I would love to think that someday my name will be synonymous with Regency Cats, as my heart truly lies with my anthropomorphic cat drawings. However, when studying the press and attention I’ve received in the last year (barring Regretsy of course), I have to concede that my most popular piece to date has been “Gazing On Pemberley”, a photomanipulation featuring myself.
Austenites around the globe chuckle over “Mr. Darcy Cat”, but drool over “Pemberley”. She’s been featured in multiple blogs and Etsy treasuries recently, which is a great deal of exposure for me, and my relatively unknown body of work.
I find myself, time and time again, trying to describe what “photomanipulation” is… what differentiates this piece from an actual photograph. As obviously I wasn’t standing there, in that field, overlooking Pemberley. ;)
I decided the best way to explain how a photomanip is created, is by showing a few screenshots of a work-in-progress, to explain the process in steps as I did earlier with “Mr. Bennet Cat”.
So for all you Pemberley fans, bear with me as I attempt to re-create “Gazing On Pemberley” from the beginning. :)
It starts with an idea, of course. I wanted to use one of my own stock photos from my Regency photo shoot, taken at the local City Park, in the summer of 2008.
See, for a brief time before I devoted all my spare hours to painting and experimenting in Photoshop, I modeled as a hobby. It began in 2006, when a friend of mine suggested that I visit his Deviantart gallery… I had no clue what Deviantart was, or how photomanips were created, but I was instantly hooked.
Not believing I had any talent to manipulate photos myself (I hadn’t actually tried).. I decided to dig out my old theatre costumes, and scoured eBay to invest in some new pieces, to go traipsing about the countryside as a stock model with my boyfriend/husband in tow as my photographer.
Stock photography can be used As Is, for reference, and for digital collage (a.k.a photomanipulation). I guess at that time in my life, I needed reassurance that I was desirable and attractive… and my weakening self-esteem (from the collapse of a bad marriage) needed a major vanity boost, which I received tenfold as artists across the world began using my likeness in their work.
(If you’re interested to learn more about my amateur modeling days, click here to see the gallery of artwork featuring me).
I was inspired to create “Gazing on Pemberley” when I found this image among my photos. I think this was overlooked by others as potential material because of the harsh shadows.
We photomanipulators sometimes get lazy and want everything to be clear, in-focus, and evenly lit. ;)
The key to a good photomanip is even lighting among the photos… getting the light source, the shadows, and the intensity to match. The individual images need to work together as a whole, and it’s always best if they are taken with the same camera, or during the similar hours of the day.
Warm afternoon sun, long shadows, etc…
While browsing Deviantart for English countryside themes, I stumbled across VisualJenna-stock’s gallery… and this piece in particular.
The rolling hills, late afternoon sunlight, and summertime feeling were exactly what I had in mind for this piece.
The only downside, albeit a minor one, was the nondescript sky. I was hoping to find a photo with a few fluffy clouds… but for a photo collage artist, a lack of interesting sky poses no problem! Simply grab another sky. ;)
When digging up stock photography for a new piece, I have a few Go-To artists: Night-Fate-Stock (a.k.a Julia Starr) is one of them. Her gallery stands alone as beautiful photography in its own right.
Her photos rarely, if ever, need improvement. And she graciously shares a portion of her collection with us.
I keep coming back to her skies as they are the best I’ve ever seen… I used a sunset of hers in my Regency manipulation “The Letter”, and I chose this one for “Pemberley”.
Now, if you’ll notice… the foreground of Jenna’s stock is lit by the sun… and my model was standing in the shade. So I needed to find another photograph with a shady patch of grass in the foreground. I chose one of my own, from the same City Park shoot:
Lastly, but certainly not “leastly”, we need a grand estate to pose as Pemberley. I searched for English manors, and uncovered this gem by MacKenzie’sPride.
Notice the full sun is shining against the manor from the same direction as in Jenna’s hillside… that was serendipitous!
So, where do we begin?
I open a new file, with a basic white background, and roughly the width of my widest photo…
Starting from the horizon, I’ll work forward, so the sky gets placed first.
Cut-and-paste the sky onto the white background layer.
Then using the “Magic Extractor” tool, I remove the boring sky from VisualJenna’s hillside.
Squiggle the plus (+) brush onto the areas I’d like to keep, and the negative (-) brush onto the area I’d like erased.
This tool has its limitations, and some areas will need to be manually corrected before hitting “Okay”.
I’ll wind up with a Photoshop layer like this:
Next, I paste the hillside layer over the sky and position it just so.
Later on, in the touch-up process, I will blur the harsh line between the trees and the horizon…
but don’t those two photographs already look made for each other?! :D
I used Magic Extractor again, to separate the hill in my park photo from the sky (and power lines).
I also had to rotate the image horizontally, so the shadows and light source would match Jenna’s hillside.
Cut-and-paste on top of her layer.
Now this was an obvious example of the limitations of the Magic Extractor tool.
When images are clearly defined shapes, like houses and people, it does an excellent job removing them from a background… with only a few minor touch-ups with the eraser needed. (Unless the background is cluttered, of course, which will confuse the program).
But when we are dealing with grass, this tool stinks.
Grass, leaves, hair, lace… these complex images need to be painstakingly edited after the initial extraction. Zooming in reeeeally close, and using a tiny eraser to remove bits of the unwanted background.
So now you can see the seam between the photos, where part of the original sky is exposed.
I will need to work with my eraser tool to remove the sky, and then I’ll paint some grass blades and Smudge some grass as well (like we did with Mr. Bennet’s fur) to stitch these two photos together.
I use Magic Extractor once again, to eliminate the background from MacKenzie’s manor photograph, which just leaves us with the manor here.
I paste it into my work-in-progress, and must adjust the size, and also erase the portion that will be hidden behind the hillside.
To do that, I’ll temporarily reduce the Opacity of the manor’s layer to 50% or less, so that the curves of the hillside will show through, allowing me to trace along the edge of the hill with my eraser.
To add Elizabeth Bennet to the scene, I extract “myself” from the park background and paste the layer above the hill… erasing bits of my dress at the bottom to reveal the tall grass underneath.
Now it has finally dawned on me that I needed a source for those shadows on my back…
so I look through my computer folder of saved stock files, and find another charming photograph by Night-Fate-Stock.
If you thought the Magic Extracting tool had difficulty with grass… it fails miserably with trees.
I almost hesitate to use trees in my work at all, because branches and leaves are very time-consuming to cut out. :P
Here was the initial extraction:
So now would be a good time to pop in your copy of A&E’s “Pride and Prejudice”, the 6-hour miniseries, and watch the entire thing.
Pop some corn, brew some tea, pick up your knitting project…
It’s over already? Rewind and watch it again….
I’ll still be here, zooming in 500%, erasing the pieces of bright blue sky from the branches of these blasted trees.
But finally, when I’m done with them…
and I’ve gone back to blend, smudge, blur, and tweak the edges of each photo until my eyes are sore.
I will merge the many layers of this almost-finished piece into one layer and save it as a jpg file.
The only thing left to do is experiment with the color balance and filters to make the image warmer and more saturated.
The finished art is ready to upload and share – “Gazing On Pemberley”, a Regency-inspired photomanipulation starring myself as Elizabeth Bennet. :)
Photomanipulation is a lot like sewing, I suppose, without getting your fingers stabbed and dripping blood everywhere.
The quality of the stock photography really makes the difference, and my job is to envision the finished quilt and stitch everything into place.
I owe the success of this piece to the wonderful stock artists out there in Deviantart-ville.