Step-by-Step Abstract Digital Art

Backstory: In my sophomore year of college at the University of North Texas, I was in a class called New Media. This class taught us to think outside the box and question what art qualified as art. Medias such as sound bites, gifs, combining traditional with digital, and strange interactive installations were our focus. I found myself struggling to grasp the concepts, finding the outrageous, well, enraging. I couldn’t believe some of the artists we studied, one created a piece that was a steam roller used in construction that was attached to a steel beam and counter-weighed by tons of concrete, the artist drove the steam roller into a circle until centrifugal force lifted it off the ground. That was it. I’m sure that many people can interpret that into a deep meaningful perspective, but I wasn’t having it. I felt like giving up, but it was already halfway through the semester and I had a C average, I could still improve if I tried. So for the last few projects I made sure I talked to my professor in one-on-one meetings and explained my struggle. I managed to make some awful art that I immediately scrapped after I turned it in.

My final project, however, I fell in love with.

We had to create a series based off one of the previous projects. I went with photomanipulation and digital art. I created abstract images filled with color, but stacking 20 or more photos on top of one another. I erased different areas at different levels to complete the piece. I created these three.

The Trio

I called them Ire, Wonder, and Serene, meant to evoke feelings of uneasiness or anger, wonder or amazement, and peace or happiness. I projected them up in class and everyone oohed at the colors. I enjoyed making them, there was something about finding pictures on the Internet and from my own life that made me feel like I was exploring. I was drawn to beta fish, nebulae, opal, and a specific Alexander McQueen dress.

I edited Serene, this is an alternative that conveys a brighter, more cheerful feeling.

Happy IIThen along came Turmoil, created during a time of, well, turmoil. I was very depressed, going through an emotional breakup with an abusive person. The simple act of finding pictures helped keep my mind off him. Turmoil brought a very dark composition with pops of color that are somehow still muted.

TurmoilThis particular picture was what broke me out of a brief bout of artist block, which always seem to happen around April/May for me and can extend well into the summer.

I went another few months before I came to Blight. Blight was created for a tutorial speech in my required public speaking class I took at the end of the summer. Originally called “Fear,” I changed it to Blight because I thought it had more a stinging feel when I looked at it. This one I documented the process of creating it so that I could explain how to make your own. BTW, CJyoAngelicSting is my old DeviantArt account name, my old computer’s motherboard crashed and all my art and research is on the hard drive, I will be replacing this picture with one without a watermark of DeviantArt as soon as I can transfer all the old data to my new, awesome laptop. HP whoo! Last computer was 5 years old and heavily used, Asus is pretty good!

process of feeeeeeaaaaar

Going from left to right, top to bottom, the changes are subtle. I used Photoshop CS3, but you can easily use the free Pixl Editor (here) or Photoshop Elements, rendering all the layers or saving might take a few minutes depending on how many layers you work with. CS3 was retired when my first computer crashed–don’t get a Dell, they’ll last for a year and half, booooo. Now I used Elements and it has all the basics that I need to make my abstracts.

1. I started off with a background, a dark picture to set the mood, and layered over a video game concept art and a picture of a white betta fish, there’s also another fin from a betta fish in the top right corner, body was erased completely. Then I added a nebula and sat it directly onto the fish to obscure the body, I wanted to keep the spiky fins to create eerie shapes.

2. The veiny structures were added next in picture 2, it was from a cooling pool of some sort of holding tank that had crazy glowing wires all over it, not a concept art, an actual photo of an actual thing, no idea what it was to this day. I added a dark colored boulder opal to the top corner as well.

3. Picture 3 I added more of the veiny holding tank, and brought forward more of the video game concept art with the red lines, and more of the nebula. When you add a picture, but need to see what is under it, adjust the layer’s opacity on the layers toolbar, each layer can be altered. I make sure each layer is a little transparent before I start erasing. It’s a lot of trial-and-error, messing with each layer, dragging them around, even transforming their sizes and stretching them to distort the original image. All tools provided in the aforementioned programs.

4. Picture 4 got brighter as I moved back a layer that had too much white in it. Pictures with lighter colors will blur and dampen colors, so either erase a lot of it, or move the layers around. Layers can be moved by selecting the layer, holding down the clicker, and dragging. Picture 4 is also where I introduced an orange nebula in the top left corner and an opal with lots of dark shapes that can be seen around the edges.

5. Picture 5 is a subtle change, I brought back the fuzzy look, making the image more uniformly iredescent, so that the overall feel would be cohesive and bring about a sense of peering through a fog.

6. Picture 6 was the introduction of the Burn Tool, it darkens whatever areas you want.

7. The image became much cooler, so I wanted pops of warm areas to shine through, so Picture 7 I highlighted warm areas and erased the darker images that were on top of them. When erasing, set the eraser to softest edges, no hard edge, and set the opacity, yes you can change the opacity of the eraser, to half or less. This way, when you erase, you do it gradually and the areas can be a soft change.

8. Picture 8 I brought out the purple and the white tail of the first betta fish.

9. Picture 9 I introduced another concept art and manipulated it to be swirling out of the white glowing spot. I wanted it to look like some kind of fluid was gushing out of a portal.

10. The final picture was brightening up all the colors and darkening all the darks. This is done with the Contrast option or the Levels option. I use both and play with them. Photoshop has a history list, and if you don’t like the way something turned out, you simply have to click back to the option before the change.

Fear/Blight was a dark piece for me. I went a while before I made a new addition to the series.

SuperbiaSuperbia got me out of the dark funk. It’s moth wings, and flowers, with video game art, a picture of moths swirling through the dark, and one or two brightly colored nebulae with the deep space erased. I named it Superbia for the tone, bright and confident. Superbia is another name for the demon of pride, but it also means excellent, or superb. I look at it and get a cheeky side grin.

UNNAMEDI have no name for this one, I can’t decide. What do you think? It’s lots of betta fish, and sunsets, and whatnot. I find it loud and bold.

My favorite I’ve created thus far though, is the one I feature for my banner. I call it Serendipity. Originally called Calm, I didn’t find it so calm, as much as it screamed my favorite color and I had to name it my favorite word. Serendipity was created by using a hummingbird, flowers, fish scale pattern, a bird-of-paradise tail, butterfly art, lily pads, a crying eye, and the eraser tool at higher than normal hard edges.

Calm and Stern

Some of you may question whether or not using other artworks and pictures is legal. According to copyright laws, you can use a picture so long as it is rendered unrecognizable. Layering 20-30+ pictures and using only their shapes and colors will make anything hard to see.

So go for it! Exercise those 1000’s of pictures you’ve collected and put ’em to good use! Do something that makes you feel, or make something you like to look at. Something that is meaningful to you!

Just create.