Dana (letsey_x) wrote,

icon q&a: the answers

The answers to your questions about my graphics:

what do you do to prepare a screencap before you start working on it, other than cropping? do you always resize to 100x100 right away?
The first thing I do is remove the network logo(s) if there are any. Besides that I leave the screencap alone. 
If I want to cut out a character/object to put it on a different background, I do that in a bigger size because it's easier to see and select details that way. But other than that I resize to 100x100 right away. I know plenty of people don't, but I can't imagine it being helpful for me. I know it will end up that size, so I want to see from the start what it will look like. Otherwise I'd be fussing with details you can't see in 100x100 anyway.

how do you decide what picture, cropping, coloring, textures, etc. you're going to use, to achieve what sort of effect and mood? Do you play with things until you "happen to" get something you like, or do you have a general idea of what you want to achieve when you start out?
The only time I have a general idea of what I want to achieve is when I make crossover icons. It requires searching for matching pictures, so I have to think "Maybe if I use this picture of X looking down, I can use that one picture of Y looking up" and the icon sort of forms in my head, but only in composition. For about 90% of my icons, I really just play with things until I get something I like. I wait until I have a batch of un-iconned pictures of a fandom, I open it in Photoshop and play around with every picture until I have some decent icons.
Though sometimes when I'm watching a show or a movie, I see a scene and I'm making an icon of it already in my head:) But that's mostly about what pictures to use, what composition and how to crop. I rarely think "I'm gonna make this icon THAT colour" and actually do so.

I'm curious as to what you've been working on recently technically. Your icons have changed style in the past few batches and sometimes that happens because people deicide they want to focus more on cropping or textures, etc.
I can't say I think about my icon-making techniques a lot, really. Sometimes I realize I'm just painting by the numbers so to speak, and doing the same things over and over again (like using the exact same font or cropping or texture), and then I'll try to actively NOT do that.
But as I've mentioned, I really don't think about how I want an icon to look when I'm making it, so any changes in style were not deliberate:)

do you listen to music or anything when you make icons?
I'm one of those people that are always doing 4 things at the same time, while thinking about the 4 things I wanna do next:) Listening to music is mostly one of these things, refreshing the f-list another. But it's not something I need to be able to make icons. What I do need is something to distract me every now and then so I don't turn into a icon-making zombie-robot.

the actual text. Do you have a list of lyrics or anything that you turn to? Or anything like that?
I mostly icon tv-shows, and I mostly turn to actual quotes from the show or even the scene I'm iconning. In a perfect world, every single show would have something like the Buffyverse Dialogue Database , because I find it SO useful if I'm not sure what text to put on an icon, to go check quotes from that scene/episode/character.

I'd love to know how you did the effect of blending Angel/Doyle in this icon
First, I just cropped both pictures. With this type of blending, I like to have one person facing one side and the other another side. What's important is that you need to have big parts that are black or at least very dark. I moved both layers to a new 100x100 file.
 I put the top layer on lighten. It this case, the one with Angel. As you can see, the pictures aren't placed well yet.
 So I just moved the Angel layer around a bit until I was satisfied. The light parts of the top layer are now placed on the dark parts of the bottom layer, and the dark parts of the top layer (Angel's body)on the light parts of the bottom layer(Doyle's face). The top layer doesn't fill the screen, so I just smudged that layer a bit until that line on the left was gone.

 There are a couple places where the bottom layer comes through where it shouldn't. It's barely visible in this icon, but if you in general have parts of the bottom layer where you want the top layer to be seen, that's easily fixed. that part is showing because it's too light.
 In this case, a tiny bit of Angel's hair is on the sky(light) instead of on the black of Doyle's hair. So, with your color sampler you just select the color of Doyle's hair.
Then, on a new layer between the top and bottom layer, paint with your brush in that color over the parts that are too light.
 this is what the layer looks like on a white background

 and Angel has his full hair back:) And that's my base to start coloring etc.

when you look at a cap, do you always have a set formula of what you do with an icon color-wise or does it evolve and change as you mess about with it?
I do have a set formula in that I always do: copy of the base on soft light -> light blobs -> curves/color balance -> more curves and color balance if necessary, but I don't have fixed settings or anything. I probably couldn't make the exact same coloring for a same cap twice.

