Deke's Techniques 098: Creating a Hand Turkey in Photoshop

Today finds me on the beautiful and unexpectedly sunny east coast of Ireland. More specifically, Northern Ireland. Today's agenda: leave Belfast (such a great city!), explore the Giant's Causeway, take in a dram or two at the Bushmills Distillery, and lay my head down in Derry. In other words, I'll already have a buzz going by the time many of you roll out of bed and read this.

Just as no turkey will be harmed in the execution of my vacation, none will be harmed in the viewing of my video. In fact, rather than masticating a turkey, you'll be making one, using nothing more than Photoshop and a primitive tracing of your own hand.

As if to confirm that point, here's the official description from

This week's Deke celebrates Thanksgiving by creating a hand turkey in Photoshop. Here in America, we have a long-standing tradition of giving thanks every November by tracing around our hands and decorating them like turkeys. Although many of us learn this technique in Kindergarten, the internet provides galleries of evidence that the practice is not limited to youngsters. In fact, since many of us learned this skill when we were fearless child artists, the act of decorating your hand tracing for Thanksgiving can be quite liberating!

In this free video, Deke shows you how to honor Our Culture and release your Inner Artistic Child by creating a hand turkey in Photoshop.

The first step is to trace your hand in such a way that the end result is an electronic outline. There are as many options for accomplishing this as there are recipes for real Thanksgiving Turkey. In the video, Deke traces around his hand with a Wacom stylus and tablet. For my part, I shot a picture of my hand with Photo Booth, opened it in Photoshop, and used the Pen tool to trace a path around it. Because wiggly lines add to the nostalgia of the project, my ineptitude with the Pen tool has benefits for once! Regardless of which method you choose, you'll need to end up with the outline on an otherwise transparent layer against a white Background layer. Here's Deke's hand:

Deke notes that you should be sure to trace your wrist as well, since those lines are great for establishing the feet. (Gee, they didn't teach me that in Kindergarten!) On separate layers, he adds some feathers, a handsome face with beak and waddle, and feet:

After setting up a layer-based barrier to ensure that the colors stay within in their respective coloring book-style lines, it's safe to fill in the feathers, beak, and waddle with the Paint Bucket tool. To ensure that the colors fill their entire areas, Deke uses the Minimize filter to expand the colors just past the inner edge of the outline. (The Minimize filter reduces the size of the transparent regions, so the colored areas actually grow.)

After coloring the body a decidedly human palm-flesh color, Deke adds an Inner Shadow effect to the hand area to give it some volume. Then he duplicates and adjusts the Inner Shadow for each area, as follows:

After inexplicably deciding his turkey needs underwear (except that it's a chance to show you how to paint carefully, erase judiciously, and tweak the Inner Shadow effect so that it looks good against white), it's time to give the "flesh" some texture. After applying several filters to a Smart Object layer filled with nothing but black, Deke sets that layer's blend mode to Overlay and clips it to the Body layer below.

Aside from letting you recall the joys of one of your earliest art projects, much of the whimsy of this technique comes from the fact that it permits you lots of room for personal expression. You begin with nothing more than your own distinct handprint. Then you modify the colors, embellishments, and textures in any way you wish. Here are my observations from creating my own hand turkey (pictured on the left a few lines below):

1) Unlike Deke, I'm right-handed, which of course means that my turkey is facing the other way. While this may seem trivial, the upshot is that I had to flip my Inner Shadow effect to the mirror image of Deke's. So whereas Deke used an angle of –125 degrees, and I had to change mine to –55 degrees to impart volume to the analogous areas of my turkey.

2) Tracing an image of your hand with the Pen tool is great practice for learning how the Pen works: lots of subtle curves, and if you mess up, that just adds to the homespun nature of your turkey.

3) I made different decisions on colors, textures (I actually used the Stained Glass filter instead of Grain), wrinkles, and of course wardrobe.

But clearly, Jenny and Jake---as I've affectionately named them---are personal expressions of Deke's same general approach. It's a great way to have nostalgic fun while taking on a few useful features in Photoshop. Meanwhile, members can give thanks for an exclusive movie this week in which Deke gives his turkey a realistic cast shadow.

Deke will be back with another technique next week. Happy Hand-Turkey Day!

In the bonus movie, I'll show you how to give your turkey a photorealistic cast shadows. Even though it's just an imaginary hand cartoon.

OMG, it's a hand turkey with a cast shadow

Next week, The High Holidays begin. And in the meantime, wish me well in Ireland, where they don't celebrate this stuff at all.

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