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The surrealist art movement began shortly after the end of first world war and its influence can still be seen today, most notably in advertising; how many times have you seen a product depicted out of context, or in an extraordinary juxtaposition? Surrealism challenges our preconceptions of reality and adds new meanings to familiar objects. Done well, it also uses the canvas as a portal that leads the viewer into another dimension; so let's throw reality out of the window and get to it!
The following resources were used during the production of this tutorial. You will also find some additional elements in the Source folder of this tutorial's download.
- Bowler hat
- Picture frame
- Desert 1
- Desert 2
- Desert 3
- Water 1
- Water 2
- Water 3
- Paint splashes
Before We Begin
Spending some time to research your subject beforehand is always good practice. A preliminary sketch is also a good idea, because it lays down the foundation and direction you're shooting for. Also, remember that Photoshop is an intuitive tool and it often throws up some happy accidents along the journey – so don't think your initial sketch is set in stone. You can see from my sketch how the initial idea evolved into a finished result, but it still retains the core concept.
First we need to isolate the suit; the plain white background will make this step fairly straightforward.
Set the Magic Wand Tool (W) to a Tolerance of 33, then check the Anti-alias and Contiguous buttons in the Options bar. Click anywhere on the background to make a selection, then hit Shift + Command + I to Inverse.
Hit Command + J to float the selection as a new layer, then disable the visibility of the "Background" layer. You'll now notice the layer is missing the right-hand shirt collar.
To fix this, first enable the visibility of the "Background" layer, then set the Pen Tool (P) to Paths in the Option bar. Zoom in to an even ratio (150 – 200%) and plot a closed path around the missing area as indicated in red.
Remember, when creating paths to use the Option, Command and Shift modifier keys as you work. Plus, you can always fine-tune your path by holding the Command key to access the Direct Selection tool (A) to adjust individual direction/anchor points.
Command-click your path thumbnail to generate a selection, then target the "Background" layer. Float the selection as a new layer, then trash the "Background" layer. Target your upper layer, hit Command + E to Merge Down and label the resulting layer "Body".
Add a new layer, set the Clone Tool (S) to Current & Below in the Options bar and carefully remove the white "holes" as indicated in red. When you're happy, press Shift + Command + E to Merge Visible.
Note: It's good practice to carry out retouching non-destructively on a separate layer – this way mistakes can easily be rectified before merging.
Draw a closed path as indicated in red to create the missing shirt area.
Load the path as a selection, then choose Select > Modify > Expand by 2 px. Hit Option + Command + D to Feather the selection by 1 px and hit Delete.
Deselect, then use a large, hard-edged Eraser (E) to remove the excess.
Add a new layer below the "Body" and name it "Shirt inner". Set your Foreground color to # b3b3b3, then load the path as a selection again. Ensure your new layer is highlighted, then hit Option + Delete to fill with your Foreground color. Deselect, grab the Brush Tool (B) and use a medium, hard-edged brush to extend the color slightly under the collar.
Command-click your "Shirt inner" thumbnail to load as a selection. Now use the Dodge and Burn Tools (O) set to Midtones in the Options bar to add highlight and shadows. For best results paint at a low Exposure using a large, soft-edged brush.
Keep the selection active, ensure the Marquee Tool (M) is highlighted in the Toolbar, then use the arrow keys to nudge it down a pixel or so and Inverse. Now dodge at full strength to create the required depth on the collar.
Note: Press Command + H as you work – this toggles the visibility of the distracting ‘marching ants'.
Inverse the selection and nudge down slightly, then burn to create the top inner shadow. Now nudge the selection down further and use the same method to paint the lower shadow. Finally, grab the Blur Tool (R) and use a medium, soft-edged brush to eliminate the hard edges.
Target the "Body" thumbnail, then Shift-click the "Shirt inner" thumbnail. Now choose New Group from Layers from the top right fly-out menu and label it "SUIT". Save and store this file to a convenient location as you'll need it later.
