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.