Photoshop is a powerful photo-editing tool but its uses are not limited to colour manipulation in photographs. Many digital artists use it like a compositing tool, allowing them to take elements from various sources and piece them together.
See also: 83 Best Photoshop tutorials
The multiple layers allow elements to be moved around, speeding up correction for composition, colour and texture. This tutorial aims to show how an illustration made up of various elements is created and prepared for print in a magazine.
Time to complete
3 to 5 hours
To begin, open a new document in Photoshop and go for a horizontal A4 page at 300dpi. This resolution is used for high-quality magazine printing and will keep the illustration crisp and clear. Start an image in RGB and convert it to CMYK later, as CMYK in Photoshop can sometimes cause strange distortions when tweaking colours.
Next, break up the white space, using the Brush tool in the Brushes toolbar. Choose a textured brush with a 50 per cent Opacity/50 per cent Flow in a mid-grey colour. Work the grey into the corners of the canvas and use the Line tool to create vertical lines building up a rough textured background, working over the grey with white again to get an even background that won’t draw the eye away from the rest of the picture.
Create a new layer with
Layer > New > Layer and using the Brush tool again set to 100 per cent Opacity/100 per cent Flow, draw an erratic black scribble across the page from left to right.
Scan the character art in at 300dpi (It’s much easier to scale high-quality art down than scale low-quality art up) and desaturate in
Image > Adjustments > Desaturate and then Image > Adjustments > Brightness/Contrast adjusting the contrast until the image is black and white. The image is desaturated so that when you increase the brightness and contrast values you are presented with a pure black and white image.
With the Brush tool set to 100 per cent Opacity/100 per cent Flow, use it to neaten up the edges and fill in the rougher areas of black. Draw into the image further to define the hair in the beard and eyebrows.
For this sort of accurate painting a graphics tablet is essential for complete control of the brushstrokes. This could have been done in Illustrator as it’s only a black and white image, but I find Photoshop’s Brush tool more organic and intuitive than Illustrator’s pen tool.
Paint the wing in a separate window, starting with a black wing shape drawn with the Brush tool set to 100 per cent Opacity/100 per cent Flow and then draw the feathers in with the brush tool in white.
When finished, copy-&-paste it into the character art document and merge into the character art layer with Layer > Merge Layers.
Cut out the character art with the Lasso tool and
Copy > Paste it into the original document onto a separate layer. Select the bottom of the art and copy-&-paste it onto a new layer, using Filter > Pixelate > Mosaic to break it into squares.
Set the layer to Multiply so it sits on top of the original character art. On a new layer add further squares using the Rectangle tool and spread out to create the dissolving effect.
Finally, add the floral flair to the bottom of the character art on a separate layer. Paint it freehand with the Brush tool set to 100 per cent Opacity/100 per cent Flow and use the Circle Selection tool to get crisp edges on the curves.
Use the Circle Selection tool like masking tape: make the selection in a curve and use the brush tool to create a neat curved line inside the selection.
In this illustration, photographs were used for some of the elements. Open the photograph you wish to use in Photoshop and using the Lasso tool, isolate the desired areas.
Once selected, copy-&-paste it into the main image and repeat with any other areas. In the photograph used here, the back of the hat was cut away with a slight ‘halo’ so as to make it appear under the wing and behind the head using the Eraser tool.
Next, add colour to the image. Create the stars simply using the Polygon tool and setting the Geometry Options to Star. Draw the Soviet hammer and sickle on the star with the Brush tool and add a rough edge to the star with a textured Eraser brush.
Copy-&-paste the finished star to create multiple stars; resize each star using Edit > Transform > Scale and then use the Move tool to position them so they appear to be coming out of the character’s mouth. Finally use Layers > Merge Layers to get all the stars onto one layer.
Draw Cuba flat, using a Brush tool on a new layer and distort it using Edit > Transform > Distort. This tool allows you to manipulate a 2D layer almost as if it was in a 3D space. Drag any one of the eight points to change the shape; in this case the top two are pulled in and dragged across to make the top of the drawing appear to move into the background.
The texture on top of the drawing of Cuba is part of a stock photo of a Cuban bank note. Blow it up using
Image > Image Size and then copy-&-paste it into the main image. Use the Eraser tool to crop the overlay to the shape of the drawing of Cuba.
Finally set the layer to Multiply in the layer menu and reduce the layer opacity/fill to 74 per cent/89 per cent. This gives a slightly translucent overlay texture to the island image.
The tiny ships were drawn using the Line tool, Brush tool and Eraser tool on a new layer. As they were going to be so small I only drew one and
copy-&-pasted the other one. They were selected and resized using Edit > Transform > Scale to fit better next to the drawing of Cuba.
Finally, I flattened to one layer and converted it to CMYK for print. Colour conversion can wash out or distort the RBG colours, so used a Brightness/Contrast adjustment (
Image > Adjustments > Brightness/Contrast) to bring back the rich, orangey values of the original RBG red.