Now let's isolate the bowler hat. Again, this image will be easy because of its plain white background. Set the Magic Wand Tool (W) to a Tolerance of 1 and Anti-alias/Contiguous checked. Click on the background, then Contract by 2 px. Inverse, float the selection to a new layer, name it "Hat" and trash the "Background" layer.
Open "rip.jpg" from the "source" folder and hit Shift + Command + U to Desaturate. Drag its layer thumbnail into your hat file and name it "Hole". Hit Command + T to resize and position as shown.
Draw a closed path around the torn edges as indicated in red.
Load the path as a selection, then choose Layer > Layer Mask > Reveal Selection.
Now we'll compliment the tonal range of the torn paper to match the hat. Hit Command + L to access the Levels dialogue box and copy the Input and Output settings as below.
Modify the mask by carefully blending the hard edges extending into the hat using a medium, soft-edged brush. Take some time here and paint at a low Opacity at first to create a seamless transition.
To match the torn paper further, highlight its layer icon, then choose Filter > Noise > Add Noise, then enter 5% and check the Uniform/Monochromatic options. Finally, add both layers into a group folder called "HAT".
Create a new RGB document 2850 px x 2015 px with the Background Content set to White.
Drag the "SUIT", then the "HAT" folder thumbnails into your working document. Add a central vertical guide, then target each folder thumbnail in turn add resize/position to the guide. Next, add another guide just below the figure's shoulder to represent the horizon.
Launch Illustrator and open the the "check_pattern.ai" from the "source" folder. Select All and Copy, switch back to your working file and Paste checking the Path button. Now activate Photoshop's Full Screen Mode. Switch to your paths tab and you'll see the path has been added.
For those of you who don't have Illustrator, Shift-drag the "Floor.psd" from the "source" folder into your working document, name it "Checker floor" and jump to Step 25.
Highlight the path thumbnail, then hit Command + T to transform/position and snap it to the horizon guide.
Next, hit Command + T, then Control (right-click), select Perspective and pull either of the top control points inward.
Create a path-based selection, add a new layer below both folders, fill with black and name it "Checker floor".
Create a new folder called "SKY" above the "Checker floor". Add the clouds into the folder and position to the left, resize and label it "Clouds 1".
Duplicate the layer, hit Command + T; Control/right click to select Flip Horizontal. Name this layer "Clouds 2" and position lower down so the repeating cloud formations are less obvious.
Add a mask to the layer, then Shift-drag a Black to white Linear Gradient (G) from the left. Now work on the mask using a large, soft-edged brush to hide/reveal areas as desired.
Add another mask to the "SKY" folder, then Shift-drag a black to white Linear gradient from the bottom up. Grab the Rectangular Marquee Tool (M) and snap a selection from the horizon guide down to the base of the canvas and fill with black on the mask to ensure this portion is sky free.
Isolate the picture frame using the Magic Wand technique, but adjust the Tolerance setting to 12, then uncheck Contiguous to select both the outer and inner areas. Inverse the selection and Copy to the clipboard.
Paste the selection as a new layer above the "SKY" folder. Resize, position to your centre guide and label it "Frame".
Open the Waves image and select the bottom area with a rectangular marquee and Copy. Paste as a new layer below the "Frame" and resize/position just above the horizon.
Duplicate the layer and Flip Horizontal. Shift-drag to the right, then Merge Down. Now chop away areas extending beyond the frame using rectangular selections. Name the layer "Sea".
Snap a rectangular selection from the horizon guide up, Feather by 2 px and hit Delete on the "Sea" layer.
Open Desert 1 and set the Magic Wand options as below. Now click on the sky – you'll need some patience here, because you're initial selection won't include all the sky pixels. Hold down Shift and continue to click to add areas to the selection.
When you're done, Inverse the selection, then go to Select > Modify > Contract By 1 px and Copy.
Add a new folder below the "Sea" called "DISTANT ROCKS", then Paste as a new layer within the folder and label it "Terrain 1". Resize and position to the right of your canvas as shown.
Use the same Magic Wand technique to select the rocks from Desert 2, then add within the same folder. Resize, position to the left and label it "Terrain 2".
