saturation of your fill colour. In Procreate you can do this by selecting the Layer you wish to adjust, then choosing Hue, Saturation, Brightness from the Adjustments menu.
Then you can paint in the effects of being under the water as you desire.
A better way to create the illusion that the characters are under the ocean is to find a reference image or photograph and apply its texture to your illustration. This is known as Photobashing. If you are planning to sell your illustration commercially please only use images that allow free commercial use or purchase the images you wish to use in your illustration.
Instead of creating a New Layer and Flood Filling it with a colour, you would select the top layer of your illustration (if you are using a paper texture layer as I am, select the layer below the paper texture layer) and add the photo you found to your canvas.
Using Transform, adjust the size of the photo, then play around with Layer Modes and Opacity until you find the adjustment that works. I’m not sure, but I think I ended up using Hard Light Layer Mode for this photograph.
All of the colours are now in harmony, the blue of the ocean has unified them. However, the image looks dull. This is because the values are off.
To fix this issue, I needed to add shadows and light.
I created a New Layer, clipped it to the painted images of the sea creatures, then I chose a blue colour for the shadow and filled the layer with that colour. Since the new layer is clipped, the colour was applied just to the sea creatures. I changed the Layer Mode to Multiply and adjusted Opacity.
Then, using a soft air brush eraser, I erased this layer, adding light back to the creatures.
Elatsoe, the girl, and the people in the park are the only living characters in this scene. Kirby, the dog, and the sea creatures are all ghosts.
To make them look like ghosts is very easy. All I did was to lower the opacity of the creature layers.
There is some magic happening here, so I wanted to add a glow around the characters. To do this is very easy if you have characters on a separate layer. You would select the character, crate a new layer below and fill the selection with your light colour. Change the Layer Mode to Screen, Hard Light, or Soft Light for an additional glow. With this new layer selected, you would go to the Adjustment menu and choose Gaussian Blur and slightly blur your glow layer. Then you would copy the layer, and apply another Gaussian Blur adjustment, blurring the image a bit more. Repeat several times, and you will end up with a nice falloff glow.
As you see in the image above, for some reason I did not do this. Instead, I created a new layer below my character painted her outline and then used the Gaussian Blur to create the glow effect.
I repeated this for other sea creatures, and added some layers with the cyan glow.
To paint light set your layer mode to Screen, Hard Light, or Soft Light. Don’t be afraid to try out other Layer Modes. Overlay Mode has nice effects as well.
To create a further illusion that these characters are under water, I decided to add bubble effects.
I created my own Watercolour Bubble Brush, then used it as a stamp to add bubbles of different sizes. I also drew some elongated bubbles to create an illusion of movement.
The final step to bring this illustration to the finish is to make some image adjustments. Unlike before, since I did not want to adjust a single layer but the entire image, I can do this by Copying the entire illustration, and Pasting the copy on a new layer.
In Photoshop you can do this by creating an adjustment layer at the top of all your layers. In Procreate, you need to swipe downwards on your iPad using 3 fingers. This will open the Copy & Paste Menu.
Tap on Copy All.
Then open the Copy & Paste Menu again and tap Paste.
This will paste a new layer, containing your entire illustration. If this newly created layer is not on top, move it there before the next step.
After the layer is ready, you can make a few copies, so you can make different adjustments to each until you find the one you love best.
The Adjustments I usually choose are Curves and Hue, Saturation, and Brightness. Sometimes I use Gaussian or Motion Blur to create a different point of focus for my illustration. I did not do this here.
After I played around with Adjustment layers, the final image looked like this.
As I looked at the final illustration, I felt that the image was not magical enough.
Therefore, I decided to add more light. Since all of this magic is coming from Elatsoe, I decided to make her into a light bulb, then I erased the adjustment layers I created to bring back the colour and light. I used a soft airbrush to do this.
The final illustration was no longer about Elatsoe and Kirby, but about Elatsoe and the shark — the brightest, most contrasting elements in the image. The area of focus.
Before I can call my image finished, I copy the illustration and paste it on another layer. Then I remove all saturation to create the black and white (or rather Grayscale) image.
If the values are looking good, my work is done. If not, I go back and make necessary adjustments. Looking at the grayscale image, Elatsoe is what I see first, then the shark, then Kirby, then the spiral of sea creatures.
This illustration is done. The final step is to export it for use.
H.O.O.T.s of Wisdom
When working traditionally you must plan out your light and effects in advance — do this when colour testing. If you are working digitally it is easy to add effects with Adjustment Layers in Photoshop. In Procreate you will need to create layers, select the layer and then used the Adjustments Menu to make changes.
To add glow, use Gaussian Blur. Do not use it only once, but keep copying the layer, adding a little more blur until you achieve a nice falloff (diminishing of light).
Use the largest possible soft, airbrush to paint light and shadow. Light does not have sharp edges (even on metal). Cast shadows or occlusion shadows may be sharper in some areas than the rest of the shadows. Adjust your brush accordingly.
Always turn your final image Grayscale before you hand in or export your work to check if the values are working. If you notice your eye drawn to an area it is not supposed to look at, go back and fix the spot by removing contrast, texture, detail, and/or sharpness.