Do you try and enhance the colours of caps or make your own colours?
I usually try to enhance the colours of the caps, except when the cap has really dull colours or when it's a cap that's been over-used already and I want to make it different from all the other icons with that cap:)

how do you get such rich and bright colours in your midtones and shadows?
Using color balance mostly, and curves.
 dark picture, not much colour
To colour, I use either curves or color balance. I'll show you the difference:
 I always do it with a new adjustment layer so you can mask away what you don't want.
Say, we want to make the picture more red:

color balance
 (you can choose between shadows, midtones and highlights. I always use midtones, because it's the most subtle.) Check the box that says "keep luminosity"

These are extreme reds, but as you can see, curves make the colour much lighter, fluo almost, while color balance keep the same lighting. Both have their advantages and disadvantages. I usually use curves to bring out the colours that are already there, while I use color balance to give grey/green caps a different hue (and then bring out those "new" colours with curves). Color balance can also be useful when you've already made your icon, but you just find it a liiittle too green, then you can just adjust your colours slightly without throwing of your light balance.

how do you get your subjects to be 'dark' without them fading into the background?
A combination of soft light (to make it darker), light blobs (to make it lighter), and painting with colours.
 the original base, which is just waaay too dark and doesn't have much contrast in it.
 so, I made it just a bit lighter and gave it a bit more contrast by using curves and levels. This is now my base.
 I put a slightly blurred copy of the base on soft light. Now it's really dark again, but you can see the colours stand out a lot more, and there's more contrast.
I use light blobs to give the darker parts some light. To do that I leave the copy on soft light visible, that way I'l immediately see what effect they'll have.
The light blobs look like this (now on a black background to show you)
All on a different layer between the base and the copy leads to this:
 that looks a lot better already. But I want more colour for the background...
 so with a brush I just paint some colour where I want it on a new layer
 and I put that layer on soft light.
 and again for Victor's side. Don't worry if you're not painting "between the lines", it won't be that visible and if it is, you can always mask away or paint some more.
 Sierra's background has become a lot more green, and Victor's side just became a tiny bit more orange.
Then I just make the colors a little brighter by shifting the curves just a little bit for every color:

 just moving around some pieces of your icon can create a different lighting dynamic as well.

You can use this same technique to "separate" you background by painting with white (if you find the background too dark) and putting it on soft light (but perhaps not on 100% opacity.)

pertaining to the colours in your icons, how do you get such vivid magentas, reds, and oranges without completely washing the entire icon in the colour.
I mostly use the method I explained above to colour just parts of the icon. I paint some colour and put it on soft light, but you can play around with the blending modes of your painted colour layer to create some different effects as well. The examples you gave were made using pin light:
 + copy on soft light
You can see that there's purple in this icon, but it's nowhere near as colourful as I'd like.
 so I just fill a new layer, between the base and the copy on soft light, with purple and put it on pin light. Pin light can give some really cool effects.
 without the copy on soft light, MUCH more colour
 with the copy on soft light. Buffy's face and hair are now too purple, so I mask that part of the purple layer away.
 + light blobs because it would be too dark otherwise.

same technique:
 + copy on soft light  = BORING colors.
 on pin light =
 without the copy on soft light
 with the copy. But boy, that is a LOT of red and nothing else.
 so I masked some of the red layer away, around her face and her dress. But now the colors don't really match.
 I used curves to make the green parts more red.
A very easy trick to make colours more vibrant:
 pick hue saturation
 and just up the saturation a bit. You can always mask away the parts that get oversaturated.

 and tweaking the levels a bit for contrast.

one of the things i love most in your icons is this beige skin-tone you have with all these bright colours around it. How do you get that faded beige?
Pretty much the same thing again: I pick the colour I want and set it on a blending mode. With beige, I mostly use multiply because I use it to make skin darker, but on a darker icon soft light works too.
 when I duplicate this layer and put it on oft light, I get this:  
 and with light blobs it's too pink and too light.
 I fill a new layer between the base and the copy on soft light with a pink/beige-ish colour and put it on multiply.
 this turns out to be too orange
 so I mask away some parts of the beige layer, and play a litte with curves etc.

how do you make your black and white icons...like, what sort of things do you do past the desaturation?
Not that much, really:) Since I can't play with colours, I have to do it with light, contrast (and text).
 base + copy on soft light
 light blobs underneath the copy to lighten the dark parts; with b&w icons, I usually just make one big blob from one corner to another and then lower the opacity. In this icon, the center of the blob is in the left top corner (the black has become grey), and it fades out to the bottom right corner, which is still dark.
 B&W icons always get even more light blobs than coloured icons. This time above the copy of the base. I try to keep the same light sheme, so the top left is the brightest.
 and the last step is to up the contrast a bit. Sometimes I do this by making a copy of the icon (Ctrl+ Alt+ shift+E) and putting it on soft light (and masking when there's too much contrast), or by playing with the levels. Sometimes I want less contrast, and then I use brightness/contrast.