Now duplicate "Terrain 1" and position to the left above "Terrain 2". Now erase unwanted areas as required.
Continue to duplicate rock areas onto separate layers. When you're done, add an uppermost layer within the folder, then clone within layer-based selections using a medium, soft-edged brush to remove any obvious repeating rock structures.
Next, we'll add some atmosphere and a sense of scale to the floor; disable the visibility of the "DISTANT ROCKS" folder, then set your Foreground color to # 939598 (the equivalent to 50% black). Add a mask to your "Checker floor" layer and Shift-drag a Foreground to Background Linear Gradient from the top.
Keep the visibility of the "DISTANT ROCKS" folder off, then switch off the "SUIT" and "Sea" visibility icons too. Now open Desert 3 and use a rectangular marquee to select the lower half. Copy > Paste as a new layer above the "Checker floor", then resize and position to the left just above the horizon guide. Now duplicate, Flip Horizontal and drag over the right-hand side. Finally, Merge Down and name the resulting layer "Dunes".
Add a mask and hide the lower portion using a black to white Linear Gradient. Now set the layer's Blend Mode to Hard Light.
Hold the Option key and select Hue/Saturation from the Create new fill or adjustment layer icon (situated at the foot of the Layers tab). In the next window check the clipping mask option and hit OK. Now adjust the Hue and Lightness settings as below.
Enable the visibility of all your layers and folders. Load the checker board path as a selection (or Command-click the layer thumbnail if you skipped the Illustrator steps), then target your "DISTANT ROCKS" folder and choose Layer Mask > Reveal Selection. Set your Foreground to white, then modify the mask by adding a very short Foreground to Transparent Linear gradient (represented by the arrow length) down from the horizon.
Open the coastline image and roughly select the area shown using the Lasso Tool (L) and Copy.
Paste as a new layer above the "Sea" and name it "Sea edges". Resize, position to the left, then use a small, soft-edged eraser to feather it into the rocks and sea. Now delete areas that extend beyond the picture frame. Repeat for the right-hand side and Merge Down.
Next, we'll apply a series of color and tonal adjustments; first, clip a Color Balance adjustment to the "Sea edges" and set the Midtone and Highlight sliders as shown.
Next, clip a Color Balance adjustment to the "Sea" and copy these settings.
Now we'll adjust the color of the terrain which appears within the picture frame; duplicate the "DISTANT ROCKS" folder and hit Command + E to Merge into a single layer. Rename it "Inner rocks" and fill the entire content of its mask with white.
Place this layer at the top of the stack within the "DISTANT ROCKS" folder. Now clip a Hue/Saturation adjustment to it and use the Edit drop-down menu to set the Red, Yellow and Magenta sliders as shown.
Now clip a Color Balance adjustment to the previous one and use the following settings.
Finally, use a rectangular selection on the "Inner rocks" mask to hide the area extending beyond the frame.
The suit looks a little too light, so clip a Levels adjustment to the "Body" layer and marginally increase the midpoint slider.
In the next step we'll modify the color of the suit and hat. Add a conventional Color Balance adjustment layer at the top of the stack and apply the following settings. In the next step modify this adjustment so it only affects the required area.
Fill the entire adjustment mask with black. Command-click the "Hole" mask thumbnail (within the "HAT" folder) to load it as a selection and fill with white on the mask. Now load the "Hat" layer as a selection and fill with white on mask. Repeat using a selection from the "Body" layer and the "Shirt inner" (within the "SUIT" folder). The adjustment is now only confined to the hat, shirt and suit.
At this point I felt the whole image was too over saturated; I normally leave these type of alterations until the final stage – but in this case I found it too distracting. Add another conventional adjustment layer at the top of the stack – this time using Hue/Saturation and use the following. If you prefer more color – just reduce the Opacity of the adjustment layer.
Now we'll add some shadows at the base of the canvas. Drop in a new folder under the "SKY" and label it "SHADOWS". Add a new layer within the folder called "Shadow 1" and fill a rectangular selection with # 6d7d86 to represent a shadow cast by the picture frame.
