Dion Moult Seriously who ever reads this description.

The GIMP metal wires and abstract background tutorial.

Every WIPUP release, an abstract art splash image is created to commemorate it. Whenever I create one of these my preferred tool of choice is The GIMP. Although in many ways The GIMP isn’t as "powerful" as Photoshop, I still manage to do stuff I’d like to do with it. My recent splash image used a few tricks that I will share here which may be useful to others. Before we begin, this is the thing we’re going to learn how to create:

The first step is the wires. Let’s start with a black background and white foreground. Create a curved line via the pen tool, select a circle brush of a nice thick size, Edit->Stroke Path, Stroke with a Paint Tool (Paintbrush, do not emulate brush dynamics), and we’d end up with something like this.

Duplicate this layer, because we’d need this shape twice – once for the segments of the wire, and another time for the wire itself that joins the segments together. The next step is to cut out the segments. Create a white rectangle which covers the height of a single segment in a new layer, duplicate the layer and move it down. Keep on doing this until you have filled the entire screen. To make it faster you can merge layers together then duplicate the merged layer. Here is an image to show what I mean:

When done, merge all of the horizontal stripes into a single layer, right click on the layer -> Alpha to selection, select one of your wire layers, invert the selection (ctrl-I) and press delete. You may now delete the horizontal stripes layer. Here’s what you should end up with:

The next step is to create the metal gradient on the wire. Duplicate your segments layer twice. So we will have three layers in total – segments, copy 1, and copy 2. Invert the original segments layer to make it black (it will be invisible against the black background, so I have made the background grey in my next picture). Gaussian blur copy1 and copy2. Gaussian blur (Filters->Blur->Gaussian Blur) one more than the other in order to set the light direction. The benefit of doing this rather than simply stroking with a gradient brush is that you can slightly shear the gaussian blurred layers to create a less uniform gradient, and thus more realistic gradient. Then move copy2 to the right, and copy1 to the left. Use the left and right arrow keys. We will end up with something like this (zoomed in and cropped):

Right click on your black original segments layer (underneath), and do Alpha to selection. Invert the selection, select copy1, and delete. Then select copy2, and delete as well, this wil give us our gradient as shown:

Now let’s go back to our very first white stroked layer (seen in the first screenshot). Right click on the layer -> Alpha to selection, then Select->Shrink, perhaps by 3 pixels, invert the selection, and delete. Here’s what we get:

Now repeat the steps above to create the gradient. Use less gaussian blur though as this wire is thinner. When done, we’ve made our wire. Duplicate it and reposition it as you like.

Use the same technique to create the smaller wires underneath, but when creating the gradients for those, perhaps only blur it by 1px. To quickly and easily make many variations of wires (for the smaller ones) you can use Filter->Distort->Ripple. Use a high period, and a low amplitude. Use the sine wavetype. Keep on duplicating them and you’ll end up with something like this:

The next step is to add lighting. There are several techniques to do this and unfortunately pictures don’t really show much so reading through carefully is recommended.

The first step is to decide where you want your lightsource to come from. Merge your smaller wires into a couple layers, and go into Filter->Light and Shadow->Lighting Effects. In the Light tab, create a point or directional light (if you want more dramatic lighting) and place it where your light source is. Don’t make the intensity too high or place it too close, otherwise you’ll end up with a completely white wire. Don’t forget, these smaller wires are underneath. Play around with the lighting effects section, but not too much. This should just be a minor lighting effect.

The next technique is to add a dropshadow to the upper two segmented wires. Merge each wire into a single layer, Alpha to Selection, create a new layer, and fill it with solid black. Gaussian blur it, move the layer below, and tada, you have a shadow. use the perspective tool slightly to give the shadow more realism as though the wire is moving towards and away from you. This is a very easy and precise way to make shadows for any purpose and sure beats the dropshadow plugin which IMO sucks. Notice how my two wires tangle, so make sure you delete the shadow where necessary (alpha-to-selection, delete).

Another extremely useful technique is to create a new layer, set the mode to overlay, and then use a large, fuzzy circle brush with black and brush over darker areas. Use a white brush for the highlights (remember to use this where you put your first lightsource). Start with a large brush, then slowly move towards smaller size brushes, especially when one wire tangles over another. This should be your main tool to create lighting and shadows.

For the thin wires, you might want to give it a sharp lighting. Just alpha to selection, create a new layer, and fill it in with black. Offset it to the left or right (depending on your lightsource) a few pixels (with the arrow key). Sometimes you don’t even need to gaussian blur this. This will create a very sharp shadow, similar to an emboss or embed effect.

Finally, create layer masks (right click on layer->add layer mask) on strategic layers (or on wires that cut abruptly), use a soft fuzzy circle brush to fade them out nicely. Careful not to use these on the top two main wires otherwise it’ll look very unrealistic. Use black fade-to-transparent linear gradients at the top and bottom of 70% opacity to allow them to fade out slightly.

