Brush up your painting and photo-manipulation skills with Arisu Nomura's tutorial on how to transform a simple photo.

Recreating this astonishing photo-to-illustration image will hone your Photoshop skills in some advanced areas. This tutorial will guide you through the process of retouching photographs to achieve this smooth, illustrative finish, and then will show you how to integrate the results of this retouching with illustrated backgrounds and other elements.

Along the way, you’ll learn plenty of new ways to use the Liquify palette to manipulate portraits, and will become more familiar with the Transform and Warp tools.

Arisu Nomura also pulls out all the stops when it comes to making delicate tweaks to the colour and overall effects of the piece, so you’ll learn some highly refined ways of using blending modes and adjustment layers.

Finally, you’ll get the chance to paint digitally to create the cats that nestle in the character’s hair, putting into play all the skills you’ve honed in the rest of the tutorial.

01. In Photoshop, open the file background.jpg from the cover disc. Then create a new layer and paste onto this layer the photograph of the girl – girl.jpg, also from the cover disc. We need to make some adjustments to the girl’s face, beginning with the appearance of her skin. We want to smooth the girl’s skin somewhat, so select the Smudge tool with brush size of 85 pixels and a strength of 50%, then smooth the girl’s skin to remove minor blemishes or areas of uneven skin tone.

02. As a fan of Japanese art, I like to emphasize the eyes of the female faces in my artwork to make them look more oriental. To do this with our image, select Filter > Liquify and select the Forward Warp tool (W). Choose a brush size of 145 pixels, zoom in on the eye area and start adjusting the eyes. To make the girl’s eyes bigger – so she has more of a doll’s face – select the Bloat tool from the Liquify dialog (B) and then click on each of the eyes to make them bigger. To make the eyes smaller, you can click the Pucker tool (S) in the same dialog.

03. Still in the Liquify dialog, use the Pucker tool (S) in a brush size around 295 pixels to resize the nose, and then use a smaller brush on the eyebrows, making them thinner. You can also make changes here to the girl’s lips. Use the Forward Warp tool (W) to adjust the lips a bit and the Bloat tool (B) if you want to make them bigger. When you are happy with the girl’s face, use the Forward Warp tool in a brush size around 378 pixels to make the shoulders (the visible body parts) smaller. Be aware that you will need to change brush size from time to time to achieve the desired effect.

04. Now select the Dodge tool with range set to Highlights and Exposure set to 20%; I chose a brush size of 33 pixels and start highlighting the girl’s eyes. You can also highlight the lips using this tool or alternatively use the Burn tool (which appears when you click on the corner of the Dodge tool) to give them a darker tone.

05. Next select the Sponge tool (which also appears when you click on the corner of the Dodge tool) with the mode in the top bar set to Desaturate and the flow set to 100%, and desaturate her eyes.

06. Then select Layer > New Adjustment Layer > Curves and adjust the RGB channel using an output of 51 and input of 43. Create another adjustment layer and choose Selective Color > Yellows and adjust Yellow to -100%. Then select Layer > New Adjustment Layer > Photo Filter and choose Orange, set to 50% opacity.

07. Now we’re ready to remove the girl from the background. From the toolbar, select the Polygonal Lasso tool and draw around the girl as carefully as possible, but don’t worry too much about her hair as we’re going to change this later. Then press Cmd/Ctrl + Shift + I (Select Inverse) and hit Delete to erase the background.

08. With the background removed, we can soften the edges of the body and face with the Smudge ool so that the image doesn’t look too copy-and-pasted. Then select the girl by pressing Cmd/Ctrl + Move tool in the layer of the girl and click Layer > New Adjustment Layer > Photo Filter > Cooling Filter (80). Then in the layers palette, create a new group and name it Hair.

09. Now we’re going to create a softcoloured glow on the girl’s neck and shoulders to help integrate her with the background. Create a new layer and using the Eyedropper tool, select a colour from the background, next to the part of the body of the girl that you’re working on, and then start painting with the Brush tool, as shown here. Do this several times, picking up different colours around the neck and shoulder area. I used a hard ,round brush with a size of 329 pixels. When you’re finished set the blending mode to Soft Light, then select Filter > Blur > Gaussian Blur, setting a radius of 92.7.

10. Now we’re going to make the rays of light that emanate from behind the girl. On a new layer, create a row of rectangles as shown and fill them using the Paint Bucket tool (click on the corner of the Gradient tool) with a purple with the value #654ca7. Then group the rectangles. On another new layer, use the Paint Bucket tool and fill the background with a contrasting colour. Here I’ve chosen a colour value of #c6b5df. Then, select the two layers and press Cmd/Ctrl + E to merge them together.

11. With this merged layer selected, go to Filter > Distort > Polar Coordinates and select Rectangular to Polar, click OK and then set the blending mode to Multiply. To make a shadow of the girl, first select the girl then create a new layer and use the Paint Bucket tool to fill it with a black colour. Move it slightly to the right of the original, set the blending mode to Soft Light at 60%, then go to Filter > Blur > Motion Blur, and choose a size of 456. You can adjust the opacity or style of shadow later if necessary.

12. Now we can begin to paint the hair. Use a brush size of around 130 pixels and a purple (I used #8b8496) to paint in the base colour of the hair. It’s always best to start with a dark colour when painting hair in this way. Select the brush with the presets shown and chose a large pixels size. Start painting with big brush strokes. Add some thinner strokes using a smaller brush.

13. With the base colour complete, it’s time to add some highlights. Using the colour picker, select a lighter colour – I used a colour value of #806cfb – then keep painting so there will be a contrasting element to the hair. Keep doing this, changing the size of the brush stroke each time, to simulate the effect of highlights in the hair. If you’re using a graphics tablet, adjust the pressure of each stroke to vary thickness and sharpness. To help make the hair look more realistic, choose smaller brush sizes and paint the tips of individual hairs.

14. With the hair almost complete, decide which direction the light is coming from and add some shadows to the hair and highlights. Next, create two more photo filter adjustment layers: first select the red one, and then the orange.

15. Now we’re going to adjust our girl’s eyes and lips to complement her new hair. On a new layer, use the Eyedropper tool to select a colour from the background to serve as her new eye colour. Once you have painted her eyes, set the blending mode to Overlay, Soft Light or Color. I used #ad337a for both eye and lip colour, but in the eye layer I selected Overlay as the blending mode, while I set the lips layer to Soft Light. For the eyebrows I chose #3e2f97 with a blending mode of Soft Light.

16. With the girl completed, we’re now going to paint the cats in the hair manually, using the same method as with the hair itself. Start with a dark colour, then add lighter tones to give more shape to the cat. Here, I’ve used white to make the cats’ eyes and nose. Then distort the figures with Free Transform > Warp. I based the style of my cat characters on Japanese toys: you might find it useful to look up reference images and paint from these.

Who: Based in Portugal, Arisu Nomura is a photographer and digital artist who blends still photography with digital painting, occasionally using vector graphics and 3D elements. She loves Japanese and other Asian art and culture, and has created artwork for musicians such as Justin Lassen and Lyua Dust and book covers for Wildside Press. Her work has also been featured in magazines.
Software: Adobe Photoshop
Time to complete: 4 hours
On the CD: All files for this tutorial can be downloaded here or are available on the cover CD.