I'm here for your requested critique, I'm going to go through the main elements of graphics and then at the end let you know your weakest spot and what you should be working on overall! I probably won't do much of a clean out because you don't have many graphics here but I will tell you your weakest ones so when you do get more in you know which to get rid of first.
I'll start with blending, because I'm actually quite impressed, you seem to have a really good grasp on blending right now. Your hardcuts are fairly good, I would suggest you watch them on places like shoulders, legs and arms, because I notice that's where you seem to have trouble keeping them looking natural for example here+ her left knee looks a bit oddly shaped, here+ there's bits missing from the edges of several arms etc. With hardcuts, what I always do is use a layer mask so any mistakes can be sorted out, and zoom in to 800% at least (sometimes 1000% if I feel it's going to be a difficult cut) and then slowly do my harcut, erasing anything I think is part of the background, then I zoom out to 200-400% depending on the size of the picture and look to see if I can spot any mistakes that are easy to fix, e.g sorting out messy lines on arms or erasing bits I missed, and then I'll check it on 100% and if there's still problems I'll often erase around the whole area where there's a problem and go back to 800% and redo that bit. It'll help your graphics a lot if you're using mostly hardcuts to make sure you have a good eye and technique when it comes to them. You seem to have a pretty good grasp already, it's just a case of refining your technique and making sure the details are all smoothed out. I'm also noticing some pixellation on your hardcuts, which can be a case of you need to on a very low opacity erase over your layer mask to get some of the softness of the body part back - i wouldn't recommend doing this too often, just over places where there's whispy hair of pixellation because it can often give blending a messy effect when not done properly - I wouldn't recommend using the blur tool too much when pixellation happens, however, and I notice you might have done that a couple of times, definitely try avoid it where you can, or if you do put it on a low opacity layer. Your best hardcuts seem to be on your two CI's which is really good!
With softer blending, or especially blending into stock, I think you need to be careful not to blend the people so much that parts of their body disappear into the stock - so again, layer masks are your best friends, even on stock layers! Although you don't have many examples of this, I do notice it a little on your first two banners.
Now onto comp! I actually really like most of your composition here, your texture use is good, your people placement is good, especially on your sigs and CIs. Your weakest composition seems to be on your banners, right now, so I'm going to mostly focus on each one of those.
Your first banner is really nice, especially for an MA and to get four people on there confidently, i'm impressed! However, right now, I feel like the guys on the edges are doing nothing for your composition - because the banner includes large text it becomes very crowded. So, when it comes to comp like this it's a lot to do with how you position your people, for example the guy on the left should probably be on a different eyeline to the girl next to her, this will add some interest to your composition and make the banner look less flat while also making the guy look more part of a banner. So, if you look at most people's graphics they often have people looking in different directions and sized differently, and on banners with lost of people that's very important. So, for example if you take the composition of the girls on their own it would be pretty perfect, they're different sizes to generate interest and they're looking in different directions which draws the eyeline while still being the main focal point. I would also not generally suggest having the biggest person on your graphic to the far edge, usually they'd be your focal point unless they were being part of the background - in this case he looks more slapped on - if anything he could have easily been in the center if he was a bit smaller and he could be placed over the text. It's all about drawing the eyeline to certain places, basically, and you want to keep the eyeline primarily on your focal point, so putting people on the very edge can be quite distracting if they overpower the focal point.
The second banner is also mostly a sizing issue - I remember you had a crit thread up for this one a while back so I won't go into too much detail with this one, but I think you could have easily made the people slightly smaller - so emma would be placed with her head below the line of the banner and dylan just a little smaller so his chin isn't quite as close to being cut off. This would make it all just look a little smoother, I think. The other thing I'm going to mention is I think you had some opportunity on this banner to add a little more to the base, so it's not just all leaf stock, you could have added some more architecture or perhaps some more outdoors stock just to generate some interest in the base, so don't be afraid of adding detail to your stock graphics. I am by no means the expert on this so I shall link a tutorial for stock here+ that might help a bit more than I ever could
I actually have very little to say about your last banner, the positioning of the people is really good, and I think what lets it down is actually a text issue that I'm going to talk about later, so good work! You've got different sizes, no awkward cuts and they're generating interest and depth by not just facing the camera directly
Wow sorry that was a lot, and I'm sorry if any of that seemed harsh, it's just a really important element for you to work on as an MA because good blending is likely to help you get promoted more than anything else at this stage.
