The importance of cleaning up your work

Well, the semester is finally wrapping up.  Actually it seems like it went by quicker than I would have ever expected.  One of the more important points I learned about this semester was how to clean up scanned work and make it look more professional.  Below is one example, a watercolor and color pencil drawing I did in the spring of 2009.  The drawing is big enough that it was difficult to use a scanner, so I took a picture of it and left it at that until now.

how to clean up your work: the before and after

For the benefit of anyone who is learning Photoshop, here’s a little walk through of what I did to clean up this image:

First I duplicated the background image.  This is always a good first step when cleaning up an image because if you mess anything up, you still have the original to work with.  In this case, I think I also played with the Transformation and Warp tool because the paper was curved in the photo and I wanted to straiten out the border.

Then, I set the white point. I think the single most useful tool I learned this semester was the “sample in image to set white point” tool found in both the curves and levels tools.  For those who don’t know, curves and levels are tools that can be found under Image > Adjustments in Photoshop and you can set the white point by clicking on the little white eyedropper.  You then click on part of the image that ‘should’ be white (so in the example above I would click on the gray area of the paper).

Sometimes setting the white point can change the image drastically.  To fix this, I’ll either fiddle with the opacity and blending modes (trying ‘lighten’ or ‘multiply’ for example) or I’ll create a clipping mask.  Usually the clipping mask tool appears as a circle within a square at the bottom of the layers tab.  Using a black brush on the clipping mask, I can simply paint out parts of the layer to reveal the original below.

Beyond that, it’s just a matter of adding more layers with Curves, Levels, and sometimes Color Balance changes and layering them together until I get something I like.   Then, of course, I reworked the text.   The finishing touch is the watermark, which is always a battle between what will prevent people from stealing but what won’t interfere with the work too much.

And thus concludes my little rambling walk through about how I clean up my work.  Hopefully, someone finds this useful.

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