October 18, 2014

Digital Collage: I Dream of Texas

I thought it might be illuminating to describe how I put together the photo illustration I created to go with my previous post.

I started with an idea based on an image of the dream itself: Mary standing behind her grandfather, who was dressed in a suit and laid out on a steel table, with a map of Texas behind them. I thought that might be a little too macabre, not to mention too time-consuming, so instead I skimmed through Morguefile for pictures of women who looked vaguely like Mary as she appeared in my dream.

This is the image I started with:

I chose this picture because the girl looks very neutral: blank wall, neutral expression.
I'll be able to alter her appearance however I need to.

In my dream, Mary was sickly-looking and had bad acne. So instead of using Photoshop to make someone look better, in this case, I was trying to make her look worse. I did that by
  • Scaling the photo horizontally, then using the Liquify filter on her face to make her thinner.
  • Using the techniques described in this photo retouching tutorial to add shadows on her cheeks and under her eyes.
  • Using the stamp tool to take acne from another photo and add it to her face. I set the acne layer to overlay so it blended naturally.
  • Changed her hair from red to blonde using Image > Replace Color.
And here's how she looked after that:

Mary's had a rough few months.

Then I used the patch tool, stamp, burn tool, and brush to remove the glare on her glasses. After a little more Liquifying to shorten her chin and enlarge her eyes, I saved the picture as a flat PSD file.

I found a great old map of Texas on Wikimedia Commons that I wanted to use as the background. This tutorial on selecting hair was exactly what I needed to create the composite. 

If you look carefully, you can see I didn't do a perfect job selecting her hair,
but I figured it was close enough for my purposes.
Now the really fun part: changing all the colors to make it look crazy and dreamlike! I used the layer effects palette to add a gradient fill over Texas. Then I created a layer above but below the photo, filled it with green, loaded the photo's layer mask as a selection,  and expanded and feathered it the selection to make a shadow mask. This helped the photo stand out from the background better.

The green shadow layer is set to Multiply.
Mary's face still didn't look nearly as red as it did in my dream, so I again loaded the layer mask as a selection, created a new layer above the photo, and filled the selection with hot pink. I tried several different blending modes for the layer, and liked the way Hard Mix looked (Vivid Light and Color Burn are two other modes I tend to favor).

Girl, that color really brings out the texture in your zits!
The color looked great, but there wasn't enough detail, so I copied the original photo and put it on top with the blending mode set to Screen to capture the higlights.

Almost there...

Then, just one more layer to add the shadows and some of the natural color back in: another copy of the photo set to Multiply. Voila!

Here are the layers palettes from the two files I created.

October 17, 2014

The Texas of my Dreams

I have a lot of dreams that I think are interesting, but every time I consider sharing one I remember what Sheri Lynch said about dreams. To paraphrase, "When someone tells me about a dream they had, all I hear is 'Blah, blah, blah, this didn't really happen.'" But I figure no one is making you read this blog, so if you don't want to hear about something that didn't really happen, stop now.

In this dream, a couple who are friends of mine - let's call them Tom and Mary - had moved from South Carolina to Texas. After being away for almost a year, they came back to South Carolina for a visit. Mary's aunt had a get-together for them at her house, and all their friends showed up to see them. 

Texas life had not been kind to Tom and Mary. Mary, thin to begin with, had lost a lot of weight and looked pinched. She was suffering a terrible acne breakout that had turned her beautiful face red and shiny. Meanwhile, Tom had gained weight. His skin looked awful, too, his face weathered as if he'd spent every day out in the sun. His cheeks were beginning to sag, giving him a sort of jowly, bulldog look.

We sat in Mary's aunt's cheerful but modest living room. The furniture was mostly white-painted wicker with colorful striped cushions. Sunlight poured in the windows which covered both long walls of the rectangular room, making it almost seem that we were sitting outside. The aunt had set her eclectic collection of chairs around the edges of the room, facing inward, so everyone could talk. It wasn't a huge party, there were about twenty of us there. Some people sat on cushions on the floor, and Tom sat on top of the drink cooler.

I asked Mary how she liked Texas, and she said their first few months there had been really hard. Her grandfather, who also lived in Texas, had died. But because of some sort of new regulation, there was a shortage of coroners across Texas, and he couldn't be buried without a coroner. So she'd had to get on a waiting list for a coroner to come see him.

I asked if she could have called a coroner from another state, but Mary said that coroners from nearby states were refusing to come to Texas, and she wasn't allowed to leave the state with his body, so they were stuck. She had to wait three weeks after her grandfather died before she was able to bury him.

During the rest of the party, Mary spent time on her aunt's computer. It was set up on a little cream-colored desk at one end of the living room. Mary searched for jobs, anything to allow them to leave Texas, and Skyped with her mother back home who was taking care of Tom and Mary's children. Tom sat on the cooler looking beaten down by life, drinking from a red Solo cup and not saying much.

October 15, 2014

Poem: The Path

Have you ever had one of those times in your life where you can sense that everything around you is changing? Your best friend moves away or your business downsizes or someone close to you dies. The changes snowball as your group of friends stops meeting up, coworkers leave for other jobs, or family traditions end.

How do you find that happy place again? Do you try and restore what's been broken or leave in search of new friends, new work, new traditions? The answer is different in each situation. When I see the changes coming, though, my instinct is usually to hold on to what used to be good, and try to make it into something good again.

Adapted from a photo by Houston Marsh

I have come up
From the green and fertile valley.
Ahead of me I see
A desert wasteland,
But for the path I walk,
Desolately winding
Through gray rock and dust.
If I stay upon this path
I'll walk a harder road; harder, yes,
Than any I have known before.
It's tempting - I'm tempted
To abandon this journey
Here and now:
Begin anew somewhere else,
Someplace green and welcoming.
I see the faded footprints
Of those who came before me
And turned aside.
I understand.
But if I do, if I do not
Traverse this desert,
I will forever wonder
Where this path I've chosen might have led.
What miracles may lie
Beyond this dreary road?
I have to know.
I will know.
I take a single step