Five international digital artists reveal exactly how they created astonishing commercial, personal and exhibition work.

In a world where techniques, step-by-step advice, and how-to guides are available everywhere you look online, it’s hard for any experienced creative not to disassemble any creative output into a series of menu selections, settings, and stages in Photoshop.

But how are great digital images really created? What are the thought processes and creative inspirations that germinate a seed from initial idea into full bloom? Digital Arts asked a group of international designers to open the door on their creative processes: the results are inspiring.

Five digital artists who work predominantly in Photoshop – but whose styles cover the full range of digital creativity – reveal to us in minute detail the key elements from some of their best-known work.

The five pieces – which span art created from commercial clients, exhibitions, and personal work – show how different approaches, techniques, and resources can impact on a piece.

From pressing commercial deadlines, to artwork created over a period of years, there are styles, techniques, and briefs here to suit every taste. Each artist has explored the origin of their piece, as well as inspiration – from classical art to songs by Faithless – and the preparation that took place.

Each artist also reveals the resources they used, from stock images to photographs they’d taken themselves, and then go on to detail the creative process itself.

The artists dissect in detail the composition of each image, with key elements of each piece explained in detail – from the steps and tools used in Photoshop, to the bumps in the creative road and how these were smoothed out.

Together, these artists reveal creative journeys that go beyond straightforward Photoshop tutorial and into the creative minds of the creators themselves.



Based in Sofia, Bulgaria, Yanko Tsvetkov is best known as AlphaDesigner. He works as a freelance graphic designer and is involved in numerous art projects. AlphaDesigner was started in 2001 as a personal site, then later developed into an online portfolio, combining personal and commercial works. Now in its 11th version, the focus is entirely on Yanko’s personal projects and collaborations with different artists.


“This artwork is part of my Theogony project, which I started almost three years ago,” says Yanko. “I wasn’t aware it would become so complex. It was impulsive and somewhat personal. The Theogony cycle contains depictions of deities, mainly from the Greco-Roman pantheon. Trinity depicts the muse of epic poetry Calliope with her sons.”


The initial inspiration was the Faithless song Music Matters, says Yanko. “Very often I find my inspiration in music and use a song as a starting point. From then on, the creative impulse begins a life of its own, so it’s hard to cite all the catalysts that helped me develop the whole theme. In addition to music, I found a lot of inspiration in examples of Renaissance, Baroque, Indian and Japanese art. Some of those influences are clearly visible, others appear more subtly in the concept.”


“I didn’t use any stock images,” says Yanko. “I don’t usually use materials created by other people except in cases when I collaborate with other artists. There were a lot of collaborations in the Theogony cycle, mainly with different photographers, but in Trinity everything was created by me.”


“Explaining the creative process is hard, because it took me about a year to complete everything,” says Yanko. “Trinity started as a piece called 1,001 Butterflies that was intended for the design of my Web site. It contained an ensemble of the swords and the central sign – my personal logo – surrounded by a swarm of butterflies. I remember there were periods when I had to go back and tweak some already completed compositions. The background was created in one of the last stages."

1. The background
“Geometrically, the background had to resemble the inside of a dome,” says Yanko. “I wanted to include a certain juxtaposition as well, so I decided to cover it with earthy textures and fallen leaves. I played a lot with the perspective: it’s a hint to pre-Renaissance Christian art, where objects appear flattened or skewed. The central element of the dome appears flat, while the lines that spread towards the bottom of the image obey a completely different point of view.”

2. The figures
“The figures weren’t a particular challenge,” explains Yanko. “They were created and rendered in Poser, exported to PSD files and additionally painted in Photoshop. Many people think this is a 3D artwork. Actually if I have to describe it technically, it’s a 2D collage. The only shapes that were created in a 3D program were the human figures, the rest is all Photoshop work. Hence the ‘lighting’ wasn’t achieved through light sources but with tweaks in the layer controls in the program.”

3. The sword
“The sword appears in many pieces from the cycle and it was created as a standalone artwork using drawing tools and layer controls in Photoshop,” says Yanko. “It was inspired by one of the DVD covers of Tarantino’s Kill Bill that featured a similar samurai sword. The challenge was applying the lighting effects, because Photoshop doesn’t have the tools for creating actual lights as in 3D software. The butterfly is a hybrid between a photo and digitally created textures, which were applied over it.”

4. The textures
“During the process, elements such as the flowers and butterfly, were multiplied, then rotated, flipped and arranged separately to form a group,” says Yanko. “In some cases, like the brown leaves on the background, additional colour tweaks were used to distinguish them from the green leaves on the foreground, but their shapes were retained. This brings a certain fractal feel to the piece and is clearly apparent when you examine the artwork up close.”