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Breathe new life into an old sketch

Added on Tuesday 16th of October 2007 06:14 am EST


Adobe Photoshop CS/CS2/CS3

Operating Systems:

Macintosh, Microsoft Windows


You’ve probably got an old sketchbook that’s been sitting on the shelf for a few years, or a doodle that you drew on a napkin or folder that you simply can’t throw away. You can’t bring yourself to toss it because you’re saving it for when the right inspiration strikes. Well, dig it out because we’re going to give you the inspiration you’ve been waiting for, as we show you how to resurrect an old sketch and turn it into a digital masterpiece.





Even if you don’t consider yourself a painter, you’ve probably got more potential than you realize when it comes to painting in Photoshop. We’ll show you how you can combine some of Photoshop’s basic features—brushes, layers, layer styles and the Pen tool—to harvest a masterpiece.

If you want to explore the low-resolution layered version of our finished piece, download the file from the URL given at the beginning of this article and extract the file sketch.psd. Then launch Photoshop and open the file. (Image protected by copyright; please do not reproduce or redistribute under any circumstances.)


Dig up some line art


First you’ll need to dig up some line art to work with. You can use basic clip art if you want, or as we mentioned earlier, grab that old sketch you simply can’t part with. If you decide to use a sketch, you’ll need to digitize it. We used a standard flatbed scanner to import our image, shown in Figure A.



Scanning tip: It’s best to scan with as much color information as possible; you can always downsample and discard pixels, but upsampling doesn’t always provide maximum results. We used a scanner setting of 300 ppi, millions of colors.




Clean it up


Once we opened our scan in Photoshop, we duplicated the background layer to preserve the original. Then we went to work cleaning up the background copy layer. We brightened up the white of the paper with a Curves adjustment. Then, with an appropriately sized soft round brush, we set the Foreground color to white and painted over stray marks, for results shown in Figure B.




Lay the foundation color


A white canvas is very daunting to look at so we decided to lay down a base coat of color. We renamed the background copy layer Cleaned Up Sketch, and set the blending mode to Multiply so we could view the sketch. We then but did all of our painting on new layers, which we sandwiched between the Cleaned Up Sketch and the Background layers.

To paint the base coat, we chose the Brush tool and enabled the Airbrush feature. We set the opacity to 20% and with different colors, brushed on a base coat. As you can see in Figure C, even with the small amount of painting we’ve done so far, we’ve already added a number of new layers.


Tip: Label your layers and keep them well-organized right from the start. Separate your image into segments—such as background elements, foreground elements and individual objects—and create layer groups for each one.







Redraw some detail


We wanted certain elements of our finished piece to have crisp edges, so we redrew those elements in Photoshop. We chose the Pen tool and selected the Shape Layers button on the Tool options bar. Then, for each individual element, we set the foreground color, traced the shape, and named each new layer appropriately.




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