Next, choose Filter > Blur > Gaussian Blur and enter a Radius of 35 px.
Now choose Motion Blur from the same menu, set the Angle to 0 degrees and the Distance to 400 px. Change the Blend Mode to Multiply and reduce its Opacity to 65%.
Add another layer within the folder called "Shadows 2". Ensure # 6d7d86 is set as your Foreground color, then Shift-drag a Foreground to Transparent Linear Gradient from the bottom. Next, set your Foreground to black, add a mask and pull two opposing 45 degree Linear Gradients using the Foreground to Transparent preset again. Set the layer to Multiply at 73% Opacity.
Open the first Water image, select the area as indicated and Copy.
Paste the selection into a new folder called "OVERFLOW" above the "Frame". Label it "Spill 1", then hit Shift + Command + U to Desaturate. Resize and position as shown and change its Blend Mode to Screen. Next, double-click its layer thumbnail to access the Blending Options, hold Option and click the top right Blend If slider (to split it) and drag left. Repeat this for the bottom left slider, but drag right.
Duplicate the layer and rename it "Spill 2". Flip Horizontal, then position to the right.
Copy two selections from the second water image and Paste as two new layers within the "OVERFLOW" folder.
Desaturate both layers and label them "Spill 3" and "Spill 4" respectively. Resize and position over the first layers, set their Blend Modes to Screen and lower their Opacities to 84%. Next, access their Blending Options and split the top slider as shown.
Copy a selection from the third and last water image.
Add as a new layer within the "OVERFLOW" folder and label it "Spill 5". Desaturate, resize and position to the left and change its Blend Mode to Lighten. Finally, duplicate Flip Horizontal and position to the right and rename "Spill 6".
Now use a medium, soft-edged eraser on all these layers to remove any hard edges.
The running water still needs to blend a little more with the rest of the image; use the Dodge Tool set to Midtones to bleach out the area underlying the water on the "Frame" layer. Use the same technique on the "Sea" layer where the water meets the frame. When you're done, your image should look something like this.
Now to add the figure's head; I decided to use Poser – but feel free to use a photograph if you prefer. I used Poser's default figure and lighting, selected the Face Camera, then set the Document Display Style to Smooth Shaded and exported an image. Alternatively, you'll find my render ("head.png") in the "source" folder.
Drag the file below the "HAT" folder and label it "Head". The render is fairly small in size, but it's sufficient for our requirements. Drop its Opacity to 50% to make it easier to enlarge and position accurately.
Load the "Body" layer as a selection, check your "Head" layer is targeted and Choose Layer > Layer Mask Hide Selection. Next, use the Lasso Tool (L) to encompass the remaining shoulder areas and fill with black on the mask too.
Open the tree image and choose Select > Color Range. In the next window click on the white background, set the Fuzziness slider to 164, check the Invert button, hit OK and Copy.
Paste as a new layer within a new folder called "TREE FACE" below the "Head" layer. Defringe by 2 px to eliminate any white pixels and name the layer "Main tree". Next, set the "Head" layer to Overlay at 100% Opacity. Resize and position the "Main tree" layer centrally over the face, then load the "Body" layer as a selection, ensure the "Main tree" is the target layer and hit Delete.
We now need to distinguish the facial features a little more; first, adjust the midpoint Levels of the "Main tree" layer – this can be applied directly to the layer, or clipped as an adjustment layer as described earlier.
Next adjust the Levels of the "Head" layer – again either directly on the layer, or clipping an adjustment layer. Drag the midpoint and whitepoint sliders until the facial shadows intensify.
Target your "Main tree" layer and roughly lasso the bottom left branch. Now hit Shift + Command + J to Cut (as opposed to Copy) the selection as a new layer. Name it "Segment 1" and reposition as shown at the bottom of the screengrab. Now use a small, soft-edged eraser to remove any hard, or overlapping edges.
Continue to cut and arrange tree areas to roughly follow the contour of the head. Take your time here and use as many layers as necessary – but remember nature isn't perfect – so keep a few irregularities.
