Ahhh the stock users, we are indeed a dying breed. When I first started out in the world of graphic making stock reigned supreme. After my hiatus I came back to find all these gorgeous texture based graphics, but so few stock users. What makes stock so scary?? Is it the blending...the composition or how to make it look dimensional? I’ll be tacking all those things (and maybe more ) in what I hope will be a bexcellent tutorial (the pun continues).
Before we begin, I’d like to cover the basics of a stock based canvas. I don’t know how others approach this however when making a base, there isn’t just one base...there are three. This is how I split it up:
The main base – what you first come up with
The base with ppl on – a base....with people
finished base – additional touches and extra stock (and/or textures)
How to blend:
Starting off, I feel it’s best that I tell you /how/ I blend. With each base, the blending is different.
The main base: I always gradient blend, honestly I never hard cut or use a fluffy brush – I always gradient blend. This isn’t something you have to follow, but I talk about gradient blending a lot. I realise some people aren't exactly sure what gradient blending is....so I created a tutorial for it! here's the link if you want to check it out++.
People base: this depends on the image, which I’m pretty sure is similar with most of us. Mostly I hard cut and then either use a fluffy brush or gradient blend (using a radial black to transparent gradient) wisps of hair.
Additional stock base: to this I usually add candles/clocks/flowers/paper. With all of these I mostly use layer modes – i.e lighten/darken only and then blend using layer masks. However if there’s a lot of flowers or leaves etc, I gradient blend.
Now I feel like how to approach stock & blending depends on whether you're using indoor....outdoor or a mix of both, so that's how I'll be separating this first section.
INDOOR STOCK TIPS:
Mixing indoor and outdoor:
Looking back at my older stuff this is a massive mistake I made, like there’s graphics where I blend pictures that have the sky in with say an actual room. This is a big nono. The thing with stock which I say to ppl all the time is the more natural it looks the better. I try and make it my aim that no one can tell where I’ve blended or where the images are and it all looks seamless.
See I quickly tried gradient blending indoor and outdoor stock – I didn’t go with the intention of making it look bad, I just picked two random images and tried blending them:
Now see there are several things wrong with this, firstly the outdoor and indoor blending just isn’t working. I tried so many times to blend this the right way – there was no right way about it. Secondly there’s proportions – I mean there’s already a smaller bench, now all of a sudden there’s a big ol’ random chair. It doesn’t look natural and it makes you think – ohhh okay so why is this chair just in the middle of a park? It doesn’t make sense. With stock I like the main base to make sense.
Lastly, the colours. This is something I stress all the time – image prep image prep image prep! It ties in a lot with blending, bc if you have an image that has a lot of strong blues and you want to blend it with a mellow green/yellow image – it’s not going to happen and it won’t look seamless. I tend to use colour balance, and say the graphic has strong blues I’ll counteract that by adding some yellow midtones/shadows/highlights depending on if it’s like dark blue or the whites looks more blue than white :’D (am i making sense, idk)
WHAT YOU CAN DO:
Is decorate it with little outdoor touches, say a few flowers like I did with this banner:
See I started out with some indoor stock and then added on leaves, as I feel that some outdoor stock can give some depth similarly with this:
I did all indoor stock and then added some flowers and petals afterwards. However I didn’t go crazy (which is hella easy to do I JUST WANT ALL THE FLOWERS OKAY) but instead there’s an even spread – on both sides of the banner, which is another tip and can be applied to any graphic size. If you use stock, and then add something extra in – there has to be an even spread. So it can’t all be on one side, otherwise the graphic will look one sided and too empty on the other.
INDOOR STOCK RECOMMENDATIONS:
What I find difficult with indoor stock is sometimes stuff can be too detailed, and I don’t want my main base to look too complex, bc a busy base confuses focal point. However over the years I’ve had a fair few people who are just starting out with stock or graphics in general ask me what kind of images you should use, especially indoor images – so here’s a quick list. I won’t recommend any specific images, the fun of image hunting is something I’ll leave to you guys
Columns and archways – they’re good to separate a banner up and can help make a graphic look seamless
Hallways – similar to above and it can help a graphic look spooky – oooh an empty hallway what can this mean
Church & architechture stock – this can sometimes work well as outdoor stock but again churches have a lot of good windows that can be used as additional things for the finished base, and can sort of work as a texture too. (they’re just great with lighting)
Okay so outdoor bases are a lot easier to make, particularly because they’re easier to gradient blend and they’re all similar shades in terms of colour so they blend pretty seamlessly.