You seem to have a good start on colouring, your sigs and CIs are coloured quite well actually. What I do see, however, is a lot of flatness in your colouring right now. So, the first thing I would say to avoid this is making sure you have enough contrast in your graphics. I usually tend to look at the contrast at three points in my colouring. When I start I add a little contrast, during the middle (so after four or five colouring layers) I will adjust the contrast and at the end. Sometimes it requires less contrast, sometimes more, but constantly keeping an eye on it really helps. The other thing that will help is curves layers - you might not have used these before but they're not as scary as they look. Usually when I'm trying to get rid of flatness I will stick to the alpha setting and just adjust it small amounts. Usually levels and curves are quite strong settings so I wouldn't suggest using them too much, but they'll often add light and darkness into your graphics to give it a bit of depth and help bring out the colouring a little more. Finally, I usually always have a black to white gradient map set on grain extract or grain merge depending on whether i want the light at the top or the bottom - this is usually put on a very low opacity too so it doesn't overpower.
I would also suggest experimenting with different methods of colouring, so gradient maps, using curves and colour balance, it'll give your graphics a lot more variety! I would also suggest being careful when it comes to monochrome colouring - i'm no expert on that either and from what I can see your issues are brightness/contrast related, but I would definitely suggest looking at the mono coloured graphics of higher ranks and seeing what they seem to do and attempting to incorporate that into your own colouring!
So I really like how you've been experimenting with different fonts and especially on your main text your colour choices seem to be really good and most of your text fits in well with your graphics! I would say, however, your smaller text always seems to be a tiny bit too big, and i would definitely suggest keeping it at around 9px so it doesn't overpower or distract from the main text. I also notice you use boxes a lot, which is fine, but you should definitely experiment with colours (making sure light is on dark backgrounds and dark on light) so you don't need to use the boxes. Often I find if quotes are hard to see using a soft brush and painting under them in a solid colour on a low opacity can get rid of any problems with visibility. Your placement isn't bad, I especially like it here+ and here+ and I definitely love the text on this+ but occasionally your text doesn't quite flow with the graphic. So for example on your last two banners, the text could use some adjustment. The catch banner could have the text moved towards Emma and lowered a little bit, and the marry you banner is a little over rotated and should probably follow the line of the texture behind it so it looks more part of the graphic. It's a lot to do with experimentation, and I would always say (especially with gimp) to work out where you want the text before you colour so you can always move things around if you need to. Finally, I notice some pixellation on some of your text, try not to sharpen over the text (I think that's what's causing it?) and I would definitely suggest you do your final sharpening on a layer without the text present, and always make sure you have the antialiasing box checked!
Right now it's your banners. I would definitely suggest making more, playing around with your composition and technique. I would also like to see some more variety in your gallery, so some icons and blends soon!
Currently your weakest graphics seem to be this+ and this+ for comp/colouring and colouring/text respectively.
Okay, I want to finish on a good note, because I feel like I've been really hard on you here. You actually have a really good gallery going, and I do think you're improving so much at the moment. I mean, this+ and this+ are both so cool! For now, work on your hardcuts, banner composition and then making sure your colouring isn't so flat, and you should be on your way! Any questions or any clarifications you can definitely pm me any time I am always willing to help or look over a graphic for you or anything (especially as I can always help with gimp stuff!) I can't wait to see you improve!
Edited by Inexplicable, 21 June 2015 - 11:38 AM.