The Color Balance adjustment we applied in Step 51 is affecting the tree. To fix this, load the "Main tree" layer as a selection and target the adjustment layer mask. Now use a medium, hard-edged black brush to paint within the selection around the neck area.
Load the "Main tree" layer as a selection, then add a new layer below it called "Tree shadow". Fill the selection with # 6c8d9b, then use the Transform's Skew function as below.
Change the Blend Mode to Multiply and drop the Opacity to 67%. Now load a selection from the "Body" layer and hit Delete, then used an Inversed selection from the "Shirt inner" layer to erase the upper excess.
Apply the Color Range selection method to the branch image, set the Fuzziness to 106 and Copy the selection. Keep the file open, because you'll need it for Step 82.
Paste the selection as a new layer at the top within the "TREE FACE" folder and name it "Larger leaves 1". Defringe by a pixel or so, resize, transform, then use selections from your underlying layers to delete areas as required. Duplicate the layer a few times, reposition around the head and label them accordingly.
Next, we'll add a shadow for the bowler hat; load a selection from the "Hat" layer, then add a new layer called "Hat shadow" at the top within the "TREE FACE" folder. Fill the selection with black, then nudge down and left.
Apply a Gaussian Blur of 2 px, change the Blend Mode to Multiply and drop the Opacity to 71%. Now use a medium, soft-edged eraser to carefully blend the corners as indicated.
Paste the branch you selected from Step 78 as a new layer above the "Hat" folder. Name it "Top leaves", transform, rotate and place as shown. Draw a rectangular selection over the bottom stalk, then grab the Move Tool (V) and extend the stalk into the hole. Next, use a soft-edged eraser at a low Opacity to feather its base.
The Color Balance adjustment mask needs to be modified again so it doesn't interfere with the branch. Load the "Top leaves" layer as a selection, target the Color Balance mask and fill with black.
Apply a Levels adjustment directly to the "Top leaves" layer and set the midpoint slider as shown.
Add a drop shadow to the leaves using the same technique as you did with the hat. Set this layer to Multiply at 52% Opacity and label it "Top leaves shadow". We only want the shadow to fall across the picture frame, so use an Inversed selection from the "Frame" layer to delete the excess.
Use the Color Range technique on the lighthouse image using a Fuzziness setting of 88.
Float the selection as a new layer, then trash the "Background" layer. You'll now notice some remaining background pixels the Color Range selection missed, so use a hard-edged eraser to remove them.
Next we'll distort the lighthouse to give it a Daliesque appearance; hit Shift + Command + X to access the Liquify filter. Now have some fun and experiment with the different tools – I found the Mirror Tool (M) produced the result I was after.
Remember, you can easily rectify mistakes by using the Reconstruct or Restore All buttons.
Drag and drop as a new layer below the "DISTANT ROCKS" folder, resize and and label it "Lighthouse", then apply a Levels setting as below.
The only accurate way to isolate the zebra image is to use a path. We only need the rear half, so zoom in and carefully plot a path using the Pen Tool (P) as indicated in red.
Next we need to remove the orange color cast; generate a path-based selection, then go to Image > Adjust > Replace color. Now click on the area indicated, check the Selection button, set the Fuzziness to 200 and reduce the Saturation to -100. Keep the selection active for the next step.
As a final adjustment, apply a Levels setting as below, then Copy the selection.
Paste as a new layer called "Zebra" below the "Frame". Flip Horizontal, resize and place on the rocks, as if walking out of the picture. Next, distort slightly using the Liquify filter.
Isolate the front half of the camel, again using a path and apply a Levels adjustment as shown.
Drag the layer into your working file above the "Zebra" and label it "Camel". Resize and place just outside of the picture frame to create the illusion of the two animals being united. Now shift some of the pixels around using the Liquify filter again.
Open the lizard image and set the Magic Wand (W) options as shown. Select the background and Inverse, then Contract by 1 px and Copy.
Paste above the "Frame" as a new layer and label it "Lizard". Resize and perch the creature on the top left of the frame. Liquify the tail slightly, then apply a Levels adjustment as below.
