Designing Realistic Rugs from Photographs | Charlie Proulx | Skillshare

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Designing Realistic Rugs from Photographs

teacher avatar Charlie Proulx, Watercolour and Textile Artist

Watch this class and thousands more

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Taught by industry leaders & working professionals
Topics include illustration, design, photography, and more

Watch this class and thousands more

Get unlimited access to every class
Taught by industry leaders & working professionals
Topics include illustration, design, photography, and more

Lessons in This Class

    • 1.



    • 2.

      Your Project


    • 3.

      Building a Map from a Reference - Black and White


    • 4.

      Building a Map from a Reference - Colour


    • 5.

      Choosing Your Yarn


    • 6.

      Transferring Your Sketch


    • 7.

      Tufting Tips


    • 8.

      Gluing Your Rug


    • 9.

      Backing Your Rug


    • 10.

      Trimming Your Rug


    • 11.

      Wrapping Up


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About This Class

Unravel the art of turning intricate images into beautiful and unique rugs! This class focuses on breaking down a reference photo to create a simplified, but realistic, rug map for easy tufting.

You will learn:

  1. What to look for in a good reference photo.
  2. How to choose representative colours or values from your reference.
  3. How to map out your reference to create a recognizable subject.
  4. What to think about when deciding on your yarn colours.

I'll also provide a basic run-down of how I make my rugs, and give you tips and tricks along the way!

During this class, I assume you already have a little tufting experience or that you've watched my Rug Tufting Gun for Beginners class. I will skim over the technical skills for actually creating the rug itself. You could very likely make a full rug from this class alone! But if you want a more in-depth discussion on each step in the rug-making process, please check out my other class.

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Meet Your Teacher

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Charlie Proulx

Watercolour and Textile Artist


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Hi there!

I'm Charlie, a watercolour and rug artists who specializes in colourful animal portraits. I also go by SquidTarts on social media and around the web. I absolutely love animals and color!

I'm a self-taught artist and have been a professional artist since 2019. I've sold prints of my paintings all over the world, and I currently sell custom rug portraits as well.

In a previous life, I was a dog trainer, and I absolutely loved teaching both dogs and their families how to communicate with each other clearly. I hope to bring that level of two-way communication to my classes here on Skillshare. Please feel free to reach out if you ever have any questions about my lessons or work.

