Use Photoshop Elements to Analyze Your Favorite Artist

Art by Erin Gregory

My favorite artists change all the time. One I’m enamored with right now is Erin Gregory because she uses a lot of color, and I love color too! When I paint with watercolors, I arrange all my colors in a really large palette and just intuitively pull and mix on the fly.

I’ve never seen Erin’s palette, but I imagine she might do the same thing with acrylic. You don’t have to stop and “think” about creating a color, you just pull 2 or 3 colors and mix! Don’t like it? Wipe it off in the palette and go again. It’s very intuitive and liberating to work this way.

When I look at Erin’s art (right), I see a huge mass of color – it’s crazy chaotic looking, but it works and is very appealing. I wanted to see if I could unearth some method to the madness using Photoshop Elements (PSE). I found a lovely floral of hers to use in my test.

Just for fun, I reduced the black and white layer to 3 values: black, white and gray by using the Posterize filter set to three. Viewing the histogram, I calculated the percentage of black, white and gray. In this piece, Erin had 21% black, 35% white and 45% gray. You could almost say each value is about 1/3. Interesting, but this is just one piece of hers. I might have to look at a few more before I can really learn anything. All I know right now, is that the art looks good to me, in color and in black and white!

I used PSE’s Hue/Saturation panel to isolate colors (all steps below) to find the darkest (it was magenta) and lightest (it was a white yellow). It didn’t take long…maybe 30 minutes, but it was very informative. So, I gave my own art a test… I already know I like the ratio of lights and grays to be far more than Erin’s test. Here’s an acrylic I did – color version and “removed color” version. My values are mostly light, some medium and very little dark. I’ve been told I’m a high key artist – that is, I like to see lots of light values, some grays and very little dark. I think I like it because it’s very uplifting, cheerful and bright.

See how the pinks and green are almost the same shade of gray? That’s something I noticed by playing around with Erin’s image too.  I’ve heard other people say that if you look at your art and can’t figure out what’s wrong, look at it in black and white!

Art by Lynne Furrer

I was having so much fun with this analysis, I made a quick animation (see below). I can play it over and over to really “see” the buildup of color from dark to light. If you try it, please share in comments! (click the image below to open it larger). PS – remember not to copy other people’s art unless you are just practicing!

Steps using PSE to make an animation:

Note: all commands are Windows. For Mac users, I guess you already know how to convert. I count “Layer 1” as the bottom most layer.

  1. Find an artist’s image you want to analyze and open it with PSE. Click the Expert layout from the middle of your screen. Note: you can do this with the Big Daddy Photoshop too, but I don’t have that software, so you’ll have to figure you’re own way thru it.
  2. If not already open, use F11 to open the layers window. Create 6 copies of the original.
  3. Rename the top-most layer “original” – this is now Layer 7. Note: You’ll be modifying all layers underneath it, so be sure you don’t accidentally modify this layer. You can click the eye icon to turn it off if you want to be safe.
  4. Click the bottom layer (Layer 1) to activate it. Click Enhance>Adjust Color>Remove Color. You want this to be a value study layer. Rename the layer: B&W. Analyze the photo by toggling on/off the layer to see where the darkest colors are. This will give you a hint which color you want to isolate on the next layer.  Note: Do not use Enhance>Convert to Black and White… because PSE will modify values using its pre-built vignettes. You don’t want those. 
  5. Activate Layer 2. Use Ctrl-U to bring up the Hue/Saturation panel. In the drop down, there is a Master (all colors) and 6 individual colors. You won’t use Master in this process. You have an idea from the previous step which color was the darkest value. In my analysis, it was magenta. So I leave magenta at Saturation: 0 and move all other colors to Saturation: -100. Click OK. Rename Layer 2 as the first initial of your color. I renamed my layer M. Click the EYE icon to turn off this layer (very important).
  6. Activate Layer 3. Bring up the Hue/Saturation panel and leave Magenta (or your first color) at Saturation: 0. What do you think is the next darkest color? Don’t know? Hint: PSE puts the darker valued colors at the bottom of it’s drop down list! So it’s probably blue, but if not, use the saturation slider for every color and observe which color is being used in the level that’s a little bit lighter than the darkest color you did in Layer 2. Once you decide, leave that color and your first color (mine was magenta) as saturation: 0. Move all other colors to -100. Rename the layer M+B (your first color initial + second color initial) and turn the eye icon off.
  7. Repeat the last step for all other steps until you only have yellow left to do. I chose not to do a layer for yellow OR white because I know those are the lightest value colors and they show up on Layer 7 which was my original image.
  8. Save your file as a .psd but leave it open in PSE. Now, let’s make the animation…
  9. Click File>Save for Web… In the panel, select GIF, check the animate box, reduce your file size to something that’s not too big, use Forever as the loop, and change the timing to 0.9. At right is how my panel looked.
  10. Now, the fun part! At the bottom of the panel is a recorder menu. Click the play arrow (solid black triangle) and watch what you made! Click SAVE and store it somewhere so we can get it again.
  11. Is your animation too small? You can drag your panel window to make it bigger and there is a -+ button in the lower left corner which will resize your image in the window. You can also preview it in a browser, BUT you need to have your browser setup first. You’ll need to get that help from the Photoshop site. (if the link doesn’t work, you’ll have to research it on your own)
  12. You have already saved your .gif animation file. Anytime you want to revisit the animation, use the last 2 steps.
  13. Optional: Some colors may be really hard to see, which means they were not heavily used in the artwork. Cyan was not heavily used in the artwork I analyzed, but I wanted to see it in my animation. I went back to the layer where I added cyan and moved the saturation to +50 (it was zero) which really made it easier to see in the animation. Funny thing happened when I did – I liked it better than the original artwork! Now there’s an idea…*wink.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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