Creating a Graphite & Watercolor Poster in Photoshop

You may have noticed that fine arts have been making their way into graphic design in a big way over the last few years. Graphite, watercolor, acrylics, and scanned-in textures are sprouting up everywhere, even corporate design (historically the last group to the party). I personally love the look of graphite and find myself emulating the look of my trusty 3H pencil quite a bit. But when I was commissioned to create a poster for a local band, I decided that I would attempt to create almost all of the elements by hand, and composite them all together using Photoshop.

Paper plane thing!
The handcrafted paper plane…logo…thing.

This entry will serve less as a tutorial, and more as a mind and skill-expanding concept, hopefully. Sharing how I went about this will hopefully give you some ideas for future projects and show how you can make something completely unique, using all the skills you already have!

The Concept

Bands are great to work with because, being artists themselves, they’re usually pretty quick to give me creative freedom. As long as their design work or photography “feels” like their music, they’ll be thrilled.

Pro Tip: When working on band’s promotional materials, LISTEN TO THEIR MUSIC WHILE YOU WORK! I can’t stress how important this is, as the general feel of your work will reflect their style much more, even if it happens subconsciously. It’s an easy way to stay on the same page as your client.

This particular band, Venetian Aircraft, gave me the green light to come up with something on my own. They make somewhat more psychedelic music, and I knew they were partial to paisley patterns, so there had to be some of that in the concept. They also really liked the idea of having all their members actually being depicted in some way on the poster. I knew this was going to be a CMYK digital print, as opposed to a screen-print, so there wouldn’t be color limitations, as well. Their homegrown sound lent itself nicely to having a more handmade look, so I decided to use that idea to continue.

Making The Band

While I continued to figure out just what I wanted to be in the background, I knew I was going to need a good shot of the band. I went to one of their practices and took shots of them separately so I could composite them together as I see fit. I roughly laid them out and then traced their contour lines using my Wacom tablet.

Digitally tracing the band.

I then decided that in order to make it all look “more human,” I should print out the digital trace I had just finished and trace over it onto tracing paper with a pencil. I then scanned the sheet of tracing paper back into Photoshop.

After scanning the tracing paper, it’s important to boost the contrast quite a bit. The graphite will look less gray and more black after adjustment, but the trade off is that your line quality will be preserved and even accentuated beautifully. I worked with my image levels until I was happy with my lines, and then used the Wand tool in combination with the Quick Mask mode to clear out the scanned paper, so I just had my outlines.

This is after the graphite trace.

I could now begin to color on a separate layer. I decided to go with more retro colors, as I knew I was going to use a natural tan as the background color for the poster and the color scheme would work nicely with it. Again, I used my Wacom tablet to get rough colors in, but then modified them with a watercolor texture (you can get these everywhere online) which I changed to the Overlay blending mode on top of the color layer. This gives the watercolor effect I was looking for, and this same technique was used for all the colored elements in the project.
Here's the workflow!

The Planes! The Planes!

At this point, I knew I wanted to incorporate more hand-traced elements, so I ran a quick search for all different kinds of aircraft. After seeing just a few, I knew this idea would work. For this process, I would bring the image into Photoshop, adjust it so it was easier to see the components, and then print out and trace it onto tracing paper as before. I wanted to have them hanging from ropes, so I would use another sheet of tracing paper to draw the ropes as I wanted them. This way I could have more layers to arrange which makes for more flexibility in creating the final design!

I colored the planes white with a little gray for definition, as I knew this combination would work well with the tan background. I then stole an image from Sonic The Hedgehog in order to have a quirky-looking cloud to trace and bring into the design, and used the same color scheme as the planes.

Some plane, a little cloud, all the good stuff.

I got lucky and found a sheet of gift wrapping tissue paper with a really unique paisley pattern on it. I scanned it in and added it to the background after changing the blending mode to Luminosity and adding a nice gradient overlay adjustment (again, the more control you have in your files, the better).

Sometimes life is pretty cool.

Finishing Touches

Finally, for the text, I used Photoshop to create the perspective and layout that I wanted, printed it out and traced it like I did with all the other elements. I decided to make the band’s logo into a paper plane to go with the theme, and then added a dotted line to show a flight path. A few slight adjustments (adding some grain and color tweaks), and the project was done!

I certainly hope this loose form of tutorial shows you some of the options you can use for your next creative project. This poster got me started in working with scanned in elements like felt and fabric and I feel it adds so much to my designs. Leave a comment and let me know what you think!

Looking all epic and whatnot. Lucky ducks.

Click here to see a bigger version of the finished product!

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