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1. Welcome!: Are you new to rug tufting? And want to learn how to create rugs that are completely unique to yourself? Or maybe you've been tufting for a while and you've been using other people's designs, but you want to learn how to use your own and this is a class for you. Hi there, I'm Charlie. I'm the artist behind squid tarts art. I'm an Atlantic Canada based textile and watercolor artist specializing in animal portraits. In this class, I'll walk you through the process of using any digital program that supports layers to create a tufting map. We'll look both at creating a value map for a black and white image, as well as a color map for a colored image. I'll then walk you through the entire process. I used to create a rug from start to finish using one of these maps. By the end of the class, you should have a good idea on how to transform any photograph into a beautiful rug. So please join me for this class, level up your rock tufting game and I can't wait to see what you create. 2. Your Project: You're pressing for this class, we need to create a rug tifting map from a photograph. To do this, you'll need a photo that you want to transform into a rug. And any kind of software that has layering functionality. In my example I'm using procreate, but there are plenty of free apps and software available. I'll have a few linked down in the description. If you'd like feedback on your map before actually creating your rug, then please feel free to submit that into the project section or if you want to start off taking your rug all the way to the finish line, I'd love to see what you create. Please be sure to share it down in the project section. Of course, if you have any questions, please be sure to leave them in the comment section. 3. Building a Map from a Reference - Black and White: The first step to designing your rug map is selecting a good reference photo and then importing it into your software choice. I'm using procreate for this class, but there are plenty of free software options. The only thing you need is software that supports using layers. I've linked to two freeware options, Rita and Gimp, down in the class description, but there are plenty of options out there. When selecting a black and white reference photo, it's important to really focus on the values you want. A photo that shows really strong values. Looking at this dog photo, you can see there are a really strong light coming from the upper right and that casts a really strong shadow on the bottom left. These strong highlights and shadows are what we're going to be using to create our rug map. Once we've imported our image, I'm going to create a new layer and this will be my palette layer. So this is where I'm putting swatches of the final colors in order to create my palette'm. Going to start by selecting the lightest highlight. This is the area that is the absolute brightest on the image for this dog, it's practically white, a little bit darker. I'm going to select that color from the photo, and I'm going to add that to our palette layer. I'm then going to see what is the second stage of highlight. So it's a little bit darker than the absolute brightest highlight, but still brighter than the mid tone or average color of the dog. I'm going to select that color and add that to our palette. I'm going to follow this trend of choosing the most extreme values, just because it makes it easier to approach the mid value. With this in mind, I'm now going to select the darkest shadow color. I'm going to use the Dropper tool to pick that from my photo and add that to our palette layer. In the next layer, I'll pick the middle shadow. It's still darker than the mid tone, but it's less dark than the darkest shadow that we just picked. The final step is to pick the midtone. For this photo, there's quite a lot of shadow, there are quite a few options you can try for the midtone. You might need to try a few different colors before deciding which one should be your base. I'm going to add a layer for each of my colors. For my middlest color, which is the first color we selected, I'm going to trace out the entire image, and then I'm going to hide that layer. After getting the overall shape trace out with my midtone, I'm essentially looking for the lowest hanging fruit. I'm going after the area that stands out the most to me in this image. What stands out the most is those really bright highlights. So those are the whitest whites on my top lowest layer. I'm going to select that color from our palette, the very bright white. And I'm going to trace over all of those areas that look super white this dog. Once I have those areas all traced out and filled in, I'm going to turn that layer off and go to the layer beneath it. And then I'm going to choose the second layer of highlights. This is the slightly darker highlights. I'm going to trace around any area that feels like it's in highlight and fill that in. Once that layer is done, I'll turn it off and I'll move on to the shadows. In this case, I'm starting with the largest shadow shapes. It's the lighter shadow that we selected earlier. I'm just going to trace over any area that looks like it's darker than the mid tone, it looks like it's in any shadow. The final step for our color palette is to use that very dark color and trace out the very darkest areas. This is where you can add a nice little bit of detail to your image around the nostrils and just to highlight the eyes. Essentially, you want this color anywhere where you want a dark shape to really stand out and come forward. The final step before we move on to refining the map is just adding the eyes for eyes. I find it's easiest to have tones, a lighter tone and a darker tone, and then just use white for the high light. Just like before, we're tracing out the lightest area and then the darkest area before adding the high light on top. Once I've traced out all these layers, I'm going to turn them on. The way these layers should be arranged should be your middlet tone at the bottom, followed by your lightest dark. And then above it is your darkest dark. Above that is your darkest light above, that is your lightest light. When you look at it, you should be able to see all of those values. And looking at this final map, this is where you need to assess whether you need to add some extra details or even add an extra layer of color on this dog. I've decided that the shadow area needs a bit of work, so I'm adding an extra shadow layer just to give me one more value. I'm also going in and refining a few of the shapes just to make the image a little bit more interesting. Remember that your rug is a piece of art. While accuracy is important, it's not as important as aesthetic. So just make sure that you don't have any areas that look too boring or too same, Same. Then as a very last step, can look at my rug's overall design and I'm going to see if I need to change the outline of it. For this dog, I feel like it has quite a strong outline, so I'm very happy with that. 4. Building a Map from a Reference - Colour: The first design we covered, pretty easy to see because it's a black and