how do you get your icons to be soft without being blurry?
 as usual, a copy of that base on soft light. I always put a light gaussian blur on it , the radius around 0,5. An icon is a small thing, so a radius of more than 1 would make it too blurry, and lower would not be noticable. The bigger the graphic, the higher your blur radius can be:) I just use it to get rid of the sharp edges, to make it a bit softer.
 a light blob underneath the copy on soft light gives this:
 which makes that part even more "soft"
 and a copy of that light blob ABOVE the soft-light-copy even more so.
 another light blob, which makes Ianto's cheek lighter
 some colour adjustments
 sharpen, but now it's too sharp
 so I mask away what I find too sharp. That usually leaves about 5% :d

I'm wondering if you have any tips and tricks for how to decide on colour and placement - do you have an idea of where to place the text before you start or does it just evolve as the icon does?
When I use text, I always start with white(or very light grey/beige) text. See what font is best, what height,... If that's not enough, I'll try to bring in another colour, for one word of emphasis, one line,...
For placement, I usually start with one block of text: every line roughly as long as the other. Sometimes one word is a line while a whole sentence is another, so that word will need to be bigger than the sentence. Mostly I start to type in the middle of the icon, and I'll move it to a better place if necessary. If the lines just can't be made equally long because it wouldn't really fit the quote or lyric to put one word bigger, try to make a pyramid or a reversed one.(the lines become longer or shorter) That way you can play with the alignment; if you align the text on the left, put the text on the left side on your icon.
To be honest, these things don't come easy to me either. I usually try A LOT of fonts, colors, placements,...before I get what I want. And sometimes even then I'm not sure.

When I'm making an icon and I know already what text I want to have on it, I'll try to crop it so there's enough room, like here and here. A very easy way to make sure you can place all your text and still leaving everything in your icon visible, is cropping one side lower than 100 px, so you have a band to place text on, like here and here.

What do you think your biggest strengths/weaknesses are as a graphics maker?
Hmmm. Something I like about my own icons, is that I feel they're very use-able. If I'd compare iconmaking to fashion, I'll never be haute couture like other makers whose icons are always original and fresh and jaw-dropping, but my stuff is wearable and affordable LOL. And some days I feel like that's a weakness, because my icons are still just pretty pictures, while others make art with their icons.

But I guess my biggest strength is my colouring, and I'd say my biggest weakness is text, though I think it has improved a lot ever since I met Old Sans Black:) Maybe another weakness is that I usually don't know what I'm doing:d

What do you think is your most underrated icon? (doesn't have to just be one, can be several)
Damn, that's a hard question. My icon posts always get showered with love, and I get praised and rec'd so much that I sometimes feel my icons are overrated:d So the following "underrated" icons are just icons that I love very very much and that only seemed to have gotten medium love instead of big love:d So yeah...luxury problem.
 -> It's Sue and Sue is awesome, I find it a really pretty, shiny icon, and it can be used in so many situations!
 -> I know she hasn't even been on screen a minute so it's possible she'll suck beyond belief, but I LOVE LOVE LOVE this icon. I could stare at it all day. For those of you who looked at the rejects from the last icon post know that I've tried to make an "Amy l'amie' a couple times. And I had tried to use that particular picture a couple times as well, and it just was NOT working. And in the last minute I though I'd try again and it did work! So maybe that's why I love it so much (all that work!:d).

and all my Deadwood icons, but that's just because Deadwood is so underrated as a fandom.

What is your biggest pet-peeve as far as icons go? What sort of effects will you never be caught dead doing?
Never say never, but I really don't like the overuse of text-as-a-texture. First of all, TEXT IS NOT A TEXTURE. A texture =/= anything that makes your icon prettier, it's something that has TEXTURE. But the prefab texts often fool me into thinking someone made pretty, original icons based on their teasers, only to see a post of 100 icons with the same 3 "text-tures" used over and over again. I can understand it if you use it for an icon, not everyone is good at placing text and the text thingies often look good, and if the meaning of the words are just PERFECT for that icon, why not? It'd be just as silly not to use it out of fear of iconranters:) But using the same text in the exact same way on 5 icons of completely different people or situations makes the text lose all meaning, and makes me lose all interest in the icon maker.

This took me 5 hours excluding a Merlin-sized break:d I feel like this is the most chaotic icon-talk ever! If you have some concrit on my tutorial-making abilities, I'd love to hear it.
Tags: icon talk, tutorial
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