advanced photoshop

How I Made: What Only Exists In The Mind

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Tips & Tutorials, by Rebecca Greig

This Photoshop-only digital painting comes from the symmetrical mind of American artist Jeffrey Smith

What Only Exists in the MindJeffrey Smith – whose work rings with symmetry and symbolism – is a painter. His medium just happens to be Photoshop. What Only Exists In The Mind is “an interpretation of nostalgia, the painting depicting the scenery of where I grew up as a child,” says Smith. “The mountains, rivers, and the endless horizon. I wanted to paint this because I often think of how beautiful and special that place is to me, and now as an adult I have moved.” He explains that he began the piece “with a sketch, line art just sketched into Photoshop. Underneath that sketch layer I began the mountain and the hills on the horizon, working towards the foreground with the river.” He used his own custom brushes, and relied heavily on the Smudge tool. “I also used a reference shot I took of a lake for the overlay on the water, to give just the slight look of ripples,” he adds.

The success of the piece is largely down to its symmetry, and Smith says “many pieces of mine – past, present, and yet to be made… Have this same symmetrical style. My pieces are more symbols than anything, so symmetry is my default.”

JS 0101 Front to back Midway through the painting, with the foreground in place, I flattened the piece and began painting the spiralling clouds. I used my own custom brushes for the entire piece

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02 Head in the clouds I started at the horizon, painting very small distant clouds and building up layer by layer with larger clouds. I do a lot of symmetrical work in this fashion.

03 Surface details I begin to add surface details with the Pen and Gradient tools, which help to break up the blocky shapes. I’m a sucker for details so I probably go overboard with this step on most of my pieces.

04 Layering up In this step I began painting the clouds on the top part of the canvas. Still, I madesure I was paying attention to the circular flow of the image.

05 Into the vortex Here I do the same thing as I did with the clouds on the horizon, lighten them as they get closer to the Sun. The clouds also get smaller, creating the illusion of the Sun being a vortex.

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06 Adding spark I wanted to create something quick, with a visual impact. Something with a spark.  Now the piece is complete as far as painting, I had to add in details to give it a sense of movement.

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07 Colouring in Here I used a yellow colour gradient over the painting set to Color Burn at 50% Opacity. I added hints of green to the hills and set it to Multiply at 50% Opacity, and an orange radial colour gradient in the middle of the Sun that’s set to Color Dodge. My main focus was to get depth with the values, and keep the colours desaturated.”

08 Finish and flatten Finally I used Curves adjustments to bring out the deeper tones of thepainting, exposing a higher contrast with the Sun. Then I flattened the piece and sharpened it with Smart Sharpen.


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What Only Exists in the Mind is a standalone piece, that Smith painted “off the heels of a six-painting series, which explains why I wanted to do something quick.” The i series “was a project I had been wanting to do for years,” says Smith, “and I knew it couldn’t have been created accurately with just one painting. This was a six piece series that portrayed different scenarios of apathy through the use of present technology in phones.”