Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Creating the Coleus Spirit Totem

Many plants have fascinating shapes, colors, and textures. I often take photos of leaves that I find interesting. In perusing my plant photo library I came across some photos of Coleus leaves. Coleus comes in numerous varieties. This particular version has leaves that are green on one side and purple on the other side with rounded crenellations along the edges of the leaves. This particular photo captured my attention.

Green and Purple Coleus Leaves
Green and Purple Coleus Leaves

Not that this image is very interesting in and of itself, but I saw possibilities here, so I loaded it into GIMP and started playing around with G'MIC filters. I eventually hit on a filter that simply created a mirror image of half of the photo.

Mirror Image of Coleus Leaves
Mirror Image of Coleus Leaves

What jumped out at me was the apparent figure in the middle that looked like it had the head of an owl, two wings spread out to the sides, and a long decorated torso. My next step was to use a layer mask to cut this figure out. Since it was symmetric, I masked off only the left side.

Masking Off the Totem Figure
Masking Off the Totem Figure

Then I used New from Visible to create a new layer, copied the left side and pasted it, used Layer > Transform > Flip Horizontally to create a right side, then merged the two layers after aligning them properly.

Totem Figure
Totem Figure

Next I had to 
decide on an image size and come up with a background. I picked a 1 to 1.4 ratio (5x7) for the size. Then I took the original photo, rotated it 90 degrees, used the Gaussian Blur filter on it, and then did Colors > Invert. That gave me this:

Starting Background
Starting Background

Not terribly interesting, but again, there are possibilities. Back into G'MIC with this layer. I found two filter results that I liked.

G'MIC Circle Transform
[G'MIC] Circle transform :
-gimp_circle_transform 0.5,0.5,-2,-2,0.2,0,1,1,1

G'MIC Fisheye
[G'MIC] Fish-eye : -fisheye 50,50,70,1

I put the fisheye layer on top of the circle transform layer and added a layer mask to the fisheye layer with a black radial gradient in the center to expose the rays on the layer underneath, resulting in the following:

Final Background
Final Background

I didn't want a sharp edge between the totem and the background, so I added a purple glow around the totem. These are the steps I took:

  • Created a new transparent layer beneath the totem layer.
  • Switched to the totem layer and used the Select by Color tool to select the transparent background.
  • Switched back to the transparent layer and used CTRL+I to invert the selection.
  • Used Select > Grow to grow the selection (somewhere around 20 pixels).
  • Filled the selection with a shade of purple that I picked off of the totem with the Color Picker tool.
  • Used Filters > Blur > Gaussian blur to blur the glow (after removing the selection).
  • Set the opacity of the glow layer to 60.

Then I did some minor repair on the totem layer using the Clone tool and ran that layer through a G'MIC smoothing filter to make it a little easier on the eyes.

[G'MIC] Smooth [anisotropic] :
-gimp_anisotropic_smoothing 60,0.14,1,0.6,1.1,0.8,30,2,0,1,1,0,0,24,0

Smoothed Totem on Final Background
Smoothed Totem on Final Background Base

The image was getting interesting, but it still needed more work. The background was a bit too boring. I decided to go with a vignette, so I used the Ellipse Select tool to create an oval around the totem and, on a new layer above the totem layer, inverted the selection and filled it with a dark purple. I changed the layer mode to Darken only and set the layer opacity to 19.


Using the same ellipse selection on a new layer above the vignette, I filled the center with white and set the layer mode to Soft light with a layer opacity of 16. This brightened up the background behind the totem and made more of a contrast with the vignette.

Oval Highlight
Oval Highlight

I wanted more of a defined edge between the light oval and the darker tones outside it, so I used a couple of layer effects to create two inner glow rings around the white oval. These layer effects are from a GIMP plug-in that I installed.

Layer Effects by Jon Stipe:
I recommend the Python version because it has more features than the Script-Fu version. It installs at Layer > Layer Effects.

And, as a final touch, I added a transparent layer where I put two small green radial gradients to be glowing eyes in the face of the totem.

Coleus Spirit Totem - Final Image
Coleus Spirit Totem – Final Image

Even though this process has been presented in a straight-forward manner, I didn't go through all these steps this rigidly. There was a lot of experimenting and discarding of things that didn't work. What I've described above was everything that turned out to be useful in creating the final image. The important thing in this process is to play around trying various things until you feel happy with the result. Since I had no goal in mind when I started, I didn't so much finish the image, I just basically stopped working on it when I was pleased with the way it looked.

Prints are available at Redbubble.