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October 2012

October 2012 -- Magic



  • Ask an Artist:
    Questions of Social Media
  • Artist Spotlight:
    Interview with Pierre Carles
  • Behind the Art:


  • Half the Story: DPI
  • Magic Effects


  • Fiction: The Sound Down by the Shore

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  • Magic Effects
    by Jenny Heidewald

    What is magic? When I was young, I saw my mother drawing and the appearance of an image on the blank paper was magic to me.

    In the human mind, "magic" can be the new or unexplained, or phenomenon not understood through one's normal experience with the physical or natural world. Many of our technological advances that we take for granted today would be unfathomable to someone from a century ago, let alone two or three. Could you imagine someone from two thousand years ago seeing an airplane? "Surely it must be the gods!" In science fiction, many authors explore how our technology seems like magic to those who have never encountered it before. Many cultures had medicine men and women, people who were said to commune with spirits or gods, or predict or foresee the future. In fantasy worlds, magic abounds, with wizards, witches, sorceresses, sorcerers, conjurers, and a host of magical beings too numerous to list all here. A key element of all fantasy is the manner in which it differs from the world and experiences to which we are accustomed, much like the "alternate" way the world functions in a magical setting.

    These days the term "magic" in the real world is associated with sleight of hand, illusionism, and trickery. Though we are on average more educated and sophisticated now, the human mind is still capable of the wonder that comes with magicians. Levitation! Disappearing elephants! Sawing women in half! Harry Houdini is regarded as the most famous magician, but was better known for daring escapes, such as escaping from a water-filled box after being put into restraints. Other famous magicians of the modern illusionist definition include Thurston, Blackstone, Cardini, David Copperfield, and the duo of Penn and Teller. A true "magician" engineers a willing suspension of belief by the audience in his performance but acknowledges the deception involved; less scrupulous illusionists have used their craft in dishonest ways, to deceive trusting people with medical quackery or claims of religious powers or spiritual favor. Is it possible that the Merlin the Magician was simply a very talented trickster for his time?

    Showing Magic in Art

    For ink drawings, you can add a little bit of sparkle with star like figures; I usually do an asterisk or a plus sign without a middle.

    You can also do squiggly lines to denote magic.

    Traditional Watercolor

    I love working in watercolor, but I will be the first to admit that the salt effect has never worked for me the way I wanted! Stephanie Pui-Mun Law is probably the most proficient fantasy watercolorist to use this effect that I know of. In the following picture, I have used different paint colors, and different salts, table salt, coarse salt and a soft clumpy sea salt. I tried putting the salt on at different times. Experimentation is the key, and be sure to let the paper dry thoroughly.

    You can also use rubbing alcohol into a wet wash; this produces somewhat the same effect, the alcohol chasing the pigment away from the place it was applied. I have included a link to a video demonstration of both techniques in the resources section.


    Computer photo programs are handy for making magic effects. For example, you can make a bokah brush. "Bokah" is a Japanese term used in photography where the background is out of focus creating soft blurs of any lights.

    I made my brush with Adobe Photoshop elements 2.0; the tutorial creator has a program with more bells and whistles. I adjusted as many of the settings that I could find in my program and ended up with similar results. Adjusting the hardness of the brush and the fading adds depth to your image; I used a variety of different settings and sizes of the brush. This would be a very good effect for little faerie trails, or snow, it works the best on a darker background. I have included a link to the tutorial in the resources section.

    There are many brushes available for Photoshop online; the one that I use was made by Rachael Tallamy, and I have included a link to it in resources. If you have the option, set your brush to "airbrush", then click and hold for a few seconds; it will make the sparkles brighter. The soft round brush of this set also makes a good bokah brush when you set the scatter and spacing higher.

    Walk Through

    So let's put some of this information into use! I do the usual scanning and cleaning of line art, when that is ready I drag it to an 8.5 x 11" new "paper".

    This line layer I set to multiply so that I can see what I am doing on the layers under it. After that I flood fill the background layer with a dark color (make sure you have the line art layer hidden before flood filling to get the whole background), and add another layer between the line and background layers. It helps to name them all, I named this one "glow background". I will also make layers for her skin, clothes and the magic I plan to have between her hands. I lock the line layer so that I don't accidentally work on it. Next, I pop in a few bokah lights, but it is so dark that I need to fill in some of the sorceress to get an idea of where things are headed.

