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  1. Design & Illustration
  2. Adobe Photoshop

Transform a Human into an Abstract, Painted Werewolf

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Read Time: 21 mins

I want to make a few notes before you start creating something like this. The piece is for intermediate users. I'm gonna take you through some different processes of brushing.

A tablet is recommended in this tutorial. Although I don't have one and I did everything using only a mouse. It took me a lot of time to get this done right. So I just want to warn you that it's a hard work without a tablet (but it isn't impossible). Also, remember that the desired result may come after hours of tough work.

Let's take a look at the images we will be using:

Step 1

Start by opening the image of the dancer. Grab the Pen Tool (P) and start extracting. When you're done making the path, right-click and select Make Selection. Then use Command + C to copy the selected area. Then create a new document with a width 1150px and height of 1550px, with a resolution 300px/inch. Use Command + V to paste the selected area of the man. Name this layer "Human."

You don't need to extract the whole person, as it's an abstract piece, we only need the top half of his body. When you're done with the cut out, go to Layer > Adjustments > Shadows/Highlights and brighten this person a little bit.

Step 2

Next, open the image of the wolf's head. Name this layer "Wolf." Use Command + T to free transform this picture. Position and resize it to fit the guy's head. You can work with this layer opacity to see if you did this correctly. Try to retain proportions, this head can't be too small or too big. So when you're done with positioning, grab the Brush Tool (B) with all its settings set to 100%, then add a Layer Mask to the "Wolf" layer. Change your color to black, and paint on a mask to hide the black background and its fur.

Remember that the reason for using a layer mask is to have the opportunity to correct this wolf's head if it's needed. So if you went to far with your black brush, switch to white and bring back the erased parts.

Add same thing to the guy's blouse. Look at 4th image below for reference. Add a Layer Mask to "Human" layer and same way using black, hard brush erase some parts of his outfit to make it more suitable to wolf's head.

Also keep in mind that you need to hide some parts of the wolf's thick neck. We need to make it more human. This looks very funny right now, but don't worry, we're gonna touch everything up!

Step 3

Now, I didn't like the fur of this wolf, it looked a bit to tiny. So I decided to create fur for this case. It's a pretty much odd and alternative method for creating it. It takes some time to do this, but it makes the fur pretty smooth and allows you to place it wherever you like. So instead of using channels, we'll transform this into brush.

Open the wolf image once again. Grab the Rectangular Marquee Tool (M), select a good visible part of the fur and copy it (Command + C). Now follow these steps:

  1. Create new document and paste it there (Command + V)
  2. Go to Image > Adjustments > Desaturate (Command + Shift + U)
  3. Go to Image > Adjustments > Invert (Command + I)
  4. Go to Image > Adjustments > Levels (Command + L) and create more contrast. You can adjust it even more than I did, just to get less of gray color. Next go to Edit > Define Brush Preset, and save this as a brush.

All the white tones will be full transparent and the gray tones - half transparent, so the less gray color you give the better. But be careful, don't adjust the levels too much because the fur may sharpen.

Step 4

Once your create the brush, open the Brush Palette and find it among all the brushes. Select this brush, change your color to red and grab the Brush Tool (B) with all the settings set to 100%. Open the image of the wolf (once again as a new document), then create a new layer and make one red brush mark on this layer (first image below).

Hit Command + T (Free Transform) and transform this red brush towards the wolf's fur. Bring up the selection of this brush layer (Command + left-click on the layer's thumbnail) and make this brush layer invisible (second image below).

Hit Command + C to copy this fur piece, go to our main project document and paste it above all the layers (Command + V). Name this layer "Fur."

Step 5

Create several duplicates of the "Fur" layer using Command + J. Just don't get confused or you may put them in a group. Then using Command + T (Free Transform) to position those layers where the fur should be. Remember to put them in the right direction, as they need to look natural.

Cover top and bottom of the head and also the neck. Then grab the Eraser Tool (E), change the Hardness to 0%, Flow to 20%, and keep the diameter pretty small. Hold Command + left-click on the "Wolf" Layer Mask to recall the mask selection. Then select each "Fur" layer and erase out some disturbing parts from the wolf's face (we used this selection just not to get out of the wolf's head area while erasing).

Remember, you need to blend this fur in, not totally erase them. That's why we're using a soft eraser. Look at the third image below for reference. When you're done, switch your background to a few other colors to see if you did a good job while adding fur, if everything looks OK, switch back to white.

Finally, make a backup. Select all layers without the white background and drag them to the New Layer icon. Hit Command + E to merge them. Name this merged layer "Werewolf," then hold Alt and click on the "Werewolf" layer visibility (small eye icon near the layer).
This way we have all our backup layers hidden and we can work with one piece now.

Step 6

You can also turn the white background on, it's quite easier to work then. Now, select the "Werewolf" layer, add Hue/Saturation adjustment (Command + U) and make a little color adjusting.

Step 7

Zoom closer to the image, and notice that near the jaws is a red/pinky color that destroys the overall look of this head. To match the color use the Sponge Tool (O), set its mode to Desaturate and the Flow to 30-50%. Then slightly paint in this place to desaturate it a little.

Step 8

OK, let's bring this werewolf more to life. So go to Image > Adjustments > Shadows/Highlights, set it to fit your own needs. Then use the Dodge Tool (O) and Burn Tool (O) with both Exposures set to around 30%. Make some corrections to his head (refer to the second image below).

Step 9

Now let's give a touch of color and less overall contrast to this werewolf. Use Image > Adjustments > Selective Color and Image > Adjustments > Brightness/Contrast. Then use Command + left-click on the "werewolf" layer's thumbnail to recall the selection. Hit Command + Shift + C (Copy Merged) and paste it above all the layers. Name this new layer "Color," and set its Blending Mode to Soft Light. Then go to Image > Adjustments > Gradient Map, and add a gradient that goes from #47331c to #b18d69. Now play around with the "Color" layer opacity to fit your own needs. I set my Opacity to 53%.

Again use Command + Left-click on the "werewolf" layer's thumbnail to recall the selection. Hit Command + Shift + C (Copy Merged) and paste it above all the layers. Name this layer "Sharpen" and go to Filter > Other > High Pass, and set the Radius to 1 pixel. Then erase some bottom parts of this layer (we want this applied only to head). To do this, use the Rectangular Marquee Tool (M) or Eraser Tool (E). When you're done, set the "Sharpen" layer's Blending Mode to Soft Light.

Step 10

OK, now we need to have all these layers merged into one. So Command + Left-click on the "werewolf" layer's thumbnail to recall the selection. Hit Command + Shift + C (Copy Merged) and paste it above all the layers. Name this new merged layer "werewolf_1" and turn all the other layers off (except the background).

And this way you can add fur wherever you like. Remember to copy fur from different parts of the head to get various results.

Step 11

Create a new group, name it "painted head," then create new layer inside it. Name this layer "smudged head." Grab the Smudge Tool (R), make sure Sample All Layers option is checked. Then turn off background layer! It's necessary because the smudge tool will sample all layers now (including the white background) and we don't want to accidently mix the fur with a white background. Now with the background set to invisible, start smudging (but remember don't overdo this).

Next, grab the Brush Tool (B) and make sure you have the same settings as shown (second image below). Create a new layer above, name it "painted head." Now hold Alt to switch to the Eyedropper Tool, then sample colors from the wolf's head (third image below). Release Alt to switch back to the brush tool, then paint. Use the rest of image for reference. I described the whole process of creating this painted effect in images below.


  • Use new layer for each brush color.
  • Working dynamically change your settings whenever you need.
  • Use different colors for brushing. The colors in the third image below doesn't have to be the same as I used. Sample them on your own, sample darker and lighter colors.
  • When it comes to drawing the tiny lines, sometimes you will need to change the brush Opacity and Flow to something like 50% both (or even higher to get a visible result).
  • The brush settings shown below allow you to paint with the mouse easily. Give it a try!

Step 12 - Painted Layers Preview

I know this looks horrible when previewed, but I need to show you how each single layer looks while I was creating this painted effect. It's a step by step process in which it's made. Each of those painted parts is a single layer.

Here is a small tip, to make look the "smudged head" layer less blurry and more sharp: use Filter > Sharpen > Unsharp Mask and increase the Amount.

Step 13

Now take care for the next clothing element. Create a new group above the "painted head" and name it "painted chest." And now the process looks the same:

  1. With the same settings as previously, smudge the t-shirt on a new layer. It's a good time to use the tip that I give you in a previous step: make the smudged layer look less blurry and more sharp, use Filter > Sharpen > Unsharp Mask and increase the Amount just a touch.
  2. Create a new layer again, grab the Brush Tool (B) with the same settings and the same brush sizes. Using the Eyedropper Tool (hold Alt to switch to the Eyedropper and release with Alt to get back to the Brush), sample one light and one dark color from this t-shirt. I got these two tones from the t-shirt: #161512 