Tag Archives: photoshop

Warholized Graphic Rendering

Miley Cyrus Kraptwerk

Andy Warhol created iconic high-contrast re-renderings of Jackie Onassis, Elvis, Mao and others. I’ll show how to do this in Photoshop.

The Miley Cyrus VMA spectacle provided a golden opportunity for this rendering style; which can be as tight or loose as you want.  I located the assets, used the original Kraftwerk album cover as a guide. Then it was the high-contrast Warhol-serigraph technique to punch it out of contemporary event photography, same for the Donald Duck repeats which mimic the Jonas Bros, who are subbing in for the original band. The type treatment was a loose-fit on the original.

building the file

This technique uses:

  • Threshold
  • Masks
  • Solid Color layers that clip to whatever area you mask.

Masks can be added or subtracted to without destroying original pixel data. Previous tutorials on this focused on duping layers, and then hacking out each area before applying Threshold to render continuous tones into a high contrast-tonal statement.

Working with masks mimics Dave Lefner’s reduction linoleum print strategy. Or, if you’re ancient enough to remember cutting rubyliths, you’ll be right at home.

How to clip layers

  1. Open or create an image that has several layers.
  2. Hold down Option (Alt on the PC) and position your mouse cursor over the line dividing two layers in the Layers panel.
  3. Your cursor changes to two overlapping circles with a small arrow icon. You can also choose Layer→Create Clipping Mask or choose the same command from the Layers panel menu.

Working with Masks

  1. Start masks big and work toward small
  2. Keep the clipping tight, 1px edge
  3. Punch holes in masks by either filling with white or black depending if you want a color to reveal or conceal
  4. Dupe the master layer and bury it. You’ll make a mistake, and its good to have a backup
  5. Clipped layers are layers that are linked directly to the layer beneath it. Here its whatever solid color/gradient to the mask in question.
  6. Set color to multiply to get the color/black combo you need.
  7. Control saturation with layer opacity

I started with a PS6 doc 907 x 960px, a Facebook album size. My source was Kraftwerk’s “Robots” album. It had the graphic elements necessary to pull this lampoon off. Yes, its wildly low-rez, all it needs to be is a guide.

background and color layers

background and color layers


Miley and Thick masked, but still in their native full color.

Threshold applied, Adjust to preferences.

Threshold applied, Adjust to preferences.

Threshold applied, Adjust to preferences. Masks with colors not yet activated above, but waiting.Threshold applied, Adjust to preferences. Masks with colors not yet activated above, but waiting.

Close up of masks showing conceals/reveals and clipped color layers.

Close up of masks showing conceals/reveals and clipped color layers.


The starter mask in all its glory.

Miley Cyrus Kraptwerk

Miley Cyrus Kraptwerk, finished.

Add type layers and graphic elements as needed. The added Donald Ducks, are each on a separate layer. Same for the Jonas Brothers on the right. The original source album below:

Kraftwerk "Robots" album cover.

Kraftwerk “Robots” album cover.

Creating the “100 Mile Runners Book”


Cover: Jussi Hamalainen, 66. 2012 Angeles Crest 100
Jussi has finished all 25 AC100s. He won it twice, and all but 4 of his
finishes were less than 24 hours. July 22, 2012. Loma Alta Park, Altadena CA.

I started this project in the summer of 2008. After fits and starts, I paused on it in November 2012. It was 100 pages, ambitious, and still not working. I paused to work on LA:2012.

Fast-forward to several weeks ago. I had a conversation with an outdoor lifestyle photographer I’ve worked with before. The project got new impetus when I realized it had to get done well before the end of June, when the 40th anniversary of the Western States 100.

I looked at what I’d done up to November—HATED IT. Too long, bloated , etc. Using the example of “La Jetee“, which incidentally, is one of the 10 best films ever made, and only 27 minutes long. Make it concise, direct, and emotionally powerful.

LAYOUT Tech Details

Using blurb’s Book Creator has accelerated things enormously. Ballpark the number of pages you’re going to need. Create the pages document.


Blurb Book Creator

Churn through your revisions, etc. When you get to final, this is where the fun starts. You’re going to want to upload a PDF file that is completely void of PostScript and OpenType references. Otherwise your PDF and ebook will suffer bizarro font substitutions.

  1. Go to the Book Creator and generate the appropriate cover art
  2. Revise and correct as necessary
  3. Make identical copies of both Pages and Cover documents
  4. Convert all fonts to outlines.
  5. All folios have to be outlined on each page, not on the master pages. Otherwise you’ll have the placeholder letter from whatever master-page you’ve used.
  6. Check, re-check and double-check that you don’t have text and caption boxes that got overlooked when you converted. These will pass the preflight, but will set off alarms at the ebook conversion part. The good news is that you’ve got 15 days to pay blurb before they flush your file. Don’t order anything until you’re absolutely sure that your files are clean. If you screw up, delete the file, correct, re-upload for free.


Follow the blurb cues for pre-flighting and uploading your files. The image resolution preflight is solid. Now you’re ready to upload.

  • Write a snappy capsule description of your book. Have it ready in a free-floating text doc somewhere. You’ll be using it. When I’m uploading, I can brain-fart and forget something.
  • Have a tag list that describes your opus. Relevant descriptors like subject, location, details that will help people find your book.

