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Merry Christmas From Spokane!

December 23, 2010

I did a Christmas cover for the Inland Register in Spokane, WA. I incorporated a downtown Spokane landmark, the Paulson Building, into the illustration. Here’s the original line drawing:line drawing for magazine Christmas cover

I based the sketch on this photograph of the Paulson Building:photograph of Paulson Building in downtown Spokane, WA

I pasted the photo into the line drawing. Working in Photoshop, I scaled the
to fit the drawing. I used this Janee tutorial to give the photo an illustrated look.

I cloned out the truck, motorcycle, and car in the original photo, and used a
small Photoshop brush set at 100% opacity to paint in my own cars, shoppers,
and the wreaths on the lampposts. Then I erased the corresponding parts of the
line drawing:

magazine Christmas cover with artistic filter, shoppers, and cars in downtown setting

Next I blocked in the three Christmas trees, added lights by experimenting with
different paintbrush scatter settings
, added a separate layer for the night
sky and created the sky by applying a couple of gradients.

I used the Clone tool to extend the pavement, then the Type tool to add a Christmas message from the Roman Catholic Bishop of Spokane. I added the type one line at a time so I could control its exact placement. Then I used a watercolor brush to lighten the underlying pavement, so the type would be easier to read:

magazine Christmas cover with Paulson Building, find edges, night sky, Christmas trees, and bishop's message

I used various Photoshop brushes and Scatter settings to add falling snow, white lights on the two leafless sidewalk trees, and some red berries on the two wreathes.magazine Christmas cover with downtown Spokane, shoppers, falling snow, and white tree lights

To create the illustration’s special effect, I needed a Nativity Scene. I found the following photo on Stock.XCHNG. It was taken by Polish photographer Kriss Szkurlatowski. You can see more of his work at Twelve Frames Photography.photograph of Nativity Scene showing images of Joseph, Mary, and Jesus

I pasted the Nativity Scene into a separate layer beneath the Paulson Building, then reduced the building’s opacity so I could see the Nativity Scene. I used the Skew and Distort transformation tools to stretch the Nativity Scene into the shape of the building. Then I reset the building layer’s opacity to 100%, applied a layer mask to the building layer, and used a soft brush set at medium opacity to paint away the building and reveal the Nativity Scene.

Finally, I added some shading underneath the pedestrians to create some depth, and used the Eraser tool to create some reflected glare on the car windows. Here’s the final illustration. Scroll down for a detail image, also a close-up which will allow
you to read the Bishop’s message.

magazine Christmas cover showing Nativity Scene shining through Paulson Building in downtown Spokane, WA

detail of Christmas cover showing Manger Scene and the Paulson Building in downtown Spokane, WA

close-up of magazine cover showing the Bishop of Spokane's Christmas message

8 Comments leave one →
  1. December 23, 2010 5:53 PM


    Absolutely your best work so far. Really, really stunning! Using some great tips (which I added to my favorites), a wonderful job.

    They should be well pleased with your efforts.


    • December 23, 2010 8:49 PM

      Thanks a million, Patrick. Glad you found the post helpful, and I really appreciate your enthusiasm and support. It means a lot. Merry Christmas, my friend!


  2. December 25, 2010 7:19 AM

    Absolutely amazing! I loved your picture. Just wish I was half as good using photoshop! Couldn’t get to mass today but managed yesterday ( too much snow for our little car.) Ann


    • December 25, 2010 2:08 PM

      Hi Ann, lovely to hear from you, many thanks for your kind words. My Photoshop “method” consists of equal parts hacking around and stumbling across tutorials that make me say, “Now there’s a neat trick!” Sounds like you’re having a real Pickwick Christmas– enjoy your plum pudding and best wishes for the new year!


  3. January 25, 2011 4:22 AM

    Thanks for sharing the steps involved!


  4. soul . to . earth permalink
    October 9, 2013 11:42 PM

    This is beautiful! My fav. elements are the people, traffic, etc.

    Even when I was in India, Christmas held a magical feeling. After coming here (O Canada….love that sketch too!), we go away to the countryside for Christmas.

    I’ve never used Photoshop (or any similar software) but am beginning to see why so many do. Mark, does it ever get addictive or do you just tell yourself “It’s what I love to do”?


    • October 11, 2013 9:39 AM

      Merry Christmas!! And please don’t tell me you’ve finished your Christmas shopping, unless, of course, you were buying stuff for me… : P

      Every place, big and small, has its own special magic at Christmas, but it only seems to “work” if you have Christmas in your heart. Guess that’s true of most things, if I may wax philosophical for a moment…

      I’m not sure I’d describe Photoshop as addictive, but I have “crossed over” to it, meaning I now think in digital terms, rather than, say, putting paint on paper with a brush. I still do all my line drawing by hand, which gives the work energy, but I make a lot of mistakes, sometimes get proportions wrong, etc. Photoshop gives me the chance to clean everything up, and to “undo” things that don’t work. It frees me up to make mistakes, which, paradoxically, makes me a better artist. Hey– that almost sounds profound!! : )


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