white image. It's very basic. What about a colored image? Let's look at this brown tabby cat and we'll break it down. The primary difference between a black and white photo and a colored photo is that instead of looking for the shadow shapes and the light shapes, you're looking instead for the main color shapes. So let's take a quick look at this tabby and try to identify the approximate number of colors in the fur. I can see there's this light tan area. There's a midtone orange here on the nose, a very light white on the mouth. Of course, the very dark black stripes, this mid biji tone, and then this ticked area on the cheeks. I've identified six colors. I'm going to go ahead and add six layers to this image. Your reference photo may have more or fewer colors depending on the complexity of the colors of the subject. Now that I've identified these colors, I'm going to go ahead and color pick them, just like we did in the first lesson. The photo is on the bottom layer and on the very top layer is going to be my palette. And I'm starting from the lightest and working my way towards the darkest. When I'm selecting colors, I'm aiming to get something that is representative of the overall colors within that area. So be careful not to pick the lightest yellow or the darkest yellow. If you're going for that midtone yellow for this cheek area, you can see that there's some ticking in the fur. And that's just where the fur is made of several different colors. In this case, I'm going to try to pick a color that's between the darkest and the lightest, and that's representative of the overall color. This area is made up of a light brown and a dark black, but it feels pretty dark overall. So I'm going to go with this darker brown color that'll give the impression of the color without actually giving the true color. You might be able to find a specialty yarn that has that ticked color. But it's good to have a back up with my colors picked out. I'm going to go ahead and trace out my base. I'm using this mid tan tone. Once the base is traced out, I'm going to hide that layer and then I'm going to move on to this orangey color. I'm just looking for any area in the cat that looks like it has this orange color tracing around it and filling it in. Not worried too much right now if it overlaps other areas, we're going to put the stripes on the very top to make sure that they show through so you don't have to be super clean with this. Next we're going to go down to these ticked markings, and again, we're just going to fill in any area that looks like it's this ticked brownish color. This can be a little tricky with how the brown is overlapping the other colors and fades off. It's okay to try out a few different shapes and see what you like best. After looking at the ticked shape, I decided that I actually wanted to add a bit more orange near the top of the cat's head. I'm just going to go back to that layer, add that in, and then close that layer off again, and go on to the next color. The next color here is this light cream color. I use this anywhere where there's a light color that is not explicitly white. Next we're moving up to the pure white areas, and that's just the chin on this kitty cat. I'm not worried too much about the shadows because I'd have to add an extra shadow color for that. And I want to keep this at the six color mark, but if you want to add more detail, then absolutely. Go ahead. I'm also going to use this white to add a little bit of fur texture here in the ear. And finally I'm going to add the pure black of the stripes. Adding this last, because I want it to lay on top of all the other layers. The very last step is of course, the eye color. Just like with the black and white dog, I like to choose two colors for the eyes, black for the pupils, and a white highlight. But you can add as many colors as you like. Once you finish filling out all your colors and turn back on all your color layers, you may decide that you need to move some of the layers around or maybe remove or change elements of a layer. For example, the brown of the mouth here is completely lost underneath the white. So I'm just going to select and cut that area and then paste onto a new layer and move that above the white layer. Now when I turn on all my color layers, I can still see the mouth detail looking at the piece. Now I feel like I need one more color just to distinguish around the ears and maybe add a little bit more contrast to this reddish orange around the eyes. I'm going to select the reddish orange and make a new color for it. I'm also going to make sure to give this a new layer on top of all the layers except for black. Remember, this isn't an exact science. You're going to want to push and pull a little bit, change some colors here, change some shapes there just to come up with something that you find aesthetically pleasing. 5. Choosing Your Yarn: Now that you have a color or value map of the piece that you're going to make, it's time to choose your yarn. There are a few things to remember when selecting your yarn. And the first is that the yarn is going to tuft out to be a darker color than it actually appears. Unless you've made swatches of the yarn, it's going to be difficult to make an exact match to the color that you're looking for. It's best to select yarns based on their relative relationship between each other. So for example, when I'm choosing the oranges for this cat, I'm going to choose a lighter orange and a darker orange. They're not necessarily the exact oranges that I've chosen from my color map or that show up on the photo. They're pretty close and it's the relationship between the two that's most important. There were a few times while making this rug that I actually ran out of certain colors and I had to go out and buy new yarn. If you find yourself in this situation, be careful that you're getting the same batch number. Yarns that were dyed in different batches tend to be slightly different colors. This is really accentuated on a rug. You can minimize the impact of this color difference on your rug by tufting in different sections. If you have enough of a certain color only to do half of the next section, you might just wait until you get a new scheme of yarn and tuft out that new section. 6. Transferring Your Sketch: The first step of making the rug is to stretch your backing cloth. Just try to make sure that your lines are straight both on the vertical and horizontal. As you tft your cloth will get a bit looser and you'll have to tighten it up to make sure that the gun follows it cleanly. Once you have your backing cloth stretch, it's time to transfer the lines. I'm using a photo projector for this, but there are several different methods you can use. You can also print out the lines and tack them to the back of your backing cloth and just trace them through it. Or you can even free hand the design if you're quite arty. Before you trace out your design, it's important to remember that if direction matters, so if the subject is not perfectly symmetrical, you want to flip the canvas so that way the front of the rug shows the correct orientation and then it's just a matter of tracing over your lines. 