Inside the Mind of Digital Dreamer Archan Nair
Self-taught visual artist and illustrator Archan Nair creates complex, imaginative, and lushly colorful digital art that expresses his fascination with the interconnectedness of the universe and the mysteries of existence. Working primarily in Adobe Photoshop CC, Nair creates compositions for a wide variety of clients, including Sony, GQ, Samsung, and Nike, as well as his own personal projects.
We spoke briefly to Nair last year, when he was a subject of our monthly mini-profile series “5 & 3/4 Questions”—and of course we wanted to get to know him better. So Nair invited us to join him as he created one of his vibrant, distinctive images. He makes very imaginative use of many of Photoshop’s tools—custom brushes, layer blending modes, and so much more. Dive in and get inspired to explore the far reaches of Photoshop—and the limits of your imagination!
USING A PHOTOGRAPHIC BASE
He added a photograph of a woman on a new layer, set that layer’s opacity to 25%, and changed the layer’s blending mode to Overlay. Then he duplicated that layer and changed the duplicate layer’s blending mode to Soft Light.
After making further adjustments, Nair added a layer on which to draw some outlines of the woman’s face, using a brush with sharp edges for definition. Then he deleted the layer with the original photograph on it.
SETTING THE COMPOSITION’S FLOW
USING THE LIQUIFY FILTER AND ADJUSTING COLORS
ADDING LAYER UPON LAYER OF COLOR
PLAYING WITH COLOR AND PLACEMENT
ADDING MORE PHOTOGRAPHIC ELEMENTS
His plan was to refine the quickly done selection of the parrot and make it into an elegant cutout. He increased the Select And Mask radius setting and enabled Smart Radius to clean up the selection’s edges.
He used the Refine Edge brush tool and gently brushed over the edges of the parrot. He inverted the selection again and pressed delete to remove unnecessary parts at the edges.
Finally, he used an abstract brush to erase the head and body of the parrot so that only the wings would be visible. Then he experimented with the wings’ placement and used a soft-opacity brush to blend them into the image.
For this brush, he went to Mode > Adjustments > Black And White and selected the Lighten preset from the dropdown menu. Then he adjusted levels until he was satisfied (he suggests playing with levels to create a nice contrast between blacks and whites, so that when you create your brush, the details register nicely).
After that, he simply clicked on the Brush tool and then Edit > Define Brush Preset, and gave his new brush a name.
When Nair went back to the primary image, he created a new layer and played with blending modes. Nair started with Color Burn; then he used the brush and changed the blending mode to Difference, to create interesting effects. He also went back to the Liquify filter to curve and distort the leaf so it would interact nicely with the shape of the elements, and again he adjusted levels and colors to maintain harmony within the existing color scheme.
He repeated these steps to create a brush out of the flower part of the image.
Next, Nair added some textures to the composition.
ADDING HIGHTLIGHTS AND FINISHING TOUCHES
On a new layer, Nair selected one of Kyle T. Webster’s Belgian Comic Ink pens and a bright blue tone, and he drew on the face, to create highlights. He set the layer’s blending mode to Saturation.
He also painted the eyes on a new layer, setting the layer’s blending mode to Soft Light and reducing the opacity to 50%.