Create a scene from a dark urban nightmare

Lee Carter 2000AD artist

Give your work an ominous sense of atmosphere by adding layers of textured paint marks. Lee Carter shows you how.


Lee Carter
Lee Carter
Lee is a UK based comic book  and concept artist, and has created artwork for clients including 2000AD, Wizards of the Coast and Games Workshop.

Survival horror and urban exploration are two subjects close to my heart. I love looking at the many urban exploration websites and checking out abandoned asylums, old factories and decaying mansions.

I think part of my interest stems in the history, the fact that these buildings were once busy little hubs of activity and now time has left them behind.

Wandering around these places gives me the feeling that civilisation has ended and the dirt is building up. I spent some time having a look around a huge old Victorian swimming baths; it was a fantastic place with cracked tiles, broken ceilings and deep dark cellars. You could still hear the echoes of the past.

Of course, I don't want to advocate trespassing in your local abandoned warehouse, but if you do decide to go exploring, make sure you take your camera to capture the atmosphere.

Watching films such as The Omega Man, Dawn of the Dead and 28 Days Later has given me a taste for survival horror. Again, it’s the idea that civilisation has gone and all we can do is watch things decay.

With this workshop I want to show how I try to capture some of the sense of foreboding and dread that a zombie apocalypse would bring. Starting off with pencil and finishing off in Photoshop I will go through the process of adding textures and working gritty marks into an image.

This workshop was created using Photoshop CS2.

01 Starting off with pencils

I normally spend a night doodling in front of the TV to get myself warmed up; you could even try drawing simple shapes and sketch out your ideas, hoping something comes to mind. If you use a lightbox, it makes it easy to refine your drawing and clean it up. Using a cool grey marker I can add another layer of shading to the pencil drawing.

When you finish your pencil drawings it's a good idea to scan them in before you start adding tonal values. This is a good backup, plus it gives you the chance to overlay the pencils later.

A cool grey marker is ideal for quickly putting in a flat shade, and by using a white gel pen you can pick out highlights and push the grey image further.

Step 1 image

02 Scanning in your image

Once you're happy - and I mean only when your 100 per cent happy - with your drawing should you scan it in. The resolution should be set to at least 300dpi and the print size should be set to your chosen dimensions.

I desaturate the image and make a copy. I then tighten up the pencils by playing with the Brightness and Contrast levels. I duplicate my images in another layer: in fact I duplicate the image a few times. Keeping the base image set to 100 per cent Opacity, the duplicates of your base image will be used to add even more tone to your grey pencils.

The Cutout filter is a fantastic way of solidifying your drawing. Run the Cutout filter on the layers above your base image. I normally keep the number of levels at eight and with each duplicate layer I change the Edge Simplicity and Edge Fidelity in the Cutout dialog box.

Set your layers to Multiply and reduce the Opacity of each layer. This adds another layer of tone and creates a greater sense of depth.

Step 2 image

03 The colour of death

Create a blank layer and set it to Multiply. This is where I start adding colour. Keep it simple and quickly lay down the areas of colour. The Colour Multiply layer is kept at a low Opacity and again I merge the layers and play around with the Cutout filter.

This is generally a way to get around the daunting task of a white page. Adding colour to a greyscale image is a lot easier than staring afresh.

Step 3 image

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