Pop-Art Style Wallpaper Tutorial

It was hinted that some people wanted a tutorial on how to make pop-art styled wallpapers, like Untitled#3 and More Time. Though they weren't exactly made the same way, the process is similar and both techniques will be adressed in this tutorial. However, what we'll be making today is this piece.

For these you don't necessarily have to have a tablet, but it definitely helps! There is potential - OK, required - drawing involved. Though don't let that scare you, it really is quite basic stuff.

First of, you have to choose which image or images you're going to use. You have to choose an image that you really want to work with because once you have, there's no going back. Unlike when you work with caps or stills, you can't simply change mid-way through, so be sure you have an idea of what you want to express - or at least that you're sure which face you want to be looking at for a few hours!

For this piece I chose to work on this picture of Kristen Stewart and Robert Pattinson from the set of New Moon. First I open up a new canvas (1440x900px) then I copy the picture onto the canvas - it becomes Layer 1. I then duplicate Layer 1 and re-size it (Layer 1 copy) so that it's just over 26% larger and tilt it a bit. Like this.

If the image is a bit blurry, don't worry. As long as you yourself can make out the gist, it's OK. Remember: you won't actually use that (pixlated) thing in the end!

What I do now is put the opacity of Layer 1 copy to about 65%. This way you'll see where lines needs to be drawn and where you've already made them. This is where the fun begins! There are several ways to make lines of course, the most painstaking is to just do it all by hand. But, if you're like me and a bit shaky at times - or if you don't have a tablet - paths is by far the easiest.


What you do now is start to trace all the lines you wish you have. It's important to remember that this is not like when you use this tool for cutting out images. You don't necessarily have to close the sub-path, in fact, it's almost beneficial if you don't. Now, another thing to have in mind is that the beginning and end of each "stroke" will be thin whilst the middle will be fatter. Lay your strokes so that that works to your advantage. (Of course there will be opportunity to correct this later on.) To end a sub-path without closing you press Ctrl and click somewhere not on the path/anchor point. To edit an earlier path you click on it whilst holding Ctrl.

I start by tracing Bella, like this. If you notice that one of your earlier anchor points are off simply hold in Ctrl and click that anchor point, now you can re-position it, change it's angle or pretty much whatever you want. If you want to delete the anchor pont, click it without holding Ctrl and if you want to add one, click the path (where there isn't an anchor point!). Here I fixed the bottom of Bella's shirt: Before, after.

I start with a sort of basic path for the bodies. I leave out the faces and most of the hair, mostly because I want to see how this first batch of paths work out, but also because I hate having too much in the same layer.

Now, pick the brush tool, go to "Calligraphic Brushes" and pick the first one (that's 7px), then change the settings like this. The brush size is a matter of taste and size of the image of course, but the shape dynamics are very important! See here.

Create a new layer (Layer 2), then go back to the pen tool, right-click and choose "Stroke path". Make sure you click the "simulate pressure" before you click OK! Now you can delete the path and see how it looks... For this image, I think it looks OK, everything except Bella's hair (the reason why you should wait!), so I'll mask that away before I continue...

Now comes face and hair. You do the exact same thing, only now you really have to be careful. Faces especially are hard to capture if a line is a bit out of place. This picture really isn't a good example for how faces look though... My facial paths.

So I begin tracing the faces. This really is all improvisation though, as with all art nothing is set in stone. When I feel like I'm more or less done I create a new layer (Layer 3) and stroke this path too with the same brush settings.

Now, how to go about the hair? Well, it's up to you. I try to follow some of the main directions of the hair and to mark out certain locks; try and capture the texture of it - to make it look less flat. Here especially, you have to think about how the simulated strokes are going to look! Now that I'm done with that, it looks something like this. Now that I'm going to start with colouring I'm going to need to keep track of all the layers more easily, so I make two groups called "outline" and "colour" like so.

I start with the faces, mostly because they're the most fun! I pick a light beige colour (#e8d7bd), but that really doesn't matter because I'll most likely end up changing it anyway. That is the most important reason as to why all colours should be in different layers - because otherwise changing the colours afterwards will be difficult, if not impossible.

It is also now that the whole mouse vs tablet comes in. Because if you have a tablet it's very easy to use the brush tool and simply draw all the colour-fields. If you have a mouse however, I would recommend that you use the pen tool.

Quick pen-tool instruction:
These should be your settings. Thus, instead of drawing up vector paths, you chose to make vector shapes.What you do then is simply to start marking out his face, like so. Then you do that instead of using the brush to colour for the rest of this tutorial.

The Brush:
Now, for this piece I'll draw with a brush - I feel it lends me more freedom - but the principle is the same for both, the difference is really not significant in the way you go about it.

Now I choose a round brush, drag the spacing down to 1% (as small as it goes, otherwise the edges will looks odd) and fix the shape dynamics like this. The size of the brush doesn't really matter, it's all to your preference.

I start by filling his face... This is a bit like painting by numbers - but not quite! Since this is the first layer, going over the edges isn't bad, it's actually benificial. Because other layers will come on top. Thus, if you constantly keep to the edges there's risk of gaps between the layers - which is bad.

Now my piece looks like this. After this I could go either way: continue on his face, continue with his body or start on Kristen. Since her face is so... interlinked... with his, I start on her. I choose a bit more flushed colour for her, for now. Since her layer is above his, the edge between her and him actually is important now.

