Digital Collage with Fabric
For weeks I have been trying to figure out how to take my own fabric swatches and digitally blend them with specific shapes, to use in art quilts. Even though I have a lot of photo editing books, my problem was that the books are organized by term, to explain what each program feature does, but I had no idea what term I was looking for.
Finally, after going through practically every option in every tool bar, I figured it out. After seeing the plethora of effects you can get, you might want to try it too!
I use Adobe® Photoshop® Elements 12 software. Fortunately Adobe allows use of screenshots of their programs for educational purposes on websites*, so I can show you the process. (However, they do not allow cropping or otherwise adjusting screenshots, so the thumbnails will be hard to see here.) If you use another photo editing program, I hope these steps will be helpful there too.
Prerequisites for this technique – a basic knowledge of how to select parts of an image, and how to create layers.
Step One: Take a photo of your object against a simple but highly contrasting background. It doesn’t matter what color it is, because you can change that later. Upload to your computer, straighten, crop, and otherwise get the image to your liking.
Step Two: Copy your original image to a new file with a transparent base layer. I like to set up a new file that is a standard size, regardless of the size of my original photo. I use 8.5 by 11 inches, 180 pixels per inch in resolution, with a transparent base. (The small gray and white checks denote transparency.)
I like to set up my working layout in columns (the layout button is on the bottom left tool bar). Whichever picture I am working on will show that it is active by a white highlighted file tab, and on the right, its layer thumbnails will be visible.
Step Three: Close the original photo. Now we are going to separate the object from the background, while keeping both available to use as we wish. It is like cutting a paper doll away from its background, while keeping both parts intact and useable, but since we are going to do it with pixels, it’s going to take a little more work. The benefit is that once it’s done, we can use it over and over.
Use the magic wand tool to select the background. I have zoomed in on my image so you can see the white dashed line that shows the border between the selected object and its background.
Step Four: From the Layer menu in the top tool bar, choose Layer/New Layer via Cut.
This will give you one layer with the object, and one with the background and an object-shaped hole cut out of it. When you look at the image in the main screen, you won’t notice any difference, but the thumbnails show what is on each layer. The positive shape and the negative space are separated and are each on their own layer. In the screenshots below, I clicked on the little eyeball icon in each layer’s thumbnail one at a time, to make that layer invisible, and show you the image separation.
Step Five: Now open the photo you want to use to combine with your shape. I am using one of my handwoven samples here, but I could use a photo of a sunset, or a flower — you get the idea. I would only ever use my own work, though.
And here is the real magic, the shortcut that took me weeks to figure out!
Select the layer with the object in it; not the transparent layer and not the background – you can see a blue bar selecting it in the layers menu on the far right. (I have made the background layer invisible so this shows up better, but you don’t have to.)
From the top tool bar, choose Layer/New Layer. A dialog box will open, and check the little box in the middle with the phrase, “Use Previous Layer to Create Clipping Mask.”
A new blank layer will open above the object layer, but indented to the right. Copy and paste your filler photo into that new blank layer. You may have to move it and/or expand it, but IT WILL FIT THE SELECTED SPACE PERFECTLY!!!!
(This was very counter-intuitive to me, because in every other process I have ever done in Photoshop, I have worked from the top down. Usually, the topmost layer blocks the visibility of the images on the layers below. So in adding the fabric swatch image to a top layer, I would expect it to hide the pitcher outline, and if I just added a new layer in the regular way, that is what would happen. But the check box switches it to an alternative function. The upper layer becomes a sort of subordinate layer, and the lower layer controls where it is visible. If it was up to me, instead of calling it “Clipping Mask from the Previous Layer,” I would title it something like, “Upper Layer Drips into Lower Layer.”)
For just a flat cutout look, you could stop here. Choose Layers/ Merge Downward to link the clipped layer (what I think of as the fill) down onto the object layer. Then the new surface and the shape will bond together as one, and you can move them, resize them, etc.
But before that step, I like to play with all the filters and see what effects I can get. To make the featured image at the start of this post, I applied a stained glass filter to the layer of the double-woven fabric. For richer color, I used the “multiply” adjustment layer, and then duplicated that whole layer. You can see the two identical thumbnails on the right hand side below.
I reduced the opacity on those colorful layers to about 75%, so the white pitcher is still visible underneath. Its highlights and shadows show through somewhat and make the new creation look more three-dimensional.