    To make this easier I make another layer and put it right below the line layer, and flood fill it with white. I also add in the different layers for her skin and clothes.

    A handy trick is to use the wand select tool to pick all the areas you want to color in. If you hold "shift" you can add to the first selection you make (alt for subtracting from your selection), also you can leave the line layer up and select the areas on the layer you will be coloring. Depending on what you are going for, you'll have to clean up the edges of the selections later, but it makes it a lot faster to color when you don't have to worry about going outside your lines.

    Another thing you can do is save a selection, in my version of Photoshop it is under the "select" dropdown menu. I am planning to fill all flat colors first, so this will be handy for me; I won't have to keep selecting areas individually.

    I start adding in textures and a different range of hues.

    I add in the base of the magic effect. I am using Rachael Tallamy's
    soft round brush set to high scatter and color jitter. I adjusted the original colors using the hue/saturation option. I feel that her clothes are too bright and saturated, I want the magic to pop, so I decrease the lightness and saturation, a grey cloak works better.

    I make another layer for the magic, and use a large soft brush set to low transparency to add in some mist behind the magic band. I also use a sparkle brush from Rachael Tallamy's set. I decide that I don't like the yellow and adjust the hue and saturation of the yellow layer, to make it an aqua.

    I decide that the grey cloak needs another adjustment; I use the hue/saturation option to change it to a darker blue. I continue to work on different elements, her skin and hair. The magic color still bothers me, so I duplicate the bokah light layer and use the dodge tool on highlight to drop a lighter spot in each one. I adjust the hue/saturation yet again. I feel the background isn't dramatic enough, so I get rid of the original bokah lights, and then added in yellows and oranges with a brush called "cloud". I use this brush with a high jitter and scatter setting to get a great texture; it is good for skin as well. I add in some dull purple around the edges to reduce the stark contrast between the just added yellows and oranges and the original burgundy background color. This adds a smoky look, which works to heighten the impression of fire.

    Now I must tackle the reflection of the different lights. I really like working with saturated colors, but the blue light would be better with a grayish color. I desaturate the sorceress, and work on the clothing folds; I start working on the lines, to fade them out. I add another layer to the top of the picture and use a textured brush, adjusted to different transparencies at various times.

    I work on all the details, add in the gems for the jewelry, I also make her hands blue, outlining her fingers to connect the magic to her.

    She is looking good, but she needs that little bit of extra oomph. I work on her face and chest, adding in bolder blue highlights. Next, I add backlight from the fire to simulate sparks flying, and I put in some texture to the fire layer. I include a few more blue highlights to her dress. After much more detail tweaking, she is finally done!

    Here is an comparison between line and finished art.

    In Closing

    In addition to traditional books, there are many tutorials on the web that will help you explore the world of digital and traditional magic effects. A good understanding of how light works makes it easier to depict magic effects, also, if a technique doesn't work at first, try, try again!

    References and Resources

    The Illustrated History of Magic, by Milbourne Christopher

    Dreamscapes, Creating Magical Angel, Faery & Mermaid Worlds with Watercolor, by Stephanie Pui-Mun Law

    Make Your Own Bokeh Brush, by *Planet37

    Mythical Brush Set, by Rachael Tallamy

    Radiant Glow Effect, by ~zummerfish

    Magic Bubble tutorial, by Apofisse

    Creating Glitter - Tutorial, by LouisaGallie

    Salt and Alcohol

    Watercolour 3: Tricks, by Jenny Dolfen

    Watercolor: Salt and alcohol demonstration, by emscottarttube

    Jenny Heidewald is one of those self-taught artists that has been drawing since she was little; she remembers the exact moment she decided that she wanted to be an artist. Interestingly enough, it was while watching her mom draw the hand of God reaching from the clouds to His followers. Jenny was floored, it seemed to be magic, an image appearing out of nowhere. She thought, "I want
    to do THAT!" In addition to writing for EMG-zine, Jenny is a prolific artist who has worked in many mediums. Her current favorite technique is working with colored micron pens, and coloring either with watercolor or Photoshop. Jenny lives in Maryland with her husband. Please check out her Sketchfest, Portrait Adoption, Deviant Art, and Elfwood pages.

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