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How to Create a Traditional, Chinese Ink Painting Based on a Scenic Photo

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This Cyber Monday Tuts+ courses will be reduced to just $3 (usually $15). Don't miss out.

Try a breath of ancient Chinese art and culture! With these simple intuitive steps of manipulations, you will learn how to create an original traditional style Chinese painting, which has an archaic charm just beyond your photo. Even with these basic Photoshop skills, you can quickly find a path to make a beautiful fairyland. So let's hit it!

Final Image Preview

Take a look at the image we'll be creating. 

Tutorial Details

  • Program: Adobe Photoshop CS4
  • Difficulty: Medium
  • Estimated Completion Time: 1-2h

Step 1 - Preparing for the Paper

Open a picture from your photo gallery; you must be able to pick out a beautiful scenic one. For Psd Plus can use the "source_mountain.jpg" image (shown below), provided in the "source" file of the Plus download.

Although the image looks pretty good, it does seem to still be missing something. In order to show its tremendous vigor, romantic color, imaginative beauty we'll add a waterfall to it. The image shown below is available to Psd Plus members as well. Or you could choose your own waterfall image.

Open the waterfall image and Select All (Command + A). Copy and paste on previous as another layer. Under the Layers panel, adjust the Opacity to 75% in order to make visible to place it on a right place.

Go to Edit > Free Transform (Command + T); Click on the bottom-right, drag the handle and hold Shift to resize the waterfall until it is fits the mountain peak. Be sure that they can match perfectly and the water will fall down through the cavern.

Create a layer mask on "Layer 1," and then use a basic brush with smooth edges (black color) to erase some of the parts to make the borders disappear.

To create a layer mask on it. Use the brush sizes shown below. Set up the brushes and erase the waterfalls borders.

After you've done that, restore the layer Opacity to 100%. The color of "Layer 1" is different from the "Background" but that's OK. Press Shift + Command + Alt + E to merge all of the visible layers into a new layer names "Layer 2." Here, you have finished the canvas.

Step 2 - Inking the Paper

Pay attention to five basic elementary inks of traditional Chinese painting shown below: clear, light, weighty, strong and adust.

On "Layer 2" go to Filter > Blur > Gaussian Blur, and set to 5px. Feel out of focus? Don't worry. Change the layer blend mode to "Soft Light." That's OK!

Copy "Layer 2" twice (Command + J), and both with "Soft Light." You will get two layers: a "Layer 2 copy" and a "Layer 2 copy 2." The image below shows you the layers in detail.

For another worthy change on this artwork; merge all of the visible layers (Shift + Command + Alt + E) again as "Layer 3." Simultaneity go to Image > Adjustments > Desaturate (Shift + Command + U) to make it looks like a Chinese painting. WOW!

But only a resemblance here, what we want is the similarity in spirit. With the five images shown below, you can find the differences between the layers you've just added.

Step 3 - Lighting Up

Traditional Chinese ink painting often expresses her beauty just with blank space. So "light" here is the most crucial thing. However, in our landscape almost all are pictures, the biggest flaw precisely is the difficulty to represent space.

That is the most serious part in the exchanging between photos and ink paintings that I have advocated. First, you should deal with the body of the mountain with Dodge Tool (default foreground/background color). Outline the terminators on the stone; details given below.

Still feel something rigid and stiff? With these problems you can use my
usual approach to undertaking. Command + J to copy a layer as "layer 3 copy" and Gaussian Blur set to about five pixels. Set the new layer's blending mode to Multiply and reduce the Opacity to 70%. That's it (see image detail below)!

You may as well take a brief look at the magnificent Morbidezza - my favorite waterfall. To make beautiful blank space, merge the clouds in harmony with the sky by applying a Levels Adjustment Layer. Go to Layer > New Adjustment Layer > Levels...

Set the points numbers as shown below.

Below shows where our painting has progressed so far.

Step 4 - Making Chromatic

You may not believe it when I say Chinese ink is full of color, but that is a fact. If you won't brush on the mountain some color, it won't be pointed up and lively. Create a new layer for coloring up and use a zero hardness default brush.

The first color we'll use is pastel yellow orange. Paint as shown below or as you're instincts freely dictate.

The second color we'll use is a pastel pea green. Cover most yellow area and just leave a little yellow on the edges.

Go to Filter > Blur > Gaussian Blur and use 50px or whatever suits your taste. Once you have blurred the image, set the layer blending mode to Soft Light. I think the color on such paintings is caused by inclusion in Chinese ink, which brings verisimilitude on the mountain again and again.

Step 5 - Filling Blank Space

At the bottom-left of the picture, the vacant area can also contain some more details. After scanning my entire library, I finally found good material.

Copy the file "source_material.jpg" (located in the Plus source files) as a new layer into your PSD file. Adjust its size and location using the Free Transform Tool (Command + T).

Hold Shift + Alt + Command + E to merge all the visible layers into a new layer. Then use the Dodge or Burn Tool to erase some of the edges, or deepen some to knock off the boundary with a brush just like you did in Step
1. The next image shows you how to select these items.

Erase edges, blur boundary, and fill some blank space.

Now deepen the upper layer.

Step 6 - Adding a Poem

Li Bai's poems are known for their freedom and naturalness of expression. So we choose him (the image "ancientpoem.jpg" is available in the Plus source files).

Due to both the writing and painting area being white, you can even
directly copy and paste as a new layer. Go to Edit > Free Transform (Command + T); Click on the bottom-right and drag the handle while holding Shift to resize it until it just fills in the top-right blank space.
The poem has a white boundary. I use the Quick Selection Tool to select the white area, then press Shift + Command + I to inverse the selection to select the letters quickly and easily. Now resize as shown.

Step 7 - Finishing the Painting

Once again take a few minutes to sit back and check out the piece as a whole. Feast your eyes on the beautiful, spiritual scene.

  • I took a 2 px brush to draw three birds.
  • Adjust levels again until you're satisfied.
  • You can draw some small hills below the poem and summerhouses, human beings in the mountains and so on. Pay attention to the colors and
    gradients.
  • Do not try to make your drawing paper covered with whole paint. Chinese painting is always particular about blank areas in the interpretation of its beauty.

Conclusion

Congratulation you're finished! I really hope that this tutorial was useful to you, and that you've learned some new techniques, or found inspiration from what you've accomplished. You can see the final result below.

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