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Turn a Photo Into a Nature Inspired Illustration

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With all the stock sites freely available to us, we tend to forget that we can actually make everything ourselves. The problem with sticking solely to online resources is that once two pieces are based on the same image, they are alike no matter what you do to them.

In this tutorial, we're not going to grab a random photo from the web, but we're going to make one ourselves. I've teamed up with a friend of mine to capture and transform a photograph into a nature-inspired illustration.


Tutorial Assets

The following assets were used during the production of this tutorial.


Step 1

I'm going to build my illustration on a photo taken by a photographer-friend of mine from art college, Borza Lucia. Big thanks to him for providing this image. I've picked this one, but to see the rest of the shoot scroll down to the end of his portrait section. The nicest part about collaborating locally is being able to manufacture the right shot for your project, or at least being able to select one image from the pile (as in this case). And it's a nice to know you can always contact the photographer and model for another angle, if you need it. That's something you can't do with a stock photograph from an online marketplace. All you need for a shot like this is a low-end DSLR, a model, and a park at sunset.

To begin, open your own photograph and make an appropriate crop (depending what print of online format you're looking for). I was going for a wide-angle look in mine. In this tutorial, I'll be working on the photograph lent by my friend, but I encourage you to get out there and make one yourself with your friends. You'd be surprised how fun and how much you can learn from organizing such a project from start to finish.



Step 2

Now we'll do a bit of touch up on the model. I'm not going for an ultra glossy look at all, so I'm going to very lightly smooth her forehead with the Healing Brush (J). Since the lighting is from the side, just about any texture appears more rugged.


Step 3


Now it's time to add a bit of contrast to the left side, as it's slightly overexposed. Alternate from Burn Tool To Sponge Tool to add contrast, yet take out some of the extra saturation that inevitably occurs. Go for the Shade and Midtone Range.



Step 4

The large difference between the two sides of the faces makes left eye a bit to dark. Just use the Clone Stamp Tool (S) to paste the same pupil on the other eye. Be very careful to nail the position. Painting it just a bit off could make her eyes look unparallel.



Step 5

Throughout the process we're going to gradually darken the sides and draw the hair back in place. For now, create a large black-to-transparent gradient to darken the sides. Alter the Opacity to get a similar result.




Step 6

We're now getting into the hard part. To continue you'll need a tablet. Make sure your pressure sensitivity is enabled, choose a 4x brush, drag the Opacity to 25% and Flow to 30%. Before getting into the drawing part, look at the second screenshot of this step. Double-click the layer to access the Layer Effects panel. Add a Color Overlay with this color: #f4b474.

Then start making lines along the original orientation of the hair, but use it only as a guide. Feel free to step out of the "grid" as long as the end result looks like actual hair.




Step 7

Continue the process of adding hair, while applying medium to little pressure. As you follow the original direction of the hair, you'll begin to bring out increasingly lighter sections of her hair.



Step 8

As you get more into the drawing of the hair, you can gradually darken the sides more and more, until you hit solid black. Use a brush this time, a very large size brush that is, to create a similar fill. I've colored it in red to see where it is.



Step 9

As you darken your image, you should get a similar result. Think of an upside-down triangle layout as you darken the image.



Step 10

Using the same hair color, continue to add much thinner hair with a 2px brush.



Step 11

Start to draw on the left side of the image as well. In the original image, there is a dark spot very close to hear head (on the left side of her head) that bothers me. In time, I'm going to try to cover this gap with hair, as you can see in the image below. From now on you want to not only follow the original direction of her hair, but also create your own paths.



Step 12

By now you should have multiple strands of hair across the sides of the image. Again, some of the new areas will need to be darkened. Grab a large, soft brush set on black as its foreground and darken away.




Step 13

We're going to create a few pretty drastic filters in this section. The reason I'm doing this is because it's easy to get carried away with colors when actually painting into an image. By using filters, we can harmonize the overall color palette. First off, go to Layer > New Adjustment Layer > Curves. The black line you see below is the first one you'll be able to change in the newly created adjustment layer. Drag all the Channels (RGB, and individually) as seen in the images below.






Step 14

The next adjustment is to take out some of that Yellow. Create a Selective Color Adjustment Layer and reduce the yellows accordingly.



Step 15

We're now going to change the color of her sweater. Create a Hue/Saturation Adjustment Layer and drag the sliders as shown below.



