This tutorial from Dutch Photoshop master Jennifer Cirpici shows you how to combine abstract elements with photographs for a hyperreal effect. Jennifer says that this is the first time she has combined these two styles, but wanted to try it out just to see what the results would be.
See also: 86 Best Photoshop tutorials
“As an artist it’s important to come out of your comfort zone and experiment with new techniques and styles,” she says. “Yes, it is good to have a style, but your style can come back in little elements like the way you colour. Never do only the same kind of art repeatedly.”
Jennifer will teach you how to make these abstract elements in Illustrator and how to paste them into Photoshop. You’ll learn how to add realistic elements, how to handle lighting, and, all in all, how to seamlessly combine vector with photo manipulation: two completely different styles.
Time to complete
Illustrator & Photoshop
We’re going to create a warm summer abstract landscape, so search for a stock background with bright colours. Maybe some mountains in the background, but for sure some green grass in the foreground.
We’re also going to need a colour swatch block to build our abstract elements. Create this using colours that appear a lot inside the stocks already (using the Eyedropper tool).Save this as a layered PSD file.
Let’s open Illustrator and bring in your PSD file. Create new Swatches from the colour swatch block by using the Eyedropper tool (
I) on each each colour in turn, then clicking on the New Swatch button in the Swatches panel. Create some swirls with the Pen tool ( P). Make sure the end is thin so that it creates some depth.
As you can see it doesn’t look like anything special now – but it’ll improve immensely once we move on to one of the most fun parts: colouring. Take each swirl in turn and apply a gradient from one of the swatches to another. Ensure you use colours that complement each other, otherwise the end results will look nasty.
Apply a white radial gradient to the swirls so that the colours are less bright. To create more depth, create a couple of circles with a smooth gradient and place some under the swirls. The size and brightness of the circles should be proportional to their position from left to right, so they appear to follow the swirls into the background.
Delete the background layer leaving only the abstract elements. Hide the circles in the foreground; we’ll blur them in Photoshop, so we’ll bring them in separately. Now save the file, return to Photoshop and select File > Place to insert the file into the stock in Photoshop so it comes in as a single layer, replicating your positioning from Illustrator.
You’ll notice a tiny pixel line around your abstract elements. To get rid of this, select the vector layer and hit
Layer > Rasterize > Layer, then Layer > Matting > Defringe with a value of 1 pixel.
Go back to Illustrator and unhide the circles we made invisible before. Copy and paste them into Photoshop and blur them with
Blur > Gaussian Blur. The closer they are to you, the more blur you should apply to give the appearance of depth.
There are three key elements to achieving the perfect look to your composition: brightness and contrast, colours, and lighting and shadow. To hit the first, add a Brightness/Contrast Adjustments layer from the Adjustments panel at the top of the layer stack and just play with it until it looks more dynamic. Add a Colour Balance Adjustments layer and again play around with the settings until it looks richer.
Now onto lighting and shadow. With the Brush tool (
B) set to a black colour and the Multiply blending mode, paint some shadows behind the circles, the end of the circles and on the ground.
Add some lighting effects near the sun and on the swirls by creating a few small white circles and giving them a blending mode of Soft Light.
Create a new layer and fill it with black. Use the Gradient tool (
G) to create a new black-and-white radial gradient with its white centre where you think the focus should be (in this case the Sun). Set this layer’s blending mode to Soft Light and lower the opacity to 30%.
To add to a natural, summery feel, I added a some butterflies into the piece. You can download these for free from
bit.ly/l3Dd4H and bit.ly/lQskUO. Don’t forget to add shadows like we did for the circles. I also added some birds. Be creative and add whatever makes you think of summer.
The right side is a bit too empty, so follow Steps 2-9 to add another swirl with a different gradient, another circle and a butterfly. Ensure it has lighting and shadows, and give the circle a bit of motion blur towards the bottom right.
Create another new layer filled with black, then go to
Render > Clouds and repeat three times. Set the blending mode to Lighten and drop the opacity to 90%. This gives it a bit more texture for a better composite.
You should change the colour at the very last minute, it’s one of the final touches. I gave it a bit more orange so that the sunlight looks stronger and blends in with the swirls.
Sometimes I flip or rotate pieces because I think the composition is too obvious looking. You get a whole new look and get a chance to fix some mistakes you haven’t seen before. Flip the artwork horizontally.
The swirl now on the left looks a bit odd, so flip this layer and move it nearer to the other swirls.
Create some glass shards in Illustrator. You can make them easily by creating a shape with the right perspective, applying a white stroke and then a white gradient in the middle. Paste them into Photoshop and arrange accordingly.
Since the piece is almost done, we can add a refracted effect inside each glass shard. Use the Magic Wand (
W) to select the area of the background behind each glass element, copy and paste this, then select Image > Apply Image to constrain it within the glass, and make it bigger using Edit > Transform > Scale.
I also added a spark of lighting to the top of the glass shards.
Jennifer Cirpici is from the Netherlands and through agencies such as Mediamonks and Saatchi & Saatchi has worked for many clients like Fiat, Sisi, T-Mobile and Soundos. Her style is recognisable by the bright colours she utilises, and concepts often use photo manipulation combined with digital painting. Her advice to aspiring creatives is simple: “set yourself a goal, go for it, let nothing stop you and have fun.” Contact