After all of this, here’s a possible outcome – but you’d have to really use your artistic sense at this point:

Well, the next step is to create the background. This is actually quite easy. Just create a linear gradient from one colour to another (I chose sky blue and pastel green), from the bottom to the top. Then do Filters->Render->Nature->Flame. In the Rendering tab, increase the brightness slightly, as too bright will make it too sharp. Your results will vary, so keep on trying gradients until you get one you like. In the Camera tab, change the zoom and X and Y values until it focuses on an area which you like. Render it, and do a few more until the entire screen is covered. Here’s what you might end up with:

Duplicate the flame layers and set the layer mode to Screen. This’ll give you a nice soft glow. You might notice that it clashes too much with the wires. So create a new layer, set to mode Overlay, and use a big black fuzzy circle brush to brush underneath the wires. This’ll give a nice "shadow". Here’s what you end up with:

Now let’s add some sparkly stuff. It might be good to add them where you wanted your light source to be. Choose a soft white fuzzy circle brush, select "Apply Jitter" in the brush options, and brush over the area. You might need to undo and retry it several times until you get what you like. Change the brush size and brush towards the top and bottom to make it "fade out". To make it more interesting, add a gradient from the top to bottom of any colour you want, and set the layer mode to "Colour". I didn’t like how vivid this colour overlay turned out, so I added a layer mask and used a large jittery brush to make the colour fade out in patches. Here’s what we end up with:

… and that’s pretty much it! I added the WIPUP text as usual. I hope you liked it! Any suggestions would be welcome. You can see the final image featured in the WIPUP release notes here.


19 Comments

Hessiess says: (27 September 2010)

Thanks very much for this tutorial. I have seen similar images before which were created with GIMP, but had no idea how they were made.

GIMP can be a powerful tool, but the methods required to create interesting abstract images can be extremely un-obvious. Who would guess that the “flame” filter can do wire-effects…

Dion Moult says: (27 September 2010)

Actually the flame filter didn’t do anything to the wires, only the background ;)

The flame filter actually is responsible for quite a lot of the abstract effects out there. Play around with it for an afternoon and you’ll realise how much you can create with it.

Hessiess says: (28 September 2010)

Bad choice of wording, I was referring to the strands/small wires in the background. I’l have to set aside some time to play with this filter.

Glimmer says: (5 October 2010)

Hello, I ‘m from China.Your blog is very cool.These pictures are fantastic.Well,my English is very pool.Could you understand me?

folaazeez says: (11 October 2010)

I must confess this proved to be very helpful, especially since am switching from fireworks to GIMP. Within a couple of hours I had tried out a number of GIMP features, thus, saving me a lot of reading time. Many thanks Dion.

Dion Moult says: (19 October 2010)

folaazeez: may I ask where you found this tutorial from?

ravi says: (29 October 2010)

HI, your tutorial is very hepful and nice, imagination is great. keep it up. you can upload you wallpapers at my site

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60+ Best GIMP Tutorials of 2010 « Pastelinux says: (12 December 2010)

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mcl says: (23 January 2011)

Amusing that this tutorial is given a difficulty of 2 out of 5 stars. Reasonably speaking, a tutorial like this would probably take the average person several years to work through. The difficulty should more accurately be estimated at perhaps 50,000 stars.

It always amuses me to see “simple tutorial” and then scroll through page after page after page after page after page after page after page after page after page after page after page after page after page after page after page after page after page after page after page after page after page after page after page after page after page after page after page after page after page after page after page after page after page after page after page after page after page after page after page after page after page after page after page after page after page after page after page after page after page after page after page after page after page after page after page after page after page after page after page after page after page after page after page after page after page after page after page after page after page after page after page after page after page after page after page after page after page after page after page after page after page after page after page after page after page after page after page after page after of instructions, each instruction of which requires perhaps 30 or 40 different multiple operations to complete.

By the time I get to about page 8 or 10, my eyes glaze and I give up. No doubt this qualifies as a “simple” tutorial to someone who’s been using image editing programs professionally for 15 years. For the rest of us…forgetit.

mcl says: (23 January 2011)

Because these kinds of “tutorials” prove genuinely annoying due to their essential impossibility, it’s worth going into some more detail about the gross inadequacy of this kind of “tutorial.”

Let’s start with your first paragraph, which gives instructions that turn out to be impossible to follow.

You say:

“The first step is the wires. Let’s start with a black background and white foreground.”

Okay. That requires half a dozen operations, though. First, you need to click on the foreground and select white. Then you need to click on the background and select black. The average user may well have already selected entirely different background and foreground colors. Next, you have to make sure that the foreground and background colors aren’t inverted, but are selected correctly.

