It doesn’t take a wealth of graphic complexity to produce an image charged with meaning. In this design, self-employed artist Tom Starley uses basic colours, shapes and brush strokes to create a well balanced, euphoric image with a hint of the fetal about it. This isn’t a technically complex piece – the original photograph does most of the work, but its graphic accessories enhance the emotion that is hinted at in the original.
The techniques in this tutorial will teach you how to subtly use Overlay effects and Selective Color to change the mood of your image. You’ll also learn how to place shapes to aid visual abstract design, how to use brushes to aid movement through the composition, and how to add depth to the foreground. We’ll also throw in a great trick to mask hair.
Time to complete
Adobe Photoshop CS4 or later
Download the project files for this tutorial
First off, download the In The Moment brush set from the
project files and double-click to install it.
You’ll need a model shot, preferably one with a limited tonal palette. I’ve gone with a
nude from iStock.
Double-click the photo to unlock it. In Photoshop, create a new layer beneath it. Fill this layer with white. Simple.
Now we are going to cut out our model and paste her onto a new layer but also keep her background beneath. Select the photo, zoom in (
Cmd/Ctrl + +) to 300% then hit ( P) to select the Pen tool. Carefully create a path around the woman, ignoring any wayward strands of hair – be ruthless, as we will add them back in later.
Once you’ve created a path around the woman, Right-click in the middle of her, then choose Make Selection. Hit OK. This separates the two images. Hold
Cmd/Ctrl + X to cut, and Cmd/Ctrl + V to paste into a new layer. Reduce the opacity of the photo background to 64%.
Now we can add any hairs back to the model’s head. Turn off all layers except for our cut-out model. Select the Smudge tool, use brush sizes 1 or 2, set the strength to 95% and select Sample All Layers in the Options bar.
Re-draw the strands of hair that couldn’t be cut out with the Pen tool. Going with the flow of her hair, flick your mouse or pen across the severed tips to re-draw hairs (the more the better). Once this is done, turn the other layers back on.
Next we’re going to add colour to the design using the Overlay Blend Mode – select this either in the Layers palette drop-down menu or by going to
Layer > Layer Style > Blending Options. Create a new layer, fill it with yellow (#ffff0), reduce the opacity to 16% and set the Blend Mode to Overlay. Mmm, yellowy.
Create a new layer and use the Brush tool to softly scatter pink (#ffe02b1) around the image. Reduce the opacity to 37% and set Blend Mode to Overlay. Repeat the above process over the model’s body with a blood red, adjusting the opacity accordingly. Set to Overlay. Group these layers and keep them at the top of your document.
Now we’ve set the scene and added the colour overlays, we can start to add the abstract brushes and shapes to the design. Instead of giving you precise instructions as to where to place these effects, the following steps and tips will give you the basis from which to work using your own artistic licence.
Locate one of the paint splatter brushes provided in our download. Create a new layer above the model and add a couple of splatters around her back. I’ve used white for this but you can use any colour you like.
Using the brushes provided, place more splatters and shapes around the model in an aesthetically pleasing way. Alter their colour, duplicate or rotate them, or warp the applied brush to make the shapes fit the contours of the model’s body. Make sure you create a new layer for each brush as this will give you total control. It also allows you to remove any brush layer later on.
Now add a layer under the model and repeat the above, experimenting with the brushes provided. Try not to go over the top with effects, less is more. The main point of focus is the model, so make sure your effects don’t drown her out. Don’t worry about getting an exact likeness to my example, just experiment and have fun.
If you’re not happy, stop. Take a break, have a think, come back to the piece later and experiment with it until you are. I find listening to relaxing music helps me get in the right frame of mind. Try and make your brushwork fluid, as if it’s really there in the image.
Now you’ve added the colour and the shapes, we can create the orbs of light that look like lens flare. Create a new layer above the model and set its Blend Mode to Overlay. Locate one of the orb brushes, set the size quite large, then just flick the brush around the page.
Repeat the above with a smaller size brush. This is very simple yet effective and is a great brush for adding depth to an image. A lot of effects like this are very easy to apply, but add so much to the design.
So you’ve added everything now and it’s looking great, but you want the image to pop just that little bit more. You may be thinking that the colours could be brighter or some don’t work at all. In this case, navigate to the Adjustment Layer panel and at the top of your stack, add a Selective Color layer (
Layer > New Adjustment Layer > Selective Color).
Set the Selective Color layer to work on all the layers beneath it. This allows you to alter each colour in your design easily – go through all the options and adjust them until you get the look you want. Then you’re done. Export and send the image to everyone you know (including me), upload it to a website, or send it in to Digital Arts.