Blending stock with skies:
Blending with sky in general is something that I consider to be quite difficult and can ruin a good gradient blend. If you do want to blend an image with some sky, then I would recommend adding some flowers/leaves/ivy/general greenery to cover up the sky. Blends and Chapter images, are an exception because of the canvas and their size, but usually I think it would need to be across the top of the image and not just in one place or one part. In terms of banners and signatures I feel like skies kind of flatten the image, and it can lead to poor blending which makes it really 2D and unrealistic looking.
If you want an example of bex trying to blend with sky stock – take a look at these banners I made maybe 3 or 4 years ago?
As you can see these graphics break EVERY rule i just spoke about. There’s different colours going on in the Ginny banner, like it’s blue at one end and red the other – if I’d have done some image prep that could’ve been easily avoided.
The blending in the protector banner is completely off bc as you can see there are transparent trees in the sky, like...why? Basically, there was once a time when Bex wasn’t so bexcellent, and you’re all better than I was – but just remember, this is the kind of look you want your graphics to avoid when gradient blending.
WHAT YOU CAN DO:
What’s great about outdoor stock is like I said, it can all look so seamless, v easily. However, once you’ve done that – you can find that it looks a little flat. Now to add some depth you can add a few bits and bobs to give a graphic that bit of detail.
For example with this CI:
I felt that it looked a little flat, so I actually added some textures. After receiving a lot of crit to check if this was working, I found that this is fine to do, but you have to be careful not to overdo it. So don’t go crazy on textures, and don’t have them in every single piece.
Another thing you can do is add different types of stock that I mentioned earlier which is what I did in this banner:
I found that after blending it looked seamless, but it didn’t pop – so I added a few relevant images that I found would make it work. When blending images such as candles/clocks/paper it’s good to consider the lighting. Because they can’t look like they’ve just been slapped on.
If that’s the case, I do what I’ve done with this banner, I get a new from visible layer, and using the gradient tool, I get a black to transparent gradient on a low percentage (no higher than 50) and put it along the bottom (but not starting from the bottom of the canvas, like lower than that so the gradient looks more gradual). Then the blending looks a lot smoother and the images also look a part of the canvas (which is linked to the depth of a graphic, which is really what this tut is all about ;D).
Another trick you can do with these images, is have flowers or greenery blended over them, and make sure the amount is balanced – they’ll look natural because you’re using outdoor stock. Warning! Don’t go crazy with it, because it could cover up some of your hard work with the original base!
So that’s it on blending! That was pretty long – and I’m sorry for that, but hopefully I got everything in there.
People say that my stock composition has depth from it, and before I wrote this I actually had to look over my work and ask, what part of my composition has ‘depth’. After ten minutes of looking through my gallery and some soul searching I think I have the answer. Angles!
If you can blend stock then you’re already halfway there, but then you’ll find your graphics looking a little flat if your images are all going along in one line.I’ll show you what I mean.
I’ve circled the places where there are angles in the header, which I think help give it some depth. What I realised I do is look for ways to make it look more real. In real life nothing looks flat or 2D and I don’t really want my graphics to look like that either – it all links back to everything looking seamless and natural, flat isn’t natural.
Rather than finding images that all go in one line, find images that are on a diagonal, which is what I did with the gate that I circled. I didn’t have to rotate or use the shear tool, you just have to look for stock images that have that depth, or can create depth.
Another thing that helps with composition is having things at different heights.
In these two banners not everything is placed at the same height. For example in the Moody banner, I have a fence that’s higher up but then another one lower down. Similarly in the ‘Talk to Me’ banner I have some books higher up blended into greenery. It gives people more to look at, so they don’t just have to look in one place, they can look all across the graphic and see things are happening – there’s not one set level or eye line.
ANGLED STOCK RECOMMENDATIONS:
There’s so much you can go for, but here’s a few examples:
COMPOSITION WITH PEOPLE:
I like to put a lot of people in graphics – of course you don’t have to have 3 or 4 people in every graphic, but sometimes I like to have several people in there. Here’s a few things to remember:
Image prep is important – no LQ, flat images (and no blue/pink weird skin tones)
different levels and size - if they’re all the same size then finding a focal point can become v difficult, but if they’re all different size and heights, it shows you’ve considered all of the graphic.
