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Create a Mixed Media Portrait Illustration

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Photoshop cannot replicate the spontaneity of a paint splash or an ink splatter. In the first part of this tutorial you'll be encouraged to step away from your screen and get down and dirty to create your own textures. Once these are digitized, you'll combine them with model photography (thanks to Bekki Werren) to create a unique illustration that Photoshop alone would be hard-pressed to achieve. We'll also briefly touch on how Illustrator can be utilized to make Custom Shapes and Pattern Fills. Let's get started!

Tutorial Assets

I've provided all the files required to complete this tutorial in the "source" folder apart from these brushes.

  • Brush pack (under tutorials)
  • Other assets included in source file download


If you want to incorporate your own textures, grab yourself the following materials:

  • A pad of heavy-weight watercolor paper, around 230gsm – make sure it's got a nice toothy texture too. Some various sized paintbrushes, pencils/pens, watercolor paints, or some jars of liquid acrylic – the type with a pipette in the cap are a good choice.
  • A pad of heavy-weight cartridge paper (again, around 230gsm is fine) and a jar of black indian ink.
  • An old toothbrush.

Making your own brushes can be both fun and rewarding. The brushes used in this project were created by applying cellulose auto spray and water-based poster paint onto cartridge paper. I also experimented using the same technique on paper that had been soaked in water, which gave an interesting marbling effect.

Create a series of random watercolor washes and while the paint is still wet, hold some sheets quickly upright to allow the paint to run. Next, load the toothbrush with black ink and make some spray marks on the cartridge paper by running your finger over the bristles. Also, try drizzling ink and blowing over it through a straw for a neat spidery effect. Now grab some paper and make some doodles. Feel free to use either a pen or pencil – whatever you're most comfortable with.

Finally, when all your work is thoroughly dry, scan them into Photoshop. I always work at print resolution (300dpi), so I scanned them slightly bigger at 400dpi, which gives the option to downsize later.

I've included all the texture files in the "source" folder, but why not have a go at making your own – that way you'll inject some individual flair into your work – as well as having fun!

Step 1

Create a new A4 Photoshop document; set the Resolution to 300 Pixels/Inch, the Color Mode to RGB and the Background Contents as White.

Step 2

Add the "Fashion_shot.jpg" photo as a new layer and resize/rotate as shown. Name this layer "Model".

Step 3

Choose Levels from the Create new fill or adjustment drop-down menu at the foot of the Layers panel. Copy these settings to boost the contrast, then activate the clipping option.

Step 4

Use the same technique to clip a Hue/Saturation Adjustment Layer to the "Model", check the Colorize option and apply these settings to desaturate slightly. Now change the adjustment Blend Mode to Hard Light to reveal some of the underlying color.

Step 5

To keep your layers organized, highlight the top adjustment thumbnail, then Shift-click the previous adjustment, then the "Model". Now Choose New Group from Layers from the top right fly-out menu, name the group "MODEL" in the next window and click OK.

Step 6

Add "Watercolor_1.jpg" below the group folder, change its Blend Mode to Multiply and label it "Paint 1". Resize/position over the model's left shoulder, then load the "Grunge_brushes.abr". Add a layer mask, then use the Brush Tool (B) to mask as shown. My mask is shown for clarity at the bottom of the screenshot.

Step 7

Clip a Color Balance adjustment to "Paint 1" and set the Midtone sliders as shown, then select the Shadows and apply these settings.

Step 8

Place "Watercolor_2.jpg" as a new layer above the Color Balance adjustment and name it "Paint 2". Change the Blend Mode to Multiply and position over the model's face. Add a mask, load these brushes (under tutorials) and use brush tip 387 to hide the areas as shown.

Step 9

The color below the model's face is too strong, so clip a Hue/Saturation adjustment to "Paint 2", check colorize and set the Saturation and Lightness sliders as shown.

Step 10

Import "Watercolor_3.jpg" as a new layer above the previous adjustment and name it "Paint 3". Resize/position below the model's chin, change the Blend Mode to Multiply and reduce the Opacity to 59%. Add a mask, then Use an assortment of custom brushes as shown.

Now double-click the layer thumbnail to access the Blending Options window and Opt/Alt click, drag (to split) the top right Blend If slider to 206, (to force any grey canvas tones invisible). This modification is now indicated by the icon next to the layer name.

Step 11

Clip a Hue/Saturation adjustment to "Paint 3" and apply the following: Hue: 28, Saturation: 84, Lightness: -4. Next, add "Watercolor_4.jpg" above the last adjustment and label it "Paint 4". Resize/position above the model's head, change the Blend Mode to Multiply and reduce the Opacity to 61%. Now clip a Color Balance adjustment and copy these settings to boost the reds.

