Create a Grunge Angel In Gimp. James Allan

Normal Angel    Grunge Angel       OK, so what is this grunge thing? Grunge  You take a perfectly clean image and make it look tattered and old, as if you’ve left it out in the weather for a month.  Is it appealing?  I’ll let you judge that one.  It’s certainly popular at present.  Grunge images are popping up all over the place, movie posters, book covers, advertising brochures etc.

I am going to show you how to make a grunge picture using GIMP.  What’s GIMP?  It’s an “open source” image manipulation program available as a free down load off the net.  You need to go to

Download PageOnce you have successfully installed and opened Gimp it will look something like this.


A quick tour.  There are three windows.  On the left is the toolbox with a range of brushes, paint tins and clone brushes etc.  The controls for these tools sit in the lower half of this window.  On the right is a range of useful dialog boxes nestled into each other, like ‘layers’ and ‘history’ and ‘brushes’.  In the middle is the main window that will contain the image (when we open one) with a menu bar across the top containing many features.

So I will start by opening my original angel picture.  GIMP is wonderful in that it will allow me to drag an icon of the image from Windows explorer into the central window and it will open that picture.

The gist of what I am going to do the picture is as follows.

  1. Desaturate
  2. Sharpen and Clarify
  3. Create a heavy and dark Vignette
  4. Overlay textured images (and mask them to optimal effect).
  5. Dodge and burn to bring back highlights

1. Desaturate.

Angel 1One of the problems with GIMP is that it has not developed adjustment layers (like Photoshop)  So I work around this problem by doing my adjustments in separate layers.  I can then merge the adjusted layer back with the original to reduce the strength of the effect if required.

So find the layers dialog in the right hand window.  Right click the icon of the Angel picture and select duplicate layer.  Ensure that the new layer is highlighted. Now in the central window go to the “Colours” menu and select “Hue Saturation Tool”.  When the dialog has opened, drag the saturation slider down to -100.  The image will now be completely monochrome.  Move the slider back up towards 0 to return some colour to the image.  Stop when you have achieved a pleasing result.  I chose around -30.

2. Sharpen and Clarify

The first image manipulation program I used was “Paint Shop Pro”.  It had a tool called “clarify” that seemed to enhance local contrast.  It was very useful in making a mediocre image “pop” into clarity.  However over done and the image looked cliched and artificial.  When I started using GIMP I wondered where the “clarify” command had gone. After some research I discovered that clarify was actually a “sharpening” function.

Firstly duplicate the top layer in our image (the desaturated one).   Go to Filter > Enhance > Unsharp mask.  Set the radius to 2.5 Threshold 5 and amount to 1.  You have just done a standard fine edge sharpen.  Now set the radius to somewhere between 40 and 80.  What do you notice?  An augmentation of the structure of the image.  Now set it to between 120 and 250.  You now find that light objects get lighter, dark objects get darker.  That is the clarify effect.  Have we gone too far?  Go to the layers dialog and with the top layer selected reduce the opacity to 50% on the slider.   This has reduced the intensity of the effect.

3. Vignette

At the bottom right hand corner of the “layers” window is a small icon called “new layer”.  Click on this.  Choose fill type “Transparency”.  A new completely transparent layer will appear.  Now select the elipse tool (left window) and draw a giant ellipse by clicking first on the top left of the image and dragging the mouse down to the bottom right.  A large elliptical selection will form that touches all four edges of the image.  We will now modify this selection.  In the “Select” menu choose “feather” and type 800 into the box.  Now again go to the “select” menu and choose “Invert”.  You will not have noticed much change, but we have made the selection the reverse of the ellipse and now with a very soft edge.

We are now going to paint this selection black.  We will use the paint can tool.  Remember first that we must select black as the foreground colour (Left hand window).  Click outside of the ellipse with the paint can tool and a black vignette will appear.  Go to “Select” and select “none” to remove the “marching ants” of the elliptical selection.

At this stage the vignette is quite opaque and may obscure objects behind it.   To soften the vignette we go to the layers dialog and we will change the “mode” of the layer from “normal” to “soft light”.  That has improved it considerably.

4. Overlay textures.

3 texturesThis is probably the key step in the whole grunge image.  We want to incorporate new textures onto the image.  I went around the house with my camera taking photographs of things with texture.  Wood grain, lace curtains, stained concrete, knitted sweaters, water drips on the shower screen  etc.  I chose an image of some green leaves.  I dragged the image onto the top of the angel from Windows Explorer and GIMP opened the image as a new layer, obscuring all below.  I then changed the “mode” of the layer from “normal” to “soft light”.  In fact there are many mode changes you can choose from.  The three blending modes that I would recommend are “overlay”, “soft light” and “hard light”. The angel reappeared with the texture of the leaves superimposed. I adjusted the opacity of the leaves layer to ensure that they were only subtle and not too dominating.

Next I wanted to refine the texture.  I wanted it less evident in the middle and more so on the outside.  To do this I created a mask.  Layer > Mask > Add Layer Mask. I selected “white, full opacity” for the fill.  Next I selected the paint brush tool from the toolbox (left) and chose a fairly speckled brush from the “brushes” dialog on the right. With the mask box in the layers menu selected (white border) I was able to paint away the texture from the centre of the image.  I wanted a scrubbed and scratched wood effect.  I found it helpful to turn down the opacity of the brush to avoid an unnatural sharp look.

In the end I used three different textures.  (In retrospect I might have chosen better textures.)

5. Dodge and Burn.

AngelThis is the term used to make some areas lighter and other areas darker.  Ansel Adams did this all the time in the darkroom.  It helps to enhance form.  I want the angel to stand out a little more.  In this case it would be nice to lighten up the angel and darken some of the background.

I am going to create a dodge and burn layer.     This is quite easy.  You simply create a new layer as above and change it’s mode to “soft light”.   Painting with white onto this layer will lighten the image.  Painting with black will darken the image.  I can paint the angel lighter and the background darker.

Well there you have it.  I hope that I haven’t confused you along the way.  Well yes it is probably a bit rushed and I’m sure a bit of restraint and you can get a more exquisite result.  Perhaps you should give it a go and   I hope to see some of your grungy images.

6. Cracked Paint (post script)

Angel-2 Peeling PaintI couldn’t help myself.  I had to go one step further.  I had an old image of some cracked paint on a doorway.  I dropped this image over the angel and created a layer over the top. Again the angel has disappeared.   This time I reveal the angel by creating a mask.  I click on Select>By colour and use the eye dropper tool to select the colour of the paint.  Then from the layers menu I select Mask>Add Layer Mask and when the dialog appears I choose “selection”.  In an instant the angel reappers where the paint was previously.  The final result looks like an icon from a medieval church.  I’m quite happy with this.  There you have it.

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One Response to Create a Grunge Angel In Gimp. James Allan

  1. Pingback: Picassa and Gimp Workshop – Free Image Software – Chris Schultz & James Allan | Blackwood Photographic Club of South Australia Inc.

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