I continue to map out the major areas of the piece. When choosing colours I tend to go for a "middle-colour". Ergo, not the lightest, nor the darkest in the pallet of that area. One problem that arises with working with a brush is that sometimes you miss a spot - so be very careful of that! I end up with this.

Now that all the major fields are done I can go two ways: either the more typical Lichtenstein style, or a softer more vectoresque style. I want to go with the vectoresque, but for your benefit, I'll briefly head into the Lichtenstein style. Before I start: I'm a big fan of order - especially when it comes to these kinds of pieces. Therefore, I have ordered my layers into groups of what they contain, like this. Just a tip. Now, for this extreme pop-arty style, you're going to need certain patterns. They're not hard to make, but if you're lazy, just steal mine!

If we shall begin with Edward's face as an example then? Take the layer that is his face and lock all the pixels like this (If you've used vectors, this isn't necessary). Then go Edit>Fill>Color and chose an extreme red (like #ff0000). Then you select his face by holding in Ctrl and clicking on that layer. Then you create a new Pattern-layer (since you've made a selection it should only show up where his face is. You then choose a fitting dotted pattern (I chose Nr 3 here, and put that to scale: 50%). Once that's done, you put that layer to screen which allows the red to be seen through the black dots! Like this.

Then you do that for the rest of all skin areas. Now the thing about pop-art is that one just cannot be afraid of strong colours! Since this part of the tutorial is mostly me joking around, I just changed the colours of all layers to something more extreme and ended up with this.

Now, it still isn't quite pop art the way it looks best. The larger black shadows are still amiss. Now, since I'll most likely end up using these kinds of black areas in the final version as well, I'll actually put a little time into them. The thing to think about here is what you want to shadow. There are two primary reasons to shadow (in this kind of piece); to make it look less flat and to pull focus to certain areas. To do this I'll use the same method as I did colouring - only now I'll use black and put the layers in my "outline" group.

A positive thing about using a tablet while doing this is that it's much easier to get varied shadows - especially in the hair like this. It's possible to do with a vector of course (I did it before I even got a tablet), only takes a little more time. So for this piece I mainly focused on their hair, but added a few shadows to their faces and bodies as well. Now the outline looks like this. Putting the colours on again I now have this.

Now, I'll get into more detail about how to go about the kind of piece I actually want to end up with! Back to the faces!

Let's start with Rob shall we? What I do first is pick a colour that is just a bit darker than the skin tone I already have and start mapping out the shadows on his face. Now it looks something like this. I then pick a lighter colour and map out the highlights. The more different shades the smoother the piece will look, but since this style is of the un-smooth kind I keep to max three shades per "field". Don't be too picky about the colours at this point, they'll be changed later. The important thing is to get the basics there. And to have fun of course, this is easily the part of the process that is most "artistic". The only colour-filed I don't add two shades to is Pattinson's trousers, since they're so dark. When I'm done with the basic mapping I have this.

Now, I'm seriously hating some of the colours, especially the skin colours and his hair (actually, I just hate his hair). I play around a bit with the colours on his hair until I land on something that I think keeps the reddish tint he's supposed to have, but still looks OK. At any-time you want to change the colours of a layer like this you have to remember to lock the pixels - otherwise the entire canvas will be filled! Also, I strongly recommend fill since if you brush over there's a large risk of missing bits. Again, this problem you don't have with vectors - the colour-changing is just a tad easier then! My results.

Finding a good skin tone is even harder. It's can't be too red nor too yellow - contrary to popular belief our skin tone is actually much redder than we think, although we're far from pink! See here.

When I've changed the colours so that they're OK (for now) I start to think about the background. It's not always necessary to have one, as seen in Untitled#3, but it does add a little something. Since the picture of them is from the scene in Volterra, I thought I'd maybe add red flags in the background, as well as some stone steps next to Kristen. I start by using these two flags and position them again and again to make several flags. I then use the same method - albeit less detailed - as with the main image to make the flags.

I then use a different on set image for the steps, as seen here. I also add some tilted stripes to the right, just to escape the boredom that is grey. This is the background I end up with - which will have to do.

Because I think the outline is a bit weak on the main image, I simply duplicate the outline group.

To make the thought bubble, I start by putting some round rings using the circle shape tool. Then for the bubble itself make my own path - again, the same way I've been doing the black lines for the entire thing. My bubble looks like this. To fill it with white, I take the wand select tool, then expand that selection with 1px (Select>Modify>Expand). Then I fill a new layer with white. I use the font Pupcat to write my text. Now my piece looks like this.

The fun thing about these kinds of pieces are the many things you can do with the text. In this piece I had a more simple approach, but comic books are text heaven and there's tons of inspiration to find there!

Now, despite having picked all the colours myself - I don't like them. So I add a curves layer. that end up looking something along these lines... Then I add this gradient map from Salt'n Burn and put it on Soft Light, 52% opacity.
At this point I'm so sick of the stone-steps to the left that I take them away and add some stripes there too, instead. I'm starting to feel quite done with this now, just a few minor things... I make a new layer then I stamp (not merge!) all visible layers onto that. This layer I then down-size to 90% of it's original size and fill a new layer with black that I put behind it: thus giving the piece a border without cutting away from it. Add my signature, and I'm done!

The Pilot.

I hope this tutorial was somewhat coherent, or better yet, helpful! If you have any questions, just ask!