Add a dash of rainbow-brightness to your artwork with these amazing tips from Neil Duerden.

Sometimes no matter how attractive your model, your photos need more than some slight colour tweaking to make them really leap out of your design. In this tutorial, Neil Duerden shows one sure-fire way of jazzing up a boring image, adding layer upon layer of brightly coloured bands and swirls, and a brightly coloured background.

This is a versatile technique that can be adapted for any marketplace and any image with a central figure or item isolated enough to cut out. You’ll find that this technique is easy to do but hard to get exactly right, so remember to question your composition and colour balance to get a good-looking, structured piece. Take your time over it – your efforts will pay off.

01. Start by selecting an image of a person to use as the basis of your illustration. I’ve chosen an image of a woman, which won’t surprise those who are familiar with my other work: go for whatever you’re comfortable with. Cut out the image using a clipping path, paying particular attention to the hair (if you’re using a portrait).

02. Next, duplicate your base image, then make a clipping path selection by clicking on the Selection icon at the bottom of the Layers palette. Next, remove the background from the photo: press Ctrl/Cmd + Shift + I to invert the selection, and then Delete to delete the background. Click on the eye symbol next to the base layer to make it invisible.

03. We’re going to create a dynamic background for the image: this will be a crucial part of our finished piece and will really hold everything together. Create a new document the same size as the photo you’ve been working from and render some clouds (Filter > Render > Clouds), then perform a motion blur on this layer (Filter > Blur > Motion Blur), setting it to the maximum amount. Add noise (Filter > Noise) and blur it again, until you achieve the effect shown here.

04. Next we’ll add colour to this section of the illustration: this is a simple process and there are loads of different ways to do it – here’s one of the simplest. Apply a Gradient Fill layer effect and set the mode to Overlay. Do this by clicking on Layer > New Layer Fill > Gradient, selecting a palette of vibrant, upbeat colours. Once you’re happy with the gradient you’ve selected, flatten the image and paste it into your master document between the model shot and the background layer.

05. Now we’ll make the background take shape. Duplicate this coloured layer and stretch and warp it by selecting the whole area, pressing Cmd/Ctrl + T and rightclicking (Ctrl + click) then selecting Warp. Tweak the corners of the box to bend and twist the shape. Experiment to find the best effects possible from this brilliant tool.

06. Duplicate the layer again and repeat the previous step, until you have a multi-layered cool effect. Take your time here and always consider the composition. You’re looking to create an effect that draws the viewer into the detailing of the background and plays with the eye.

07. To make the piece more visually full, adjust the opacity on some of the layers, using the Opacity bar at the top of the Layers palette. You’re aiming for an effect that is at once fluid and playful, and that has the illusion of depth.

08. Find a background image with a colour-range that suits your piece – landscapes or cityscapes work well for this purpose, as do skies and clouds. Mess about with Photoshop’s channels and colour tools so that the background image becomes relatively faint and only just about recognizable. Paste it into your master document at the bottom of the layer stack.

09. Assemble a range of images that fit in with the mood of your piece, and trace over them in Illustrator to create silhouetted or other simple elements that you can slot into your image. Remember to add them to a range of layers, to maintain the piece’s layered effect. Take your time over this stage to make everything look balanced – the changes you make here will make or break your composition.

10. Move a few of the ‘flow’ layers – with the distorted colour band – in front of the model and adjust their opacity, so that the model shows through. This will hold all the elements together and make the piece look more finished. Experiment with different opacities throughout the layer palette to get the right feel and balance.

11. Finally we’re going to perform a few tweaks to get a more unified colour palette, taking sections of the original image and changing them using Hue and Saturation controls so that they match the colours of the swirls. For my image, I’ve chosen to colour the model’s sweater. Draw a clipping path around the area you want to colour, make this the selection, then press Z, then adjust away. Flatten the image, and you’re done.

Who: Photoshop guru Neil Duerden creates art that combines elements from mixed media, photography, and complex vectors for clients around the world. His clients include Saatchi & Saatchi, The Sunday Times, Virgin, Fairy, Stella Artois, and Nike. He is a self-confessed Mac monkey, and is based in a rural miners’ cottage 20 miles north of Manchester. Duerden has recently signed to be represented by Jelly collective,
Software: Adobe Illustrator, Adobe Photoshop
Time to complete: 4 hours