If you have both a print book and an ebook, blurb has an annoying aspect that you cannot modify the description once both are uploaded. Sucks, but that’s a fact. You’ll have a URL for each format, like this for my book:

blurb ebook window

blurb ebook window

blurb book window

blurb book window

Hot pink circles show how the two different formats link up. Post both URLs, some people are gonna want one and not the other.

Now, on to the next project.

Due Diligence

rail crossing

Rail crossing, San Joaquin Valley, Dec 2010

Over the years at various jobs, I had downtime. Sometimes for several minutes, occasionally for days, even a week or two. Reading the papers got old. So I began to practice working on problems.

In the paste-up days, I’d xerox and make assemblages. It kept me nimble. Later when the agency I worked at went digital, I’d set up problems and situations for myself in Quark. Yes Quark, the Error 39 Dark Star of my firmament. While the guys next door were sitting in their office with their fantasy baseball leagues, I was skulling out the business of how this goddamned program worked.

Sooner rather than later, I began to encounter actual old-school typographers who’d washed up into ad agencies. They worked with the invisibles on, frames and all. I was hooked. They willingly taught me about style-sheets. Often times I’d outrun the then-feeble processing capacity of the machines I was working on.

As a freelancer I always had to stay ahead of the full-timers. They had a certain security, while I could be more obviously bounced. That is an unfortunate trade-off, one less and less certain as each new day passes in these grim times.

I too became complacent. Until one day I realized I need to know a whole lot more about Photoshop. So off to night-school I went, and discovered that for over fifteen years I was a mouse gnawing my way around a very large cheese. I’d never cored into the program.

Now I was scared. I went to school for the next 2-1/2 years. Always night, on my own dime. That way I didn’t owe shit to anybody. I’d hear from guys I’d worked with over the years the following statements. You might know them too:

  • I’d go to class if somebody paid for it
  • I’ve been meaning to do this
  • It’s too expensive
  • This shit’s too hard

When I started into Photoshop night school, it was about 18 months before the economy went straight into the shitter. I had several classes, one of which was blighted by a perfect storm of self-centered overtalkers, in over-their-head clueless, and some people who just didn’t take it seriously. One night, I’d had enough, and opened up a can of whoop-ass.

“For those in this class who haven’t noticed, the economy is about to go into the toilet. There are some of us in here who would like to live in a better quality of cardboard box than at present. If you don’t have anything positive to contribute, I’m going to ask you to [shut the fuck up], because your talking disrespects the professor, your classmates, and mainly yourselves…”

Dead silence.

The situation improved slightly. The instructor’s hands are tied, because they can’t tell these idiots to shut the fuck up, because then said idiots would cry that their rights had somehow been violated, and so on. For the record, I’m a stone-cold liberal, but this manner of disrespect I will not abide.

Time took care of them. By 2009 the poseurs and clueless were gone, replaced by a full class sitting stock still, eyes forward, terrified by the economic apocalypse unfolding daily. However the “Special Olympics” mentality is deeply entrenched. Too many expect somehow that just showing up gets them a finisher medal, and a victory lap around the track.

And that’s when getting into a community college was easy. Now that education funding has cratered,  just try getting into those classes. They are probably twice as expensive, and half as long as they were before.

What are your choices? Maybe its what you have to do.

But back to my working life. I make war on bad layouts inside the InDesign Creative Suite, currently 5. I taught myself the mysteries of tables, because where I work, they live and die by them. And I was fed up with working on weird-ass legacy documents where the previous operators had glued all kinds of random shit together with drawn rules, color boxes, tab-delimited text boxes, floating in an ambiguous space, with no definite margins.

Which you’ll never see if you work with the invisibles off.

Here’s the bottom line, ducklings: if you think your skills are the end-all and be-all, you are sorely mistaken. Because they probably aren’t. So if you aren’t going to school, and you go home and drink, watch whatever’s on TV, maybe you ought to slice off an hour and begin to study a problem. Put it on a flash drive, and take it to work, and when shit ain’t happening, study it there too.

All this is out on the webs. Ask the question. And here’s the hook: When you’re sitting at work, surfing, you’re slack. You’re not engaged. Eventually people notice.

But this requires a spark of intellectual curiosity.

So. What are you going to do about it?

Faking It

Foreign Policy Blog

Kim Jong Il. Image source: Foreign Policy "Passport"

This week the reappearance of Kim Jong-Il in a group shot excited some controversy. Not in the august presence of the Beloved Leader, but by inconsistent shadows and details in the image.


Detail. Image source: Foreign Policy "Passport"

This example highlights aspects of concept and execution. I suspect the hapless Photoshop retoucher responsible for this may have ended his/her career on this one. Or, as others have suggested, maybe they were stuck with an elderly copy of Photoshop 2, which was layer-deficient until PS3 or so.

By definition, all photos of Kim Jong Il are faked in some way. This is in the intellectual DNA of North Korea in particular, but shared by all totalitarian states.

I was always intrigued by the photo textures of Communist leader-photos: Mao, Hoxha [Albania], Stalin, and all the Eastern European thugs in the ’50s thru the 80’s. And all this was old-school razor & airbrush fakery.

The most egregious Stalinist/Soviet examples are found in “The Commissar Vanishes”.

Lest anybody in the audience think that Western regimes are immune, guess again. My favorite anecdote involved a Spanish postmaster who had a forbidden gallery of Francisco Franco portraits taken down from the wall, and not returned to Madrid. All getting steadily older. He would contemplate them on occasion, and take solace that someday, Franco would die.*

*New Yorker article, mid-70s.