Make them look like a part of the base – To avoid making it look like they’ve just been thrown in last minute, you can also put flowers over say the bottom of them (tip from Jade there). Try and make them blend in with the base, like in the header – I have Sirius and Trelawney leaning against walls. I also have Moody in the flowers so it looks like I’ve thought about placement and they’re meant to be there.
Stock and colouring are what I find, the best way to convey a mood. When I’m making a graphic, I really like to think I’m telling a story. The best way to do this is actually know what you want it to be like rather than just ‘winging’ it, not that there’s anything wrong with that ofc. It’s just that if you have a clear idea of what sort of graphic you want to make whether it be happy, sad, angry etc... then your colouring will be stronger.
- Unless you plan on doing monochrome (and even then this is still applicable), with stock try not to make the colouring too strong and overpowering. I love experimenting with different colours but if you use very solid bright colours, it loses its natural look and becomes very flat : which is the exact opposite of what you want to achieve with stock.
- Try and use colours from the images – this is something you may already know, but I’m going to include it anyway. In this sig here+ and this CI +here I used colours from the base before it was coloured, such as greens & yellows in the sig and browns and reds in the CI. If it’s not there, you can use it – but try and be subtle about it. If you have an outdoor chapter image with a lot of greens and then you try and make it red and brown, you’re going to make it v difficult for yourself, which is why you should have a vague idea of the finished product before you begin.
- Gimp specific technique – this may still be applicable to other users, but as I use gimp, I wanna give my fellow gimplings some specific advice. Whilst I use tools such as white balance and colour enhance (both found under colours>>auto) the best thing and most important thing to use is gradient maps! Remember you can use all those different layer modes too! Multiply, soft light, gradient merge, gradient extract...subtract – and all the rest. You don’t have to stick to the rule of it a <insert random colour of your choosing> to white gradient map, it can be a colour to transparent or you can use the actual gradient tool (on a new layer and not new from visible) rather than a gradient map!
- Lighting – Lighting with stock adds that all important thing that bex keeps banging on about....depth! in this banner here+ to make it look a little more natural I added gold textures to give the appearance of sunlight. Another thing to do is use lighting textures and set them to overlay, and try and get it so the whites go over the people or whatever you want as the focal point. You can play around with opacity but this is just a little trick that will also highlight the people and your fab blending skills as well as the stock
- Finishing touches – With stock a lot of the time we never get colouring right first time. Remember it’s okay to want to try again or change things, that’s all part of the fun with colouring! With stock there’s more colours to consider than with textures, so I think that colouring with stock is a little more difficult.
Okay so this is the last part of the tut (well done if you’re still reading, I hope I haven’t killed you with boredom.)
I never think about text whilst making the base, usually it all comes together in the end. This ties in very nicely with the composition and things about angles. I use angles for the appearance of the banner itself, not specifically for the text – however having angled stock means you have creative places to put stock.
With these graphics I have used the rotate tool to get them to match the angle of the stock I’m putting it alongside, or in the case of the ‘gold dust woman’ banner, I used the path tool. Rather than getting into that, I’m going to leave you with this+ tutorial which will show gimp users (and hopefully anyone else) how to use the path tool if need be
Placing the quotes is what I find the most fun. In the gold dust woman banner once I started the colouring, I knew that along the roman numeral of the clock would be a great place to put a quote, and next to the smaller maisie near the archway. You have to look for these little spots and crevices. If you see a dark part of the canvas, then a small quote in a lighter colour (from the graphic) will go over it nicely.
Again in the moody banner, I used any angle or slanted piece of stock as an excuse such as the roof, so you just have to look out for these. You can plan them ofc, but I usually take them as they come.
I’m not saying you /can’t/ use certain fonts, if you want to then it’s your choice, but I feel some don’t work as well with stock. Modern fonts like headshot or techno looking fonts, usually don’t work with stock based graphics. Scripty fonts or medieval/gothic/horror fonts always work quite well – but don’t fall into a habit of using particular types. Brush fonts are hit and miss, but definitely try them out! I always encourage experimentation, so if you want to give something a go – do it!
And that’s it! A bexcellent guide to stock! I think I’ve covered everything; I mean all my secrets are blown now seeing as I put them in here – so I hope you’re happy If anyone has any questions or opinions on this tutorial – then please let me know via comment or PM, I’d love to know what you guys think!
(all graphics made by me, credits to all images used can be found in my credits list here+)