Create a lo-fi digital collage in Affinity Photo with Frankentoon

Enrique Figueroa is the brains and talent behind Frankentoon Studio, an independent illustration and visual development studio based in El Salvador. Priding himself on being a learning and content hub for Affinity artists, Enrique has shared some easy to grasp techniques for making a stand-out piece of artwork alongside some free content so you can re-create the look too.

Hello everyone, this is Enrique from Frankentoon Studio. Today I would love to share a little breakdown of my photo collage process using Affinity Photo and a couple of techniques I’ve developed over the years. Feel free to download the included asset pack and create alongside me.

For this particular tutorial, I want to show you how to repurpose your photos to create a lo-fi digital collage. This type of art is almost therapeutic, as you’re not striving for realism, but a more artistic approach, the stressful part of being technically accurate goes away, leaving us only with the fun bits.

In this breakdown, we’ll learn how to:

  • Identify useful graphic resources
  • Optimise Assets to use them on many projects
  • Create and manage our own Assets library
  • Generate quick composition ideas
  • Apply photographic techniques to finish our collages

Freebies

All resources I’ll be using on this breakdown are available for download and ready to use if you want to skip some steps and jump onto the creative part right away. This download includes the Assets Library I created for this breakdown.

To open this content, you simply need to download it, add the Assets Panel to your workspace by clicking View on the Menu Bar followed by Studio> Assets on the dropdown menu. Once displayed, click on the burger menu to the right of the Assets Panel, click Import Assets, navigate to your Downloads folder and select the Frankentoon Collage Elements.afassets file to load into your library.

Planning ahead

I’m always looking for fascinating forms: nature, everyday objects, people, machinery—anything goes. So if a particular element from a picture catches my attention regardless of what it is, I open it in Affinity Photo, cut it away and save it to a custom Affinity Assets Library.

For your convenience, all photos I’ve used here came from Pexels.com, a great free photo library.

To isolate my images, I do either of these:

  • Use the Selection Brush Tool for organic shapes.
  • Use the Pen Tool for geometric or regular shapes.

After I’ve isolated an element, I loosely go through the following steps before adding it to my Assets library:

  • Convert to black and white
  • Clean up and refine
  • Gradient Map recolour

1. Convert to black and white

Checking out values is easier on black and white images, so I regularly convert my extracted elements using the Black and White Adjustment layer (Who would’ve thought!).

Using Dust and Scratches to reduce noise and compression artifacts

2. Clean up and refine

When upscaling images, it’s normal to lose some quality. To get rid of unwanted pixelation, I use the Dust and Scratches filter.

3. Gradient Map recolour

Before throwing my isolated element into a custom Assets Library, I apply a Gradient Map adjustment layer for quick recolouring.

Going through these steps is a good way of giving not-so-high-quality images a second life. Somehow it provides a certain illustrative look to them. Even some kind of a retro flavour.

How to find the right elements

My most important piece of advice here would be don’t see objects for what they represent but look at them simply as forms.

For example, this chair caught my attention because it has a vibrant yellow colour, and its shape is unique and fresh. It may work as a neat design element for whatever I’ll be working on in the future. So the fact that it’s a chair is irrelevant.

When looking for design elements, don’t overthink them. Don’t try to find a meaning or a fit for those components while you’re at research. Instead, concentrate on looking for exciting forms; you’ll discover a good use for them at some point.

Building your own Assets Library

One of my favourite features in Affinity Photo is the Assets Library, which might not sound like the most exciting feature at first… but when you realise that a single library can store photos, image textures, and vector elements, things start to sound more interesting. On top of that, Affinity Assets keep their Adjustments, Blend Modes, and Layer Effects.

To create one, go to the Assets Panel. From the top-right menu, select Create New Category. To add an asset to the library, drag and drop the object you want to add into the panel.

Time to have fun

I have this photo by Ivan Oboleninov that I want to use as the focal point of my composition. I’ll rely on my graphics arsenal to develop an eye-catching piece of art out of it.

We’ll now be able to come up with many ideas in no time just by pulling out design elements in our Affinity Photo document. After a few minutes of playing with my Assets, I created the composition you see above.

At this stage, we don’t care about details but just the overall composition.

Two-step backgrounds

An easy way to design attractive backgrounds in no time is to create a vertical gradient and add an image texture on top. Then, use blend modes and opacity to combine both graphics. This texture is included in your freebies.

Next, I dropped a couple of massive clouds in the background to support the foreground elements and have a more balanced layout. Well, it is the same cloud flipped horizontally.

Scribbling here and there with a small solid brush can add a particular character to your graphics. It also gives a whimsical feel to your scene.

Treat it like a photo

Once I’ve finished my design, I add some Adjustment Layers to even out colours and overall values to integrate all elements. This is a basic setup I use all the time:

Curves (Fig.1)—to fix my values and add some punch to shadows and highlights. Although I’m not going after a realistic look, I still want to keep my design elements integrated.

Then, I add a Colour Balance layer (Fig.2) to colour-grade the composition and create a mood for my artwork. In this case, I added a slight blueish hue to shadows and a faded yellow tone to the highlights to produce a retro feel.

A Lens Filter (Fig.3) works wonders when it comes to even out all images, providing an overall colour to the scene.

Final thoughts

We could keep adding small bits here and there to polish our final image, as this subject matter offers much to chew on. However, this concludes the tutorial for now. I hope this little article has sparked some ideas and valuable insights on this engaging art style.

I encourage you to keep exploring and stay aware of your surroundings to find interesting subject matters to immortalise in your next masterpiece.


To see more tutorials, courses and content from Frankentoon Studio, visit their website and YouTube channel or follow them on social media through Instagram, Twitter and Facebook.

Don’t forget you can also find brush packs by Frankentoon Studio in the Affinity Store.