Invocation of Butterflies

Meet Cassiopeia: she is a sorceress and treasure hunter. Her other interests include trying to figure out how make broken machines work again, and spending cold evenings in warm taverns, playing chess and drinking hard cider.

I must admit, I love RPGs (role playing games.) I’ve been playing them for over two decades, and have no intention of stopping as long as I have friends who will play with me. Cassie is a character from a White Wolf game called Exalted. (They also publish Scion and Vampire the Masquerade.) I decided to challenge myself to composite five stock images into one scene, using Cassie as the subject.

(This post is a short discussion of my process but NOT a tutorial of all the Photoshop techniques I used.)

The background is a 3D rendered setting of ancient ruins. I lightened the center, darkened the corners and added a cool blue photo filter. It is supposed to represent a location in Sijan, which is a town of the dead. I thought this image was appropriately creepy.

Even though she is a redhead, I chose this image to represent Cassie for several reasons. When last we adventured, she was left in a short, somewhat see-through white dress, and this seemed appropriate if a bit long. I thought the model’s pose lent itself to the magical subject matter. And most importantly, the background seemed easy to select and remove.

Once I decided to make the obsidian butterflies spell in a swirling, circular pattern, I began a search for a swirly special effect image. This was the winner! I placed it over the background and Cassie, and hid it with a mask. Then gently painted away the mask in a swirl to selectively reveal  the image.

At this point I have used three entirely different image types: a 3D rendered background, a traditional portrait photograph, and a digitally created fractal image – so why not add a fourth style? I chose one image of a hand drawn and water colored butterfly. Then found a second complementary image by the same artist.

Isolated on a white background they were easy to clip out. Since this is a fantasy art piece, I did not expect them to look real or photographic. All the same, I colored them partially gray and made them 30 percent transparent in the scene, so that they would not look like stickers on top of the image. A bit of a drop shadow also makes them feel a bit more like they are in the scene.

The final portion of the image was the magical invocation drifting up from her lips. I used the Exalted font that some awesome person developed from the White Wolf guide books for the game.

A note about the images in this post: All the Royalty Free Stock Photos I used in this project were found on I love that site and have had a subscription for years. But just to let you know, I don’t own the copyright on any of these images, so please do not reproduce them.


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