Neon, VHS, and palm trees inspire designer James White's supercharged poster, created for lynda.com's Photoshop 25th anniversary series.
(rock music) - My name is James White, and I live in Dartmouth, Nova Scotia, and I run a studio called Signalnoise. I'm a one man wrecking crew, I do all kinds of neon-infused and pop culture artwork for a myriad of clients and personal art series. When I was a kid, I would look at posters, airbrush artists, and typography, and that kind of thing, and try to figure out how I could do that with my colored pencils, with my markers, with all that stuff, and I never understood how a magazine or an album cover could be created until I was introduced to Photoshop in 1995, and then it introduced this whole world of typography, and color theory, and layout, and that kind of thing.
It took me a long time to get to the point where I was comfortable with Photoshop, but over the past 10 years, I've been using it strictly to try to recreate things that I loved when I was a kid. (rock music) When I started doing the StarKade series, I kind of nailed down what that process was gonna be from doing things in vector, and then moving into raster and into Photoshop. So the Overdrive series came around, which is straight up neon-based '80s coolness. In running through a lot of the key concepts for the Overdrive series, I came across this image of this horse that I drew and I thought it was really striking, really important kind of thing, so I designed it for the series, but it was a five inch by five inch print.
So I knew when this Photoshop 25th Anniversary poster came around, that that's something that I really wanted to expand on, something I really wanted to explore, and I've gotta give that horse a bigger stage. The first step when I'm designing a poster is always sketchbook. This comes from years and years of me jumping the gun and just going right into Photoshop and starting to lay something out, and not having a really good roadmap, so I need that roadmap before I go anywhere. I need to know what I'm doing, and what I need to aim at, before I can actually start building something. Now before I find a proper kind of housing for my horse, I need to get a background, I need to get atmosphere, I need a layout, 'cause after all this is a poster, and it's a design.
So I started laying in some background stuff, I put in some blue texture up, I put some clouds, a starfield, and a giant neon sun, because it's no secret that I love my '80s neon. So after I had my sun in place, I knew that I needed some more, sort of '80s imagery to bring into this thing, just to add a little bit more interest to the sun, and there's nothing more '80s than watching Miami Vice and seeing those palm trees, man, so I figured I'd bring a couple of those in, overlay on top of the sun, and that will add a little bit more interest to the background, a little bit more of a tropical vibe.
In the background I'd like to add a lot of texture, a lot of screen lines, and that just adds a sort of roughness to it, so it's not just a straight-up smooth gradient, and that sort of thing. How that horse evolved from being a straight-up sketch to a 3D thing, involved a little bit of forgery on my part, because I'm not a 3D guy, like I don't know how polygons really work. I really like what they look like, I don't know how to make them worth a damn, so I had to kind of fake it. I had to think about if this horse was in three dimensional space, what would it look like? Where would the highest point be on his thigh, and where would his knee actually be, and that sort of thing.
In laying out the bezier points and the triangles according to the contours of where that leg might go, and then adding highlights onto those too, so adding the polygons behind the wireframes, faking a three dimensional aesthetic to this guy. So once I have everything looking okay, and looking semi-3D, I can take those elements into Photoshop on two different layers, bring them both into Photoshop, again, make sure they line up, and then I can start adding my shading, my texture on top of it, my watercolor, my brushwork. Those wireframes, I added a gradient overtop of them, going from kind of a red to a pink, added a nice outer glow, and then really got into the layer masks, and kind of beat it up a lot.
Now the problem with trying to do something, like with a 1980's aesthetic, is that stuff never looked perfect back then. Nothing was smooth, nothing was elegant, that kind of thing, it was rough, they were doing this stuff with airbrush. The problem with vectors, is that they're all smooth, that they all have perfect lines, they're clean and they're crisp, which is great, that's what they're best at. But when you're trying to do this, you have to beat them up. And Photoshop allows me to do that, because I'm trying to get the best of both worlds, I'm trying to get the rustic nature of what Photoshop can bring with textures and effects, and that sort of thing, but I really want that precision that Illustrator brings with it, these are two things that I can't do by hand.
So these are the two things I'm trying to combine into one, and trying to find the balance between the two. With the horse's mane, I knew right away I didn't want something that was wireframe, because wireframe tends to bring this rigidness to it, and I didn't want that because it's supposed to be hair, it's supposed to be flowing. So I was kind of inspired by She-Ra's horse, from when I was a kid, so I went in, it's in two or three colors, and I'll select let's say, the pink, that's right on the front of his head. Make a new layer over top of that, and then set that to overlay, and that's where I can do more brushwork, so I can add some darks, I can add some lights, using a dry brush on that one layer.
So it's over top, and if it's a little bit too dark, I can adjust the opacity and bring it down, or bring it up, so I kind of mimic fake lighting using the brush, so when I added my silhouette to the buildings down below, I didn't just want to leave them as dark blocks in the background, so I added a little bit of rim lights around the front, and around the side, just to mimic a little bit of lighting, where the roof lines might be, where the wall corner might be, and that sort of thing. And I just added a little bit of an extra detail to the skyscraper, just to let everybody know where the Signalnoise headquarters is.
Now I think, personally when it comes to the pursuit of creating something from that time period, for me it's a lifelong thing, because I'm always looking at my inspiration Tumblr, and trying to dissect how these people made these images from back in the day. So how successful is the horse at achieving this one aesthetic? I think I'm getting there, I think I'm onto something. One of the things that I've noticed that really helps is including a blue floodlight right on the top layer, blue or purple, or something like that, because back in the day, they didn't have perfect blues, they didn't have perfect blacks.
Nothing was absolutely saturated with color the way we can do it today in Photoshop. So this is one way of adding a monotone of all those faded qualities in all the colors, and how they work better together. The reason I chose this for Photoshop's 25th Anniversary, is because I think this is the image that I wanted to create almost 20 years ago, in 1995, when I first started using it. That someday I wanted to create something that was big and epic and awesome, and I couldn't because I didn't know how to do it back then.
So when this opportunity came around, the best way that I can honor Photoshop, is to now go, "I've used your program for 20 years, "and I can finally do what I wanted to do back then." (rock music)