We’ve been working for awhile behind the scenes to incorporate more Ladies of Color among the Ladies with the glasses who adorn the site. And here she is!
The original group of Ladies, and the new ones that debuted with the new design, were originally advertisements for American Optical, a company founded in the 1800s. (Their history is some neat reading.)
But there were no women of color included in their ad illustrations that I could find. And finding similar images was equally difficult. To find a Lady of Color presented a challenge for the design team at Waxcreative, and when I saw the before and after of the new Lady, I was stunned. I wanted to show the process of developing the newest illustration because the transformation was so interesting. So here’s Emily Cotler of Waxcreative, mastermind of our new Lady.
We tried to find a suitable image to simply purchase, maybe make a few Photoshop adjustments and that would be that. Alas…
What’s out there is…limited. This is pretty much the only ad featuring women of color with sassy cat glasses from the fifties (above), and that would have been nearly impossible to have tried to bring aligned into the style of the other Ladies. We found nothing along the lines of the very specific feel that has become the Smart Bitches style. In desperation we tried the pretty c1950s lady below:
We tried putting glasses on her (right), at least to try some studies, since we were looking for glasses, too. The level of the halftone (I think it might be an image for 3D glasses, actually) and the overall quality of the image fairly quickly ruled this image out as a possibility. But we were getting kind of desperate.
Then, after some fairly extensive searching, we found this sassy lady (below), and she already had the glasses (bonus). This is the stock image with nothing done to it except to crop her square.
Clearly the image needed work to bring this contemporary stock image back to the 1950s, and aligned with the expressions and contextual tone of the current gallery.
Oddly enough, we started at the end. To see how far we had to go, we tried the final step: applying various textures. We had to see all that was needed (a lot), and how painting her lips a flatter color would work after texturing.
This (above) is an example of one of our many initial texture matching attempts. The SBTB Ladies are images from actual 1950s advertisements, and the way images were processed back then is very different from the digital processing of modern images. Simply applying some filters could not duplicate the painting and halftone processing of the 1950s imagery.
We ascertained we’d need to first paint the image to transport our lady back in time, changing the lighting and adding a lot of other smoothing, highlighting, color overlaying, etc., then figure out how to texture her. We also knew we’d have to take the painting too far if we were going to have options in terms of making the gazillion adjustment layers work with each other. Our goal was to have her seamlessly fit in with all the other fabulous ladies. Below left is the original image, below right is full opacity on nearly every painted layer (yikes!), and a single color in the background (to match the current Smart Bitch style).
Once we had overpainting on many layers, we could essentially recreate and match the end-result style of the 1950s. Starting with a base of full-opacity digital paint, we adjusted the opacity (differently on nearly every layer) to more closely mimic the effect of actual paint, tone down the lighting, and retain some of the life of the original image. This required patience and a lot of coffee.
Right: Fully Painted
Middle: Adjusted Opacity on no fewer than eight hair-related layers.
But it wasn’t just the colorization of the image that needed adjustment. Our modern lady had a different kind of sass than the ladies we were matching her to. The Smart Bitch Ladies smile knowingly, and even when showing teeth, their lipstick is in a heart shape. We needed to reshape our new lady’s lips and they had to be red. All while respecting the fullness and shape of her lips as they were photographed. This was a many-stepped journey during which several roads were traveled down, only to be abandoned.
2. Fully Painted, no color change
3. Color change (1950s lipstick was almost universally red — not this red, though!)
4. Shaping (and adding darker bits around the edges so she didn’t look like a cartoon) Softening her expression to a knowing smile vs. pursed sass.
5. Opacity Adjustments
6. Almost final
In the end a compromise had to be made. 1950s lipstick was matte and opaque across the board (I know this, I asked my mother). But in all my lipstick research (which included a thinly-justified trip to Sephora), flat matte is not the same as no depth. In order to have some depth and not look like a cartoon, we had to have some of her original high-gloss lighting show through.
Her eyes needed attention, too.
Middle: Painting and lighting adjustment
Bottom: Close-to-final Opacity and Expression.
We couldn’t figure out why she wasn’t as serene as the other ladies (even the ones showing teeth). After much staring at the lot of them, it became apparent — her eyes. (Aside: I am sure if I hadn’t been working on her for as long as I had, this may have been obvious earlier. Don’t judge.) Her contemporary sassiness had her eyes open wide, but all the other ladies had the tops and bottoms of their irises tucking under their lids. Back to the drawing tablet we went. When done, she looked much, much closer to the expression of the others.
The next step was to change her modern crew neck into a 1950s crisp collar. We tried out a few images, searching on retro collar, retro clothing, 1950s, etc. Results were really thin; this (below) yellow-shirted modern girl pretending to be a 1950s woman smiling-while-doing-the-housework advertisement being one of the only possible long shots. It didn’t work.
I really didn’t want to draw it freehand.
Then, after FaceTiming my mother for whatever reason, I saw the graduation portraits of me and my sisters behind her. One of them included a collar that was sort of what I needed. A quickly adjusted image search yielded this:
I think she’s pre-1950s, but it didn’t matter. I extracted her left collar, shadow at her neck and all, and plunked it into a new layer. Smudging and skewing it into position on the right of my screen, I duplicated part of it to finish it off at the far-most edge.
Flipped, it didn’t fit. We could have fitted to the model’s shoulder, but we wanted a different hold to her shoulders to go with her changed expression. So we changed her shoulder.
Her hand gesture no longer worked with the new expression, and was carefully removed from the image using pieces of the surrounding textures.
The final step was to apply the halftone textures that resulted from the kind of printing that was available in the 1950s. A simple Photoshop filter did the hard work for us.
And the result:
Oh, I hope you like her. I think she’s stunning. And her eyebrows!
What blows my mind is that there are so few images of women of color then and now. No matter what era. The ability to transform a current image into the 50s style and sass level of the Ladies here is no small feat, and took a stunning amount of effort, too. I can’t go back in time and get more photographers to take pictures of women of color, but I also know it’s as much a challenge to find contemporary images of women of color for contemporary use, which baffles me. I hope that will change.
I also hope you like our new Lady. She’ll be on the main pages of the site, up at the top left, so you’ll be seeing her on the site regularly now. We’re also working on finding more images to reflect all the women who read and love romance to include in the gallery of signature Ladies. If you spot a stock image that might work, please do email me!