One of the single most impactful concepts that I’ve learned is that fact that everything around us exists in layers. Everything has depth and does not exist on a flat plane. Flat art equals boring art. In this article I discuss my discovery and exploration of layers in nature and in art.
Living in Colorado gives me the opportunity to enjoy lots of amazing scenery. A few years ago, I started observing the clouds and the nature all around me. One day, it hit me. When you start to look deep into a landscape, you have to look beyond layers. So, you may have a big Aspen up ahead with a river back behind that and then with rocks leading to a mountain and several other trees. Each object technically exits at a different distance which creates depth.
Anyone who has every watched a Bob Ross teaching knows that he is big on layers and pushing back the scene. I’ve done a handful of his paintings and learned a great deal. I myself struggle with keeping things simple and just letting it flow. He helps to break me out of that limited behavior. He always starts his paintings off by painting the far-off objects like mountains, clouds, water, etc. Then he starts adding to that by painting on top of the previous image with more detail. I had a hard time with his paintings because I struggled with spending so much time creating a layer only to paint over much of it with one that is closer. It was almost against my very nature to do that. However, I noticed that when I did it, the results were wonderful.
The same practice can be applied to Photoshop. Layers are like transparency paper with different bits of image on each of them that may or may not affect the paper beneath them. Each layer will have a different purpose. When doing comic book work, I tend to have a Pencil layer, an Ink layer, a Flat color layer, and a Highlights layer. Keep in mind that the top layers are the closest and the bottom layers are the furthest back or are at least behind something.