When I am happy with my choices, I merge the layers. Then the effects will stay with the pitcher shape — I can copy it and use it on another background, or resize it.
I like to use the background that was in the original photograph, because the shadows match up and add to the 3-D effect, but I change the color to complement my new object, using the Enhance/Adjust Color tool.
I always have more ideas than I have time and materials to actually make. For me, digital collage is a fun way to play with a lot of ideas in a short amount of time. Now that I have figured out the process, I think I’ll be doing more with it this year.
Very nuce I have also tried using a glass container of my choice for example a Flower Vase. Cut Colored Tissue Paper or fabric and glue mixed with water brushing it on the vase. Be Blessed, Mtetar.
That sounds like a great way to make something pretty out of an ordinary container!
Sorry for the error I meant nice. Yes it is thank goodness for up-cycling and recycling. Be Blessed, Mtetar
Check out my Crafts Category to see one example with Tissue Paper. Blessings Always, Mtetar
I did check it out – it was amazing! I love the horizontal stripes.
Thank you so much for your inspiration. Enjoy your weekend. Blessings Alwayd, Mtetar
What a techy-creative way to begin the year. I’ll have to see what I can do in GIMP that’s similar to your process. Thanks for doing all that work of capturing the screen shots and dealing with Photo Shop’s copyright labyrinth.
I am so glad to get this process figured out, I have been working on it for weeks! I’ll be interested to hear if GIMP works too!
Ya know……although that was explained beautifully, I think I’ll just let you continue on with it. I just don’t have the patience to “get it”!!! LOL!!!!
Yeah, it’s one of those things that took me weeks to figure out,and a few hours to write about, and now I can put together an image in just a few minutes! I wanted to write this explanation of the process, so that when I show how I use it, I can refer back to this post.
But that’s the great thing about textile art – there’s so much room for individuality but we can all appreciate each other’s specialty, too!
I couldn’t agree more! I kinda mentally “check out” with such explanations, though. For the same reason I can’t wrap my head around why a body would use a “Statler” or “IQ” computerized quilting program……..or, for that matter, a stitch regulator!!! I really do love technology, though!!!!
Yeah, I check out of explanations too. Some of my posts are really meant just as reference material for the few people who might be wondering about something specific.
And I do know what a stitch regulator is, and have been wanting one, so I am interested in your view that they’re not that helpful. But I don’t even know what Statler and IQ are, and from your remark, I guess I don’t need to worry about that! I guess we all go down our own small paths in the big complicated world of technology! 🙂
I find that most people do fine w/o a stitch regulator with practice. It is a peculiar preference possibly.
It’s amazing what you can do with these things. I like your colorful finished creamer and I like the original creamer, too. Quite elegant.
You know how you go to the fabric store, and they never have exactly what you have in mind? Well, I am just creating tiny little pieces of dream fabric, and then I will add to them with borders, stitches, and beads.
Best wishes for health, happiness, peace, and prosperity to you and yours for 2015!
Thank you! I’m sure it was just coincidence that you stopped by my blog with New Year’s wishes on this day, but as I worked on this post, I was thinking of you and your “How I Did It” photo editing posts! 🙂
Amazing! Having failed miserably to get to grips with Photoshop Elements I shall refer to this as I try again – though my Elements programme is woefully out of date now!
I think it should work, because it just uses basic steps. I used Elements 3 for years, and was excited to upgrade to 12, but really, very few things changed. I think they added some “comic book” filters, and they did add a “smart tone” feature, but otherwise it didn’t change much. I was imagining that they would have come up with all kinds of new filters, but no.
If you do try it, let me know if I missed any steps or you need more help!
Marking this to go back to when I’ve had some sleep 😉 Long-time artist / designer / weaver who went back to college for Advertising & Graphic Design to learn how to speed up or replicate my work — ended up teaching instead. About time to start getting back to my my own stuff. Love your process — and admire your tenacity in figuring it out!
Thanks! I can get obsessed with an idea — I know I could go out and spend hours on the internet trying to see if anyone else has figured it out, but I would rather take that time and figure it out for myself. Although that is no guarantee I will remember how I did it later, so I have to write it all down! 🙂
What you’ve done here is spectacular and I love it. While I would like to try this myself, I’m afraid I’d spend hours trying to duplicate and still not get it. Since you’ve figured it out, I’ll continue to enjoy monitoring your progress!
I wish I could just sit with you and walk you through it! It’s really easy once you have some familiarity with Photoshop. Maybe someday!
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