Step 12

To keep your layers organized, place all your "Paint" layers and their adjustments within a new group folder called "PAINT 1".

Step 13

Add a mask to the "Model" layer and use an assortment of brushes to blend the bottom into white.

Step 14

Target the "Model's" Hue/Saturation mask and use the same technique to hide selective areas. If you overdo this part, use a white brush to reinstate areas as required.

Step 15

Now we'll build up the missing hair with some painted textures. Open "Canvas_brushstrokes.jpg" and use the Lasso Tool (L) roughly select the first brushstroke and Copy > Paste above the "MODEL" folder. Rotate/position as shown, change the Blend Mode to Multiply and name it "Canvas paint 1".

Step 16

Use the same process to add the remaining paint textures until your image looks something like this. Name these layers "Canvas paint 2" etc.

Step 17

Place a new layer below "Canvas paint 1" and label it "Black/red paint". Now use some of the grunge brushes to paint with dark red and black extending behind the hair. Now mask the layer as required.

Step 18

Here's where you can start getting creative with your brushstrokes. Add a new layer at the top of the stack and name it "Paint 5" Grab the brush Tool (B) and use some of the softer-edged brush-tips from the "daarken brush pack". Press Opt/Alt as you work to sample colors and also change the size, angle and orientation to avoid repetitive strokes.

You can see from the bottom half of the screenshot that I've only painted over selective areas of the model and background. The trick is knowing when to stop.

Step 19

Here I've reduced my painted layer to 41%. Added a mask, then pressed Cmd/Ctrl + I to Invert the mask to black and used a white brush to paint back just the lips and right cheek. For flexibility, I found it better to add brushstrokes on additional layers.

Step 20

This screenshot shows my additional four brushstroke layers at 100% Opacity, which have also been masked.

Step 21

Now place all these layers: "Black/red paint" through to "Paint 9" within a group folder called "PAINT 2". You can now add a mask to this folder and continue to hide areas as required.

Step 22

Open "Scribbles.jpg" and use the same technique as Step 15 to add them as new layers in Multiply Mode above the "PAINT 2" folder. Now duplicate, reposition some and label them "Scribble 1" etc.

Step 23

Set your working file to one side, because we'll now be using a combination of Illustrator and Photoshop to create some shapes and patterns. For those of you who want to skip this part of the tutorial, load the "Geometric_patterns.pat" and "Splat_custom_shapes.csh" and jump to Step 30.

Create a new A4 Illustrator document. Go to Illustrator > Preferences > Guides & Grid. In the next window set your Grid Color to Yellow and enter Gridline every 10mm with a Subdivision of 1.

Step 24

Snap some simple black shapes to fit within four grids divisions. When creating the right-hand polka dot pattern, first snap your circles to the grid, then snap a central square x four grids divisions with a Fill/Stroke of zero. Now select all the circles and the square and use the Crop Pathfinder function to delete the overlaps.

Step 25

Now Copy your first pattern to the Clipboard. Switch to Photoshop and create a new canvas, excepting the Clipboard Preset, set the Resolution to 300 pixels/inch, the Color Mode to RGB and the Background Content as White.

Paste your Illustrator group As Pixels, Flatten, then go to Edit > Define Pattern and label it accordingly. Once you've saved the pattern, the Photoshop file can be discarded. Repeat this with your remaining Illustrator shapes to create additional pattern fills.

Step 26

Here's some examples of pattern variations you can create:

  • A – The same pattern pasted onto a transparent Photoshop document.
  • B – The same pattern in Vivid Light Mode with a texture ("Paint_2.jpg") added below
  • C – As above, but a different texture ("Paint_1.jpg") used.
  • D – The pattern layer disabled and used to mask the texture.

  • Step 27

    Once you're done, go to Edit > Presets > Preset Manager. Select Patterns from the Preset Type menu (or hit Cmd/Ctrl + 5) , Shift-click to select your thumbnails, then press the Save Set button. Now your library can be loaded as and when it's needed.

    Step 28

    Now I'll show you how to create a custom vector shape library from your ink splats. Ive included mine ("Splat_custom_shapes.csh") in the "source" folder, so jump to Step 30 if you wish to skip the creation process.

    In Illustrator, go File > Place, navigate to the required file and check the Link option. With the file selected, click the Image Trace button in the Options bar, then the Expand button.

    Now use the Direct Selection Tool (A) to select any white area, then go to Select > Same Fill Color and hit Delete. Finally, select the remaining black shape with the Selection Tool (V) and Copy to the Clipboard.

    Step 29

    Create a new Photoshop file with the Clipboard dimensions and Paste as a Path. Now go Edit > Define Custom Shape and name it accordingly. Repeat this process with your remaining ink splats to complete your library. These can now be saved for future use as explained in Step 27.

    Step 30

    Set your Foreground to black, select the Custom Shape Tool (U) and check that it's set to Shape in the Options bar. Now begin to add some Shape Layers around the model's hair. These layers should sit above the "SCRIBBLES" folder and also set to Multiply Mode. The bottom of the screenshot shows all the Shape Layers positioned around the model. Name these layers "Shape 1" etc. and mask as required.

    Step 31

    Over the next few steps we'll use an Alpha Channel to store a selection for later. Cmd/Ctrl-click the "Shape 1" layer thumbnail to create a selection. Switch to the Channels tab and click the Save selection as channel icon at the foot of the palette.

    Step 32

    Create a layer-based selection from "Shape 2". Ensure your Foreground color is black and the new channel is targeted, then hit Cmd/Ctrl-delete to fill the selection with white. Repeat this with your remaining Shape Layers until your channel looks like this.

    Step 33

    Disable the visibility of the extra channel, target (highlight) the top RGB composite channel, then switch back to the Layers tab.

    Step 34

    Place "Paint_1.jpg" as a new layer above the Shape Layers and change the Blend Mode to Hard Light. Position at the top of the canvas and name it "Brushstrokes".

    Step 35

    Add a mask to the "Paint_1.jpg" layer, then Invert it to negative (Cmd/Ctrl + I). Now use an assortment of white grunge brushes to reinstate areas around the top and right edges of the canvas. Next, Cmd/Ctrl-click your additional channel to load a selection and paint with black, then white on the mask.

    Place this layer, along with all the Shape Layers into a group folder called "SHAPE LAYERS", then delete the extra channel.

    Step 36

    Now we'll add some Pattern Fill layers. Target the "PAINT 1" folder, grab the Elliptical Marquee Tool (M) and Shift-drag a selection over the model's right eye, then use the arrow keys to reposition the selection.

    Now choose Pattern from the Create new fill or adjustment icon, set the scale to 62% and click the small arrow next to the preview and choose a textured pattern (or "Geometric_10" if using the supplied "Geometric_patterns.pat"). This masked layer can now be set to a Blend Mode of Hard Light.

    Step 37

    The circle looks a little too perfect, so modify the mask with a grunge brush as shown.

    Step 38

    Add a temporary ink splat Shape Layer and resize, rotate and position over the model's forehead. Cmd/Ctrl-click this layer's thumbnail to generate a layer-based selection, then delete the Shape Layer.

    With the selection still active, add another Pattern Fill layer the same as before, but keep the Scale value at 100% and set the Blend Mode to Multiply.

    Step 39

    Use the circular selection process to add smaller Pattern Fills with some different swatches. These should be left at Normal Blend Mode. Now add all these layers into a new folder called "PATTERN FILLS 1".

    Step 40

    Open the "Halftones.jpg" and roughly Lasso (L) the shapes and Copy > Paste as new layers above the "SCRIBBLES" folder Position/duplicate these around your composition and set their Blend Modes to either Multiply or Hard Light. Label them layers "Halftone 1" etc, then place them into a new folder called "HALFTONES".

    Step 41

    Open the "Doodles.jpg.jpg" and use the same technique to add some as new layers above the "SHAPE LAYERS" folder. Name these "Doodle 1" etc, change their Blend Modes to Multiply, then place them into a new folder called "DOODLES 1".

    Step 42

    Add the remaining doodles as new layers, again in Multiply Mode above the "PATTERN FILLS 2" folder. Now add a Color Fill (from the Create new fill or adjustment menu). Color Fill has no clipping option, so Opt/Alt-click between the target layer and adjustment thumbnails.

    To change the color of the adjustment, simply double-click its thumbnail to access the Color Picker and sample colors from your illustration.

    Step 43

    Now add the lightning bolt from the "Halftones.jpg" as a new layer at the top of the stack. Change the Blend Mode to Multiply, then make a duplicate, Invert and change the Blend Mode to Screen to make a negative. Place these and the Color Fill layers into a new group folder called "DOODLES 2".

    Step 44

    Create some additional circular Pattern Fills and place them within a new folder called "PATTERN FILLS 2" beneath the "DOODLES 2" folder.

    Step 45

    At this final stage I felt the model needed some more brushwork over her face. This was carried out using the same technique as Step 18 on two layers within a folder called "PAINT 3" below "DOODLES 2".

    Conclusion and Scope

    I hope you've learned some new techniques here, as well as being inspired to create your own mixed media illustrations – have fun!

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