APP1: Developing the Golden Arrow poster

For this blog post I will detail the development I have made with the Golden Arrow poster up until its completion, ready for the printing stage. To provide a stage of reference to compare against the developments I will be making, here is how far I have currently got with the poster.

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Following the last blog post, the first area that critically needed development was the back section of the bodywork where I had been attempting Gradient Mesh, and that my tutor advised me probably didn’t need it. With some mild alterations to the shape, and a new linear gradient, this was proven to be the case.

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N.B: The screenshot below was taken once the illustration was finished, so there are a few differences that I will discuss further on in this blog post.

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To get the shadows at the base of the shape I made two shapes, one the colour of the panel, and one the shadow, and used the Smooth Color feature of the Blend Tool to blend them together, to create a realistic gradual shadow.

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I did some quick experiments with the two main back panels and found that I could get good gradients on both, I could not get them to match/blend with each other when I placed them together. I eventually worked out the best way would be to make the two shapes into one, and apply a gradient. This would mean using the Gradient Mesh Tool, something I have previously not been able to master.

An earlier Gradient Mesh experiment that didn't go to plan...
An earlier Gradient Mesh experiment that didn’t go to plan…

I took a very close look at previous experiments and tried to work out where it had been going on, and I discovered that I was placing vertical elements in from the beginning, which was completely the wrong thing to do. I needed to click on the edges of the shape to add an anchor point, which I could then fill with colour from a swatch. The vertical points should then only be added at the end when I needed help continuing the colour through the middle of the shape.

The other issue I had was not being able to get colour into the edges of the shape. I discovered that I needed to click on the anchor points that construct the shape and then click on a swatch to add the colour I needed. This gave me the result that I needed as can be seen below where I compare a linear gradient against a Gradient Mesh.

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In the below image I have created a copy of the shape and selected it so you can see the lines that make up the mesh. It is not the neatest, with more practice no doubt I could achieve a better mesh, but this does not negatively effect the overall finish.

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I found I used the Swatches feature in Illustrator to a far greater extent than ever before. Previously I have never used it because I find it a hassle compared to using the Eyedropper Tool, but when using the Gradient Mesh Tool, it is really the only sensible way of adding colour to a shape. While using Swatches I became very used to working with it, and I found it helped to speed up my workflow. It was also helped as it is so easy to make a new swatch, just by dragging a colour from the Fill box and dropping it into the Swatches palette to make a new swatch.

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I also decided with the changes that I was making by adopting the Gradient Mesh to a far wider level than previously anticipated, it bought into focus the metal banding that holds together the vehicle. Before, these had been made of two shapes, one being the highlight. I decided to select both shapes and use the Blend Tool to join them using the Smooth Color setting.

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This worked well but the highlight was now far too big as the space between the old highlighted shape and the base was increased. Therefore, I decreased the highlight’s width, which provided the suitable effect I needed.

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The next section was the top panel that goes from behind the driver’s head that flows into the main back section of the body. I was gaining confidence using the Gradient Mesh Tool now as I was progressing, which helped me to make this part it work reasonably quickly and efficiently. There were some issues along the way, which can be seen below in the image that highlights how I developed this section to the finished piece.

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Below you can see the gradient mesh lines that constituted the shapes, and it is possible to pick out where the improvements have been made, with as few lines as possible, combined with stretching the vertical lines to avoid sudden curves, especially those in the wrong direction.

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Something that had caught my eye from looking at new reference images was the shape of the vents. Reference images disagreed with each other with regards to the quantity and positioning of them, so I used the photograph taken when the record was actually set. This showed the vents were not rounded rectangles as I had previously created them, but had an edge to help get air into the vehicle. Below is an image of the new vents.

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I decided from looking at various reference images, I was not happy with the wheel nuts that my Golden Arrow illustration had as they did not look particularly realistic. So I decided these would be better off being chrome, and I made various changes to the shadows and reflections, which can be seen below that makes a very positive difference.

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Old wheelnut.
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New wheelnut.

I had previously discussed in a past blog post whether the wheels would be better if they were made from an angled gradient in Photoshop. So I decided to experiment, and see what effect I could get as I felt the wheels I was currently using were not realistic enough, and there was no real sense of their concave nature. Therefore I opened Photoshop and created a document with the settings you can see below:

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I wanted a transparent background so that I could place it into my illustration with no surround and obviously I wanted it at 300dpi, at a large size to ensure the quality would match that of the vector illustrations when it came to printing.

