Ask the Maker: a lighting guide.
Lighting is my favorite thing! Add light to all the things! Anyway, several of you asked for tips and tricks when it came to my style of lighting so I've written up this quick guide (to which there will be a part two discussing black and also white) with a basic explanation as to what I do.
(The tl;dr version is beat every cap into submission with screen layers and blobs and curves and textures and everything ever on screen and cross your fingers it doesn't look awful.)
Also, because I like to make things difficult for myself, I've started doing a lot of what you'll see below on a full size cap, but for the purposes of this tutorial, I'm going to crop things down to 200x200 so you can get a visual. If the crop changes as we go along, do not be alarmed!
My number one go to magic spell. This used to be layers on soft light (which I still use), but now I hardly ever make an icon without this step. Sometimes I do this several times throughout making my icon, and sometimes I only do it once. Usually it happens right off the bat because it helps me gauge where significant light sources are (in case they weren't already super obvious).
Sometimes I don't blur my light textures as much because they make cool shapes. That's how I got the overlay effect with the green lights on either side of Regina's face.
To anyone who asked about this icon of Kate Beckett (aka practically all of you), this is how it was made. This is usually used in combination with the first option, but whether I do it before or after varies. Brushes can be used for light, and they can be used for color. I use them for both. In the KB icon, it was just for color, but a couple of you asked about examples where they were used for light. I 100% always use soft brushes, and the size will depend on what you're attempt to brush.
For color: I darkened my base using curves + added a vibrance layer to spice things up, and then added some color on either side of Amy's head. The blue on the left is composed of three layers, both set to soft light, and the green/yellow on the right was two separate layers which were both set to screen. These layers have been flattened for the visual purposes of the tutorial. Then I stamped all the layers on top and set that layer to soft light for the final effect. When I use brushes for color, I don't always change the layer mode. In the KB icon, I probably left the layers on normal to get a more solid color effect.
For light: neversleeps pretty much taught me everything I know and have since appropriated into my own style. Best tutorial ever written this way! For light work done with brushes, usually a light peach/yellow/orange/red color works really well, and then you blur it until you are happy. Set it under a stamped layer on soft light, and you are golden, sometimes literally.
To create the same effect you can find in this icon of Jackson, all you need is a brush and a little blur. Most of the time I like a more subtle effect, but if you want something dramatic, don't blur things too much. A more defiant streak can sometimes work in your favor!
OTHER PEOPLE'S TEXTURES
Other people make the coolest stuff! I really like putting other people's textures on screen. you might have guessed. There's really no rhyme or reason to my choices here. Sometimes I just open random textures for absolutely no reason and start throwing them on canvases. It happens. I do try and look for textures that add light where I want it to go, and I also keep a look out for either matching colors or contrasting colors depending on what I'm doing. I'm really obsessed with mm3butterfly's work right now, and I keep using her textures over and over again thus all the textures used in this section are made by her. So let's see what random stuff I get to throw on my icon today...
Texture #1 was set to screen as it was because I liked the subtle light. Texture #2 (chosen for matching color) was blurred to the high heavens, set to soft light with the green channel unticked, and layer masked off the left side. Texture #3 (chosen for matching color) was set to screen and layer masked off of the right side because the left side was feeling lonely and unloved up until this point so I needed to balance things out.
Obviously I really have a thing for light textures of various sorts. I have to say that, of all the types of textures there are, these probably top my 'most used' list. I also really like very subtle grunge-y stuff (1 | 2) as well as textures with borders (which I abuse like nobody's business).
Okay from this point, I'd really start in with the tweaking by adding various layers such as vibrance, curves if needed, some variations, etc. in order to get things exactly how I wanted them. I'm not going to go into that here, but I'm going to be writing one or two icon specific tutorials later that will delve into this portion of things in more detail.
Right so I've got my icon where I want it coloring wise. I'm more or less done. But wait! What light through yonder window breaks? Yeah, we aren't done with the lighting work yet. I usually have one final trick that adds a little sparkle to things, and that is the Diffuse Glow filter (Filter > Distort > Diffuse Glow). The settings vary so if you want to play with this tool, I encourage you to muck around with it. Anyway, I just pop a little glow onto Amy, and...
before Glow >> post Glow
It adds extra light (if you've got your colors set to white, but you can change it to whatever) to places where the light is already strong so you may need to mask some away for clarity purposes. I did!
And that's pretty much it!
- Does screencap choice matter? When it comes to lighting, usually no for me. I add all the lights to absolutely everything because I can. Some caps can be more contrary than others, but I'm going to talk about that more in part two.
- Don't you use other tools? YES! I do! I promise! In the icon I made for this guide, I also used: variations, vibrance, selective coloring, curves, and a quick Auto Contrast at the end. A lot of these elements were for the actual coloring part of the whole deal which, as I said, I will talk about in greater detail in icon specific tutorials. I didn't want this guide to get too messy.
- None of this talks about contrast/shadows though? Right you are! Contrast is obviously a big and important part of what I do. You can see as we go along that I've gradually added it in using various methods. I'll probably blather on about those methods a bit more once we get to part two because when it comes to how I do black and white, contrast is everything. Shadows do, usually, present themselves when you are playing with light though, and a little soft light/levels/curves will kick start them right up if they are trying to hide!
- Do you use textures by people other than Cece? Also yes! I choose textures on a whim, however, and if I'm not currently obsessed with a maker then the list of textures/makers that I use gets sort of random and confusing.
- A quick and dirty summary of the main lighting components in some of the icons you guys singled out:
BRUSH WORK/DIFFUSE GLOW | SCREEN LAYERS/DIFFUSE GLOW | BRUSHES FOR LIGHT | DIFFUSE GLOW
SCREEN LAYERS W/ BONUS GRADIENTS | DIFFUSE GLOW/SCREEN LAYERS | DIFFUSE GLOW
- Ask questions if you need to!
- Ask the maker thread
- Adding this guide to rec lists and such is fine as long as you link back to me!
- Fast-forward to part two: black and white.