You go on to say:

“Create a curved line via the pen tool, select a circle brush of a nice thick size”

I can select a circle brush with a reasonable thick size –11 pixels seems to work in a canvas of 1000 pixels at 72 dpi. But getting the type of line you produce? Impossible.

“Edit->Stroke Path” — alas, GIMP has no such command. No such menu. Doesn’t exist. Not possible.

“Stroke with a Paint Tool (Paintbrush, do not emulate brush dynamics)” — once again, no such tool. GIMP has nothing like this in any menu I can find.

“and we’d end up with something like this.”

No, actually you end up with a raggedy-ass pixelated slightly curved line due to the raggedness of the curve the user draws. Moreover, it’s impossible to fix this. Can’t smooth it out. GIMP has no tools to do anything like that.

So we’ve hit a brick wall in your first paragraph. We don’t need to go a whole lot further to realize that this “tutorial” consists of layer upon layer of impossibilities, incomrehensibility upon incoherency. There are doubtless several dozen intermediate steps you’ve ‘forgotten’ to mention here. Doubtless the expert with 15 years of professional graphics arts work knows all about these. The rest of us?

No way.

This tutorial just won’t work for the average person. An ordinary person who’s been using computers for 30 years just bounces right off it. Gets nowhere. Death in the afternoon.

Dion Moult says: (23 January 2011)

mcl, I’m very sorry that you found it hard to work through my tutorial. Indeed this tutorial was _not_ aimed at the beginner GIMP user but instead one who is already mostly familiar with the interface and basic drawing tools who wants to pick up on a few new techniques. I am not responsible for whatever third party site rated this as beginner-friendly or 2/5 stars for difficulty rating. Please tell me what site this is so that I can correct them.

I am quite suprised that you couldn’t work through the first paragraph. The way it works is that you are meant to draw the curve with the pen tool, then simply _select_ the brush that will be used to trace it with, the Edit->Stroke Path will trace it for you, thus creating the smooth line. The Edit menu definitely _does_ exist and so does the Stroke Path menu item.

I would very much like to help you go through my tutorial and will happily guide you step by step to overcome your problems. Let me know in a reply if you would like me to help, I use IRC (Freenode), MSN Messenger and GTalk.

BEGINNER says: (2 March 2011)

I like this picture and tutorial, but what is meant here?

2. Invert the original segments layer to make it black (it will be invisible against the black background, so I have made the background grey in my next picture).

Now I have 4 layers:
*”wire” – white line with black background
*”segments” – white segments with black background
*”copy 1 segments” gaussian blurred, black background
*”copy 2 segments” gaussian blurred, black background

and, unfortunately, do not know what to do next

Dion Moult says: (3 March 2011)

You start with:

“wire” – white line with black background
“segments” – white segments with black background

You will start by duplicating “segments” _twice_. Resulting in:

“wire” – white line with black background
“segments” – white segments with black background
“copy 1 segments” – identical to segments
“copy 2 segments” – identical to segments

Do Colour->Invert to “segments”. So now “segments” is “_black_ segments” (which is therefore invisible on the black background).

Now you can gauss blur copy 1 and copy 2. Select copy 1, then use the arrow keys to move it left. Select copy 2, and use the arrow keys to move it right.

Then you should get something like the picture in the tutorial.

Hope that helps.

Carolyn says: (7 August 2011)

how do you do the second step? the segments thing? please help, i can’t understand. thanks. :D

Dion Moult says: (7 August 2011)

You are basically creating a white rectangle and duplicating it again and again down the image until it creates that striped image. Then you are using that to select the inverted area, ie the gaps in between the wires, and deleting it.

Amanda S says: (27 November 2012)

I would love to have completed this tutorial, but unlike other “simple” tuts..this one is just too uninformative to complete. I cannot get past section 2. None of the options are working, and I know I am doing it right. The step-by-step process for this tut is not complete with full instructions. Sorry…I would have to give this tuts a 1 star. There is just not enough detail in the tut to complete it properly, and some of the commands do not exist for GIMP.

Dion Moult says: (27 November 2012)

Hello Amanda, I don’t know where this post was aggregated as a GIMP tutorial or what difficulty rating it was given: but the point is that I wrote this _not_ for beginners. If I had to describe every step as far as clicking dialogs, it would be a very, very long tutorial. The objective was simply to outline a process for people who are already familiar with GIMP’s tools.

PostGhosties says: (22 October 2013)

I am a GIMP beginner user, tried to follow this and got up to step three, but after doing the “Gaussian Blur” step, it doesn’t work at all. The black backgrounds of each layer overlaps’s the other and I cant get the 3 different lines next to each other.

Good job to those of you who got it right! Thumbsup!

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