Step 16

Grab a black brush and start painting over the parts you don't want green, which is everything except the sweater.



Step 17

Be sure to follow the lines well and use a semi-soft brush to trace the entire sweater.



Step 18

We're now going to increase the contrast and alter the hue of the green sweater. Add a Gradient Map Adjustment Layer and make it a clipping mask so it only affects the sweater. Create a black to yellow (#fff000) gradient and set the layer blending mode to Overlay.



Step 19

Now it's time to change the color of her eyes to match the sweater. Create a Hue/Saturation Adjustment Layer and invert its mask (Command + I). Paint with white over her eyes to limit the color changes to her eyes only.



Step 20

Grab this jungle photo and place it in your scene. To create all the foliage, you'll need to place this image in all four corners, each facing the center of the image. Let's get started on the first one.



Step 21

Go to Layer > Layer Mask > Hide All. Then from the layer panel, select the layer mask icon (right-side box). Grab the Brush Tool (B) and draw with white to bring the photo back in. Change the Opacity and Flow to 30%. Start drawing areas back into the image while following the orientation of the hair, as if they were tangled.



Step 22

Continue to draw along the hair, while altering brush sizes constantly. Use a very small 2-5 px brush in detailed portions, and use larger ones where you're just filling in color.



Step 23

We're now going to stop on the foliage drawing for a while to alter its color. Create a Gradient Map Adjustment Layer with this colors: (left to right) #aabb9d, #6b7c0c, #90a03a, #dde251. Make this a layer mask to the foliage layer.



Step 24

Duplicate the foliage layer (Command/Ctrl + J). Disable the mask on the first layer and drag it as a clipping mask for the newly duplicated layer. Go to Filter > Other > Highpass and set the blending mode to Overlay. This will sharpen the foliage image.



Step 25

It's time to resume drawing the hair. Using a new hair color, continue the process on the right side: #f17b39. Start to apply more pressure with this new shade.



Step 26

Change the Opacity to 100% and start to create rare strands with this third shade: #f8be5d.



Step 27

Use this triple color combination over all areas. In the top right corner, I've made a part with a lot more hair than usual. you don't want to cover her hair entirely by foliage.



Step 28

You can just add the hair, then draw the foliage and be done with it. In fact, this is a back and forth technique so you can resume adding foliage on the right side technique. Before you need it, we'll be back adding hair over the foliage, then more foliage over the hair with a green color. This is to ensure a seamless and natural transition.



Step 29

The green color I mentioned in the previous step is this: #d0e017. Use this shade to add highlights to the foliage, and blend the two together.




Step 30

Continue to draw over the foliage using this color. Doing so will ad depth and thickness.



Step 31

Use the same color to add actual strands of hair. That will ease the transition as well.



Step 32

As you did for the right side. Add thin but opaque lines of hair using the triple color palette.



Step 33

It's time start adding foliage on the top of the image. Use the dark space as a placeholder.



Step 34

Once you've added the foliage, start drawing lines of hair on top, just as you've done so far.



Step 35

Draw highlights on the foliage and new strands of hair using the lime color.



Step 36

Target the center of the image as well, and repeat the entire process to get a similar result. Again, use the dark spaces to add the foliage.



Step 37

As a final element to the piece, I'm going to add a few tiny flowers to run through the foliage. Use a simple white color and a 30% Flow brush to start drawing them.



Step 38

Work your way through her hair and keep track of the light while drawing them.



Step 39

Create these little flowers wherever there is more foliage than usual.



Step 40

We're going to darken the color of these flowers just a bit by adding a Gradient Map Adjustment Layer and make it a clipping mask for the flowers layer. Change the layer's Opacity to about 10 percent.



Step 41

Use the Blur and Smudge Tool (R) to soften the appearance and texture of the flower. Then draw stems using the light green color to connect them to the foliage and hair.



Step 42

Create a new Selective Color Adjustment Layer on top of all the other ones and change the Blacks as seen below:



Step 43

Then darken some of the portions shown in the second screenshot of this step.




Step 44

As a final adjustment to the colors of the scene, add a Gradient Map Adjustment Layer with these two colors: #2989cc, #f6ff00. Change the layer Opacity to 7%.



Final Image

And that concludes our transformation, or rather Patricia's, the model. Again, I thank Patricia and Lucian for their involvement, and I hope this tutorial at least encourages you to get out there and become less dependant on online resources. Take the time to make your own every once in a while.


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