This tutorial by artist Roberto Marras shows how to visually and conceptually express the overall feel of London, using a few hints of landmarks and abstracting the rest of the composition. The focus is to emphasize the dynamism of an ever-developing and changing city.
Roberto says a city comprised of different cultures can’t be represented with a simple figurative illustration. Its core can only be expressed using an abstract composition.
You will learn the composition of a dynamic form using Photoshop’s tools, and how elements of photos build complex forms. Understanding the principals of compiling dynamic forms is key to taking control of an abstract composition.
Time to complete
Files from this tutorial can be downloaded from
Open Photoshop and then open main.psd from the project files. In the Layers panel you will find the basic layers you will need. The bottom layer is the main background. The very top is the texture background. In between you will find a set of layers that you will need to work on the composition.
Download the Standard Tube Map from the TfL site (
bit.ly/SUOW4). Bring it into Photoshop, rasterising it to around 20,000 pixels wide. Crop it to the segment shown and copy and paste into main.psd on a layer called ‘Map’ in the Layers panel, and resize to fit.
Add a new layer called ‘River’. Here we’ll draw another landmark: the Thames. To do so, select the Polygonal Lasso tool (L). Add a new layer on top of the ‘Map’ layer and, using the tool, draw something like a river form. Fill this with blue.
What we want to do now is create our dynamic form. Let’s imagine we are drawing an arm. Unhide the ‘Bubble’ layer and position it so that it seems to be grabbing around the map, flowing in from the top-left of our document.
Now we want to add more of these bubble layers. Position them all around the map and have them drawing across the document, creating a curve on the composition. To duplicate the layer, select the ‘Bubble’ layer and press
Cmd/Ctrl + J.
It’s a good idea to give it a slightly different colour to the duplicated layer. Since it’s a vector layer, we need to apply an effect to it before we can change its colour.
In the Layers panel, unhide the layers called ‘brush’ and ‘line’. These two layers are brush strokes I previously created in Illustrator. We want to use these to emphasize the strength of our dynamic composition.
We need to create even more strength and dynamism. We also want to give an idea of roads and movement to represent our city. Duplicate and rotate your ‘brush’ and ‘line’ layers until you get similar results to this.
Now we want to add some colour to it. Red is an important colour when representing London, and we want to use it to fill in some of the gaps created with our lines and brushes. With the Polygonal Lasso tool, select the empty areas you want to fill in and fill them with red.
As there’s a black layer above the lines and brushes with an Overlay blending mode applied, we need to give
the layer with our red fills a blending mode of Pin Light so it shines through.
Open skull.psd from the project files. It’s a photo I took of a London telephone box where I saw a skull drawn with a marker pen. We want to remove everything but the skull from this image.
Using the Magic Wand tool (
W), remove everything in the image except the skull. Select all the areas around the skull and hit Delete to erase the background. It’s a tedious job but will make our representation of London more real.
Once you have cut out the unwanted part of the photo, we need to copy the skull and place it in our composition. Hit
Cmd/Ctrl + A to select it all and then copy and paste it into main.psd.
Now we play with our image. We need to use our creativity and have a good eye for balancing the composition. Duplicate it and cut it up into parts. Place the parts as shown.
We need to add more elements. Open box.psd from the project files – it’s a typical London telephone box. Using the same process as before – Lasso, cut and paste and scale, cut elements from the phone box and place them in our composition.
Build your composition with other elements, too. I’ve taken the type Mayor of London and Brick Lane from street signs, but you can add anything you like. Our composition is ready – and sure to confuse tourists.
Originally from Sardinia, Roberto Marras is an artist and designer and art director with a passion for creative ideas. He applies his skills to produce beautiful and engaging solutions for various clients.
By defining styles and techniques, Roberto has made his name in the digital art field, attracting the attention of art galleries and publications.
Roberto also shares his experiences and skills by giving talks to students at universities, as well as publishing tutorials in various magazines.