Open "9.jpg" from these paint splash images. Use the Color Range technique and set the Fuzziness setting to 39 to select and fill with white, then Copy the selection.
Switch to your working file and select the Channels tab. Click the Create new channel button at the foot of the palette (white arrow), then Paste the paint splash selection. Next, enable the visibility of the top RGB composite channel (red arrow), then transform and position the selection over the top right corner of the frame.
Command-click your new channel thumbnail to load the white area as a selection, disable the visibility of the extra channel. Target the top RGB composite channel and switch back to your layers tab. Target the "Frame" layer, then float the selection as a new layer and label it "Frame segment 1". At this point you won't see any difference because the new layer is sitting in the exact location as the underlying layer.
Switch to your channels tab and load the extra channel as a selection again (keeping the composite channel active), then return to the layers tab. Target the "Frame" layer and choose Layer > Layer Mask > Hide Selection – this will preserve your original frame, should you wish to make changes. Now nudge the layer content of "Frame segment 1" up and to the right to create a break.
Now we'll intensify the break away effect; Paste the paint splash into another channel, transform, Flip Horizontal and position as below.
Repeat Step 100 to add "Frame segment 1". Now modify the two "Fragment" layers by erasing small areas using a small, hard-edged eraser. You can also modify the mask using a small brush as well. Now add all your "Frame" layers into a folder called "FRAME" and trash your two additional channels.
Now's the time to carry out any last minute modifications; add a small amount of Gaussian Blur to all the "Terrain" layers. Create a subtle soft shadow for the "Lizard" on a new layer; reduce the saturation of the "Tree shadow" layer a little. And finally, revisit your "Main tree" layer and use the Burn Tool (O) to gently darken the area closest to the tie.
Next we'll use the Polar Coordinates Filter to create some reflective spheres using a similar workflow as this tutorial. Start by adding an empty layer at the top of the stack, then choose Image > Apply Image, then hit OK in the next window – this command creates a composite layer.
Now set the Marquee Tool (M) to Fixed Size with a width of 300 px x 300 px and select the left horizon area and Copy.
Create a new canvas, excepting the Clipboard preset and choose Transparent for the Background Content and Paste your selection.
Choose Filter > Distort > Polar Coordinates, then check the Polar to Rectangular button.
Note: This much under-used filter converts a selection from its rectangular to polar coordinates, and vice versa, according to the selected option.
Choose Image > Canvas Size and uncheck the Relative option. Set the Height to 200% using the drop-down menu and anchor the image placement to top middle.
Duplicate the layer, rotate by 180 degrees and Flip Horizontal. Now hold down Shift and drag to the bottom, leaving a pixel or so of transparent canvas at the base.
Merge the upper layer and hit Option + Command + F to access the last filter. Now check the Rectangular to Polar button, which will result in an elongated oval.
To transform this into a perfect sphere, select Image > Image Size, uncheck Constrain Proportions and check Resample Image, then change the Height value to match the Width.
Next, we'll magnify the sphere centre; choose Filter > Distort > Pinch: 92%. This negative value will shift pixels away from the middle.
Use this workflow to create as many spheres as you like taken from different sections on the merged layer you created in Step 104.
Add your spheres within a new folder called "SHAPES" at the top of the stack. Resize, duplicate and arrange around the outer edges, then label them accordingly. Now have some fun with the Liquify filter and distort them to taste.
Duplicate the "SHAPES" folder, then hit Command + E to Merge Group and rename it "Shadows 3". Load it's content as a selection and fill with # 6d7d86.
Move the layer into the "SHADOWS" folder at the top of the stack. Now squash and drag the shape down a little.
Add a Gaussian Blur of 8 px, then change the Blend Mode to Multiply and drop the Opacity to 90%. Finally, add a 2% amount of Noise on all three shadow layers.
Conclusion and Scope
Surreal imagery works best when it challenges our preconceptions about reality – so the possibilities are virtually endless. The image below shows the face without the foliage. Feel free to expand on the techniques I've used and create your own surreal masterpiece!