I can’t draw

130429 Cityscape

…but Photoshop’s shape tools provide big-time help to this artistically-challenged person.

I’m using as my guide the All About Shape Layers chapter in Layers: The Complete Guide to Photoshop’s Most Powerful Feature authored by Matt Kloskowski. Though I’ve made a few changes, my creation is a close imitation of Kloskowski’s example. I hope the accompanying layer panel (near the end of the post) will help clarify the process.

There are essentially four steps:

1. Use various shape techniques to create the background cityscape. Feel free to use an iconic image or a photo of your favorite city as inspiration for this step. The basic idea is to use Photoshop’s shape tool to create rectangles and then use the tool’s add and subtract features to simulate the general features of several buildings. Additional steps include grouping the separate cityscape shapes for easier handling, reducing the opacity of the cityscape, and resizing as necessary to better fit the focal image

2. Add depth and interest to your creation by transforming your own images into shapes. The image I’m using is a cathedral we saw on a day trip in Cartagena, Colombia during our 2010 Panama Canal cruise.

  • Since shapes only recognize solid colors, the focal image must be rendered to high-contrast black and white via Image>Adjustments>Threshold (the example specified 100 but I ended up setting mine a bit higher due to the light sky in the image).
  • Use Select>Color Range>Shadows and click OK to select the blacks in the photo.
  • From the Paths panel (Window>Path), click on the Make Work Path from Selection icon, choose Define Custom Shape, and then name the shape.
  • Return to the main cityscape window. From the Shapes tool, click on Custom Shape Tool>Shape and then scroll to the bottom of the Shape Picker menu to locate your newly created shape. Position and resize the shape to fit the overall layout. [Remember, too, to save your custom shape for subsequent use.]

3. Use other built-in or custom shapes to complement the overall design. I added Photoshop’s quarter moon shape, set its color to a watery yellow, reduced its opacity, and then rotated the shape so it framed the upper right corner of my layout. Layer-wise, the moon is set behind the cathedral so I added a layer mask in order to mask out the portion of the moon that showed through the transparent portions of the cathedral shape.

4. Add a title. This one is fairly simple.

  • The main title is set to Impact 36 with tracking (via Photoshop’s Character panel) expanded to 100 (this retains the vertical scale of the lettering but allows more horizontal space between each letter than standard tracking). I also reduced the opacity of the title to 80% to minimize its brightness compared to the rest of the layout.
  • The subtitle is set to Letter Gothic 14 at 100% opacity. Tracking is set to -75 to compress the space between each letter so the subtitle will fit better with the main title. I also duplicated this layer to add visual weight without adding the width that comes with bolding text.

Cityscape Layers Panel

Posted for Brenda’s Third Thursday Challenge, an opportunity for photography and post-processing enthusiasts to show off their latest endeavors. Click on the link to see what Brenda and others have on offer this month and, most important, come along and join the fun.

6 thoughts on “I can’t draw

  1. So cool! I can’t draw at all(or use Photoshop). That’s something I want to learn. Thanks for stopping by!! You could do a gallery wall anywhere in your house, doesn’t need to be two story. 🙂


  2. I had no idea you were so technologically savvy, Wanda! This is just amazing. I have so much to learn … if I retired from work now there still wouldn’t be enough time! A stunning piece of art.

  3. I can’t draw either: the picture of my house in my blog banner is a photo turned into a sketch with Photoshop!

    I wanted to thank you for the lovely letter quote you left for me. That’s perfect.

  4. Wanda – and here you are playing in YOUR Photoshop sandbox! I love the results you have achieved with this shape experimentation. Very bold and graphic – while still retaining the architectural details of the cathedral. Photoshop’s shape features aren’t something that I have played with very much – I think I definitely need to have a shape play date. Thanks so much for sharing your steps and for joining in with the Third Thursday Challenge. I learn so much from each of you.

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