I then drew a circle using the Ellipse Tool, added a Gradient Overlay from the Layer Styles dialog box, and chose the appropriate settings that can be seen below.

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I was very pleased with the result, so saved the file as a PNG in order to preserve the transparent elements of the image, and placed it into my Illustrator file, sizing it to fit. The image below shows the difference it makes, it is much larger than I expected and I am now very glad I decided to make this change.

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Another area of development was for the sighter that the telescope would look through. The other elements of the telescope looked good with the brass finish I had created, but this piece did not look good with the linear gradient. What it needed was a gradient mesh… the result of which can be seen below.

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One area that I knew I would need some help with was with the creation of the driver. I am not so talented with portrait drawing, so I decided I needed to find a reference image to use for the proportions of the side of the head. I found a suitable preview image on Shutterstock.com as I did not need a high-res image. The image by BlueRingMedia can be accessed on Shutterstock either by clicking here, or clicking on the image below.

Shutterstock Image by BlueRingMedia
Shutterstock Image by BlueRingMedia

The result can be seen below, and as it what the reference image was suitable for showing me where to draw for the side of the face, and the shape of the crash helmet. I found another reference image of Henry Segrave that I could use to try and ensure details were as accurate as possible.

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And below is the rather amusing comparison that can be made regarding the image on the right drawn quickly without any reference image against the left image, where I used a template to help me understand the right proportions. I somehow don’t think there is a career for me as a freehand portrait artist…

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Oh dear… thank goodness for reference images…

Below you can see the final result for the driver. While not as realistic as the vehicle, it provides a suitable impression of Henry Segrave for the size it will be displayed at on the poster. More detail here would be lost, and not result in a crisp appearance when printing.

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Now the driver figure was complete, I needed to sort out the seat-back, which was easily made by using a rounded rectangle and a linear gradient to match the colours used. I also added in the triangular cockpit side which can be seen as the base of the seat-back.

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At a relatively late stage in development I came across a blueprint image of Golden Arrow, which I had been trying to find all project… typical luck… and I was not pleased to find some differences, however, upon looking at the reference images I could clearly see this blueprint was not so accurate in the areas that would critical problems.

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One area it did really made me think about was the tyre thickness. The more I looked at the tyres I had made and compared them to the reference images over and over, I felt I had made the tyres too thin. This was a simple fix, as it just involved making the tyres a bit bigger and the wheels a bit smaller. A side by side comparison image can be seen below. The wheelnut gradient also changed, which was a late change I’ll cover when relevant.

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I also then noticed from looking at the blueprint image that the tail of the vehicle appeared to be very straight at the base, whereas my illustration showed it curving downwards. Certainly the straighter edge would make more sense, so I decided to find a reference image. I came across some excellent images taken by Adrian Dutch of the Golden Arrow vehicle at the 2013 Goodwood Festival of Speed, (that seems to have many differences to the reference photographs from the era the record was set…) I could make out the base of the tail of the car was indeed straight.

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Therefore, I made the relevant changes necessary to the shape of the tail using the Direct Selection Tool, and changed all the gradients, highlights and shadows to match.

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I learnt an interesting feature of Illustrator that no doubt most others had known of for some time, but I could not believe it had taken me this long to come across it. I always had previously selected the Gradient Palette manually, and edited colours and locations through that, but I for some reason selected it using the keyboard shortcut G, and was surprised to see it pop up on the shape. I found this made it much easier to balance gradients and is a much more natural process.

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Another change I also made is to reduce the size of the flag on the tail based on the reference image I was using. It can be seen in its final state in the above image.

The other change made based off the reference image is to flatten the nose of the vehicle in order to make it more accurate. This could be achieved very simply and with a minor tweak of the gradients. The before and after can be seen below.

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Before.
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After.

I realised at a relatively late stage when checking the driver illustration that the goggles the driver would be wearing would not have a pure white reflection, but would reflect the surrounding environment, in a way similar to chrome so this change was made.

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At this stage, the car was ready to be placed onto the background. The below image gives you an idea of how the poster looked. I felt the background was dragging the entire poster down, which was not a surprise as it had previously been a very quick mock-up, but it meant it needed re-making.