7. Tufting Tips: Some basic tfting advice is that you really want to outline the shapes before you fill them in. That allows you to get a nice, clean edge and to really control the final shape. Remember that there's a speed knob at the bottom of the handle of your gun that you can slow down or speed up your gun if you need to go around sharp corners. You can also tap the trigger to slow down your gun. If you want to make a curve, you want to leave a little bit of a gap between the lines and the fill in that way your lines stay nice and clean and your colors don't bleed into each other. That gap, in general should be about one to two stitches wide. It's also best to always try to tuft in the same direction to keep the pile direction the same. Think about when you walk across a freshly vacuumed rug, how you can leave footprints? Because you've changed the pile. That's how your rug will look if you tuft in different directions. 8. Gluing Your Rug: Gluing. A rug is really important to make sure that it has structural integrity and to ensure that the yarn stays in place. For this rug, I'm just using PVA glue. The advantage of PVA glue is that it's very safe. I recommend this for any rug that is going to be around children or animals. However, it's also the least durable. It's best for a wall hanging pieces. When I apply the glue, I just use my hand because PVA glue, as I said, is very safe. But if you're using something like carpet adhesive, you want to make sure that you're well protected. Make sure that you're applying the glue quite liberally. Make sure that you're bring the glue past the edge of the yarn, onto the excess backing fabric. That's going to give the backing fabric a little bit more durability. And it's going to make creating the waterfall edge at the end much easier. 9. Backing Your Rug: There are many different ways to back a rug. In this example, I'll be using a waterfall edge, and that's just where you fold down the edge of the rug, some of the yarn comes onto the back. To do this, I'm going to cut approximately 1 " around the entire rug, and then I'm going to make some parallel relief cuts. How far apart you make the relief cuts is based on your rug design. If there's a curve, you're going to want more of those cuts. For a straight line, you can get away with many fewer. Once I have all my relief cuts in place, I'm going to take some hot glue and I'm going apply it around the edges. And I'm just going to pull the rug, just a few strands of yarn, curl down the back. I'm going to go all the way around the rug, folding down this excess fabric and gluing it to the back. Then once that's done, I'm going to take my final backing fabric or finishing cloth. In this case I'm using felt and I'm going to glue this down in order to get a nice clean edge. I'm going to take the hot glue gun and I'm going to put it just where the yarn lays across the tufting fabric, the backing fabric down on top of that glue. Then I'm going to use a little bit of pressure to push the glue out towards the yarn. This is going to make sure that the base of the yarn sticks a little bit to the finishing cloth. I'm going to do that all along the outer edge of the rug, making a little pocket. Periodically I'm going to reach inside that pocket and apply some more hot glue along the base of the rug. And I'm just going to pat that down so it stays nice and sturdy. Even though this is a wall hanging piece, the felt on the back shouldn't be taking too much pressure. So I'm not super worried about having it very solidly glued down. But having a bit of extra glue really does help give it some extra fidelity. The final step for backing a rug is to trim away the excess backing cloth because I'm sure the glue gets right to the edge of the yarn. It should be a pretty easy process. What I like to do is take a sharp pair of sewing shears and pull the excess backing fabric perpendicular to the back of the rugs, just straight up. Then I lay the scissors down, running parallel with the back of the rug. And just trim off all that excess. Try to use the tension between the rug and the backing fabric to guide your scissors. Not only does backing help your piece feel more finished and look more professional, but it also increases its durability. 10. Trimming Your Rug: The final step for finishing up your rug is the trimming and clean up. For doing the trimming on this rug, I'll be using a sheep shear with a plexiglass guide, but you can also use just regular animal shears or even just scissors. This first pass is just to clean up the pile and try to get it as even as possible. You notice that certain colors of yarn tend to create more flyaway bits that need to be trimmed back, while others tend to come in a bit thicker and bushier and need to be trimmed back to feel a little bit more level with the rest of the rug. Once your pile height is fairly even, deven out the edges of the pile height. I like to take my scissors and just go around and trim the very edge to be quite short and sharp. And I take my scissors and around that edge back towards the front of the rug. This just creates a nice clean look all the way across the rug. And gives you a rug that really nice shape that you've already designed into it. The very last step is completely optional, but you can also do a little bit of carving to help create very distinct lines. I like to do this around eyes, especially to help them really come forward and pop. I'm just doing this with my scissors and I'm just putting the scissors between the eye color and the fur color. And trimming on a bit of an angle. I'm cutting the fur color on my first pass, going back, tilting my scissors the opposite direction, and cutting just the eye color. On the next pass, that's going to create a little bit of a V shape between the eye color and the fur color. And it's going to make sure that the line between those two colors is nice and sharp. This clean up step is what makes your rugs look really professional. So be sure to take as long as you need to get the rug as clean and polished as you like. With that, you're done. 11. Wrapping Up: Congratulations to the end. I hope you've learned how easy it can be to create complex rugs from photographs and that you're feeling confident for tackling your next project. In this class, we went over two different examples of how to take, photograph, and transform it into a rug tufting map. I also walked you through my entire process and how I created a brown tabby cat. If you need more information on the physical aspect of creating the run, please check out my beginner rug tufting course. I'll have it linked down in the video description here. Now that you've watched through the whole class, be sure to practice these skills to make sure they stick. If you don't have software that allows layers, I've linked some free options in the video description, so be sure to pop down there and grab one of those. And whether you practice making a simple map or you go all out and make an entire rug based on the tutorial. Please share in the project section below. I'm really excited to see you guys create. Thanks very much and have an awesome day.