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Narrative tutorial: adding symbolism to your illustrations

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Date Added: 15th May 2018
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Illustrator Gabriel "Gaboleps" Romero explains how he takes narrative cues to create a symbolic illustration within Photoshop...


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What are the important elements from the text to focus on?
I was caught by the text when the boss took the employee by the neck, and said to himself that his department will be merged with the marketing department. It seemed too strong image to ignore. I was also struck by the idea that he is in a locked cellar, forgotten by the rest of the world. And last but not least the fact that all the other characters in the story seem to ignore all that happens to this guy, they were alienated.

Another interpretation I did is this boss and the employee could also be the same guy having an internal fight about him being driven by profit and losing the passion that moved him to build something big with his career.

What goal are you looking to achieve with the final piece?
I liked the idea of a person and the money being the same, the obsession to accumulate has driven many people to be selfish and lose empathy with others. So the boss turns into paper and his face fades away as part of the scene, while drowning somebody with no possibility to defend himself into the same thing that he is: paper.

Step 1: Sketches

First I read several blog entries, and I picked one. Then after I got what the story was about, I got quite shocked with the idea of the boss choking the employee. And from there I started brainstorming. At the beginning it took me quite a while to get a decent sketch. I had a very simple idea with the boss in the background and the employee placing his arm on his sore neck, but it wasn't good enough, so I decided to spend some more time in thinking about that.

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Step 2: Creativity crisis

The first day I did not get anything interesting, the second I had this idea of the boss drowning the employee in this sea of money. I was not so excited about this idea, so I kept sketching, but got a bit worried about the timing, and foresaw myself sketching for ages and not liking any of them. So I decided to develop this one further to see where it went. After all, good ideas are simple ideas with a lot of work, right?

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Step 3: Defining sketch

On this step, I worked on the lineart, defining the shapes a bit more. I also filled the text area to see how it looks, or even flip the image to check everything has a decent proportion. At this point I did not care at all about details, just a general view of all the composition. I also started visualizing lighting just in my head and maybe sketch something very roughly.

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Step 4: Lighting

Then I stared working on the lighting and adding colors. I like lighting gradients a lot! I believe that the most interesting areas are where the light meets the dark. All the magic happens there, so why not apply a lot of focus to this area. At this point I applied a lot of color balance, curves and levels. I do not have a particular favorite, just any filter I feel like using. The important thing is the mood you want to create.

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Step 5: Playing around

It is quite hard for me not to keep trying different colors when I paint digitally, after a while I might go back to the previous stage, or even go back and move forward to new pallet. I enjoyed a lot doing that on this illustration. Also the brush I used for this painting has a texture (08.jpg). I generally keep the same texture for everything in the same illustration (filters, overlay textures, other brushes, etc.), so it all looks done in the same canvas.

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Step 6: Need references please!

I moved on with the rendering, and realized I needed some references. So I took a pic of myself (a hard task) and applied a bill texture to start working on the "sea of money." For this, I got an image from the internet, and applied a paint daubs filter on the filter gallery in Photoshop. That gives a more painted feeling to a photograph and makes a good base to start rendering on it.

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Step 7: Secondary characters

Here I defined some of the characters the story mentions, as those guys that do not care about anything else that does not affects them - until it does, of course. When I sketched these characters, I didn't really think too deeply, I had read the story again to remind me how I felt about them. And then I created some doodles and rendered away.

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Step 8: Currency exchange

I decided to make it so the bills didn't belong to any real currency. I am not sure why, but I felt as if it was better that way. So I studied how bills are designed, and got this result. Stripes, numbers, and mosaics like tiles on a wall. Also the how the paper bends, and how it looks when it has been handed from person to person.

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Step 9: Almost there!

I kept rendering with patience and a lot of music, and I got closer to the final painting. I put some light in the background, and defined the bills a bit more on the right-hand side. It is never too late for some color tweaking, so I will do that on the final step.

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Step 10: Voilà!

Well, I did that color tweaking in this step. I also kept rendering and when it was done, I applied some dry brush effect (all the brushes have that texture from step 5) like raking the canvas a bit, and then I did some saturation around the employee's head to highlight that area a bit more. Some minor tweaks and it was done. Thanks for reading!

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Related links

Follow Gabriel on Facebook
Check out Gabriel's work on ArtStation
Take a look at more art created from fiction
Grab a copy of Beginner's Guide to Digital Painting in Photoshop
Take a look at Gabriel's narrative tutorial for "Rats on the Loose"

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