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It then occurred to me that the trial documents I had made were only A3 to reduce the file size, so I would need to build the documents up from scratch. Sometimes this can be overly frustrating, but given that I knew how to make it again, and that it would give me a chance to go over all the elements again, it was not a problem.

So I opened a new document to the relevant size and resolution, the details of which can be seen below.

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I then drew a rectangle using the Shape Tool the size of the document, and added a Gradient Overlay to create the sky and sea base.

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I was not happy with the colour of the beach in my earlier experiments, as I guessed it was inaccurate, so I decided to look up an image of Daytona Beach. I was glad I did this bit of research, as I was amazed by how white the sand was, in fact seemed closer in hue to the Bonneville salt flats than a beach. So I used the Eyedropper Tool to ensure I selected the right colours, and used the same brush settings I detailed in a previous blog post to place it over the lower part of the background.

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I then added a Layer Mask and used a soft circular brush to clean it up. Using black makes areas invisible and using white makes them visible again.

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I then added in the secondary layer of sand nearer the sea line, which would be a darker colour as it would be damp from where the tide has previously been in. Again I used the sample image to sample the colours, and added a Layer Mask to blend it in.

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I then added some texture to the sea using a cloud-shaped brush from a free-to-use pack I downloaded a while ago, and applied a Motion Blur filter to make it blend in better.

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I then used the brush again to make the pattern of the waves rolling in to the coastline. I made a copy of the layer, and converted it to a Smart Object, to enable to use Smart Filters, such as Motion Blur, which now allows me to edit the amount of blur, so I can fine tune it to ensure the effect is what I want.

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The copy of the layer which I had not applied a filter to was then made visible again and placed on top of the preceding layer in order to bring some texture back into the waves.

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I then placed the vehicle into the scene and sized it to fit.

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To add in the dust, I used the same technique I had previously done in the project, which can be read about here. I set the opacity reasonably low to enable me to build it up.

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I then copied the layer and placed it on top to thicken the dust. Then I slightly moved the position of the dust downwards to ensure the opacity of the dust at the top edge was lower than at the bottom, where most of the dust would cling to the ground, therefore being denser and more opaque.

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I had previously been very happy with the Dense typeface I was using for this project, but while working on the development of this poster, I came across a typeface called Mohave by Gumpita Rahayu, courtesy of Creative Bloq, and suddenly realised that this could be a great typeface to use for this project. So I did a quick mock-up, and asked some peers for feedback on what they preferred and to bear in mind I had not yet made the appropriate adjustments for kerning, tracking and leading yet for the text on the right.

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Dense typeface (left); Mohave typeface (right)

Once I had received some feedback from my peers, which was rather split down the middle, I decided I would go for the Mohave typeface as it came in a range of three weights unlike the Dense typeface, which allows for more flexibility. After thinking about it over the next couple of days, I decided that the reason why I now felt it was much better suited to the task at hand was not only because of the extra weights, but because of the smaller x-height, and wider characters that gave a fresher, slightly more legible approach to the typography when it was placed in a box like I have done here.

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Showing my peers once it was correctly formatted produced a very positive result that helped me to confirm I had made the right decision. The next stage with the typography was to put the right information onto the poster.

I also needed a subtle shadow for a realistic effect given the sky is clear meaning the sun would be out. To create this, I selected Golden Arrow by hovering over the image in the Layers Palette and clicking while holding the Control (Ctrl/Cmd) key.

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I then pressed Cmd + J, which copies the selection to a new layer. I then selected the contents of this layer, chose a large black brush, and turned the selection black.

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After that, I set the Blending Mode at the top of the Layers Palette to Overlay. Notice how the vehicle colours appear darker and more saturated than before. From there I entered the Free Transform Tool (Cmd + T) and, while holding the Control key, clicked and dragged the upper central handle, just below here, downwards.

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This creates a very subtle shadow that does not interfere with the vehicle or background, but gives a sense of the lighting and perception of depth the illustration. It does look pale, but I expect it will appear more saturated, and therefore darker, when printed.

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And that looks to be it! Now I will finish the Thrust SSC illustration, and then turn my attention to printing the final pieces, and seeing whether any adjustments will need to be made along the way.

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