Phil Wheeler talks us through the creative process behind his artwork
Sin, where experiments and limited time lead to some interesting results.
Sin had to fill a 70 x 100cm poster format and featured in the Association of Images’ Images 35 exhibition. Phil wanted to illustrate all seven deadly sins happening in the Garden of Eden, which meant it was going to be a busy and detailed image.
Phil had the desire to experiment but limited time, so started out with a ‘let’s see what happens’ attitude.
As the process was to some extent led by circumstance rather than planning, Phil ended up jumping between Illustrator and Photoshop more than he usually would.
You’ll learn how combining these two tools can save you time and how working with dots in Illustrator opens up all kinds of possibilities.
Time to complete
Adobe Illustrator and Photoshop
First I created a series of dot textures in Illustrator, using dots of varying sizes and densities. I particularly liked the interplay of flat and shaded shapes that I achieved using random scatters and shaded diffusions. For variety, I also arranged some dots to suggest flowers and blooms.
Although it is possible to draw a diffusion of dots freehand, I made a guide in Photoshop by airbrushing my desired shape with a pale grey gradient. By converting the image into a monochrome bitmap, I changed the shading into a scatter of black pixels on white. I reduced the image size to around 200 pixels, otherwise there would have been too many dots to place later.
I saved the image as a WBMP file (
File > Save for Web & Devices). In the Preset box, I selected WBMP and Diffusion. The Dither can be tweaked to suit, but I used 100%. Then I clicked Save.
Next I opened the WBMP file in Photoshop, resized it to match the size of the original image (1,800 pixels) and changed the Mode to Grayscale. To retain only the black pixels I deleted the white background, selected the Magic Eraser tool (
E) and clicked on the white. I saved this as a PSD file.
Next I opened the PSD file in Illustrator. I used the Ellipse tool (
L) to make a dot on a new layer (while holding down Shift). I then copied and pasted individual dots and dragged them into place over the guide, until I was happy with the result.
I also needed a random scatter of dots. In a new Illustrator document, I made a tile pattern by filling a rough square with evenly spaced dots on a single layer, leaving the edges rough and broken. I then duplicated the layer and dragged the new layer alongside to see how the edges linked up, tweaking the dots near the edge to make a smooth join. I did the same for the top and bottom edges.
Once my tiles combined well to make a larger pattern, I increased the size of the dots by increasing their Stroke value. Then, using the Lasso tool (
Q), I selected some rounded shapes from within this patten to act as foliage, before copying and pasting them onto another layer. I deleted broken dots near the edges of the foliage, and shifted the position of the dots near the edges to improve the final shape.
Now it was time to play around more freely with the dots. I tried to suggest a variety of foliage and blooms using rings of dots and by combining different-sized dots. I also experimented with removing dots from the random scatter for a more organic feel.
I wanted my figures to be humanoid, generic and genderless and aimed to recycle hands, feet and poses as much as possible. On screen, I drew a rough draft of my figures which I printed out, tracing a final version using a 0.8mm art pen.
I scanned my figures back into Photoshop at 300dpi. To clean up and add contrast, I adjusted the Levels (
Image > Adjustment > Levels) by pushing the black and white pointers on the Input Level bar towards the middle to clean the white background and blacken the linework. I used the Color Range function to grab all the lines simultaneously ( Select > Color Range) and copy and paste the black linework onto a new layer. To ensure the lines were completely black, I changed the lightness in the Hue/Saturation menu to -100 ( Image > Adjustments > Hue/Saturation).
Using the Lasso tool (
L), I selected a figure and pasted it into the main image in its own layer. I now needed to colour my figures. Using the Magic Wand tool ( W), I clicked inside the area to be coloured, holding down Shift and clicking for multiple areas. To avoid nasty edges, I expanded my selection ( Select > Modify > Expand) by two pixels and filled the new selection with my desired colour.
I brought together the foliage, characters and the word ‘SIN’ in large type in Photoshop. I found it difficult to combine my figures with the dot foliage, as the foliage was dense and made the figures hard to see.
I decided to draw the foliage more freely, particularly to fill the space around my figures and also to save time. I went through the same process to draw the foliage as I used for the people (sketching on screen, printing, tracing and scanning back in). But I now composed the drawings more carefully so they would fit around the position of the figures.
As this was a big and detailed Photoshop image, and to avoid any headaches editing it later, I organised my layers carefully.
Behind the layer with the pink figures, I created new layers for each of six colours I wanted to use (three shades of green, one orange, one brown and one blue).
I created a second set of layers for each colour because I needed some leaves and foliage on top of the figures.
I put a black layer at the base of the layer stack because the dots, once coloured, worked best on black and made the colours more vibrant. Then layer by layer, I airbrushed in new tones, mixing in colours as I went. I worked through adding highlights and shadow and tonal subtleties.
I also used a watercolour texture that had been scanned in and coloured separately on top. This adds a different character to the colour that you can’t get with an airbrush alone.
To complete the image, I added the fruit and elements in negative space, such as black animals and black trees on the dots. In order to break up some of the soft foliage, I repeated the sharp triangular shapes of the type. And there you have it – a sinful Garden of Eden.
Phil Wheeler is a British illustrator who hails from Jersey in the Channel Islands but now lives and works in Cadiz, southern Spain. An elegant mix of organic and digital, his work has found its way into projects all over the world, such as installations, T-shirts, drinks cans, giant banners, CD covers, online animations and editorial and commercial campaigns. His clients include Adidas, Pepsi, IBM, Universal Music, GQ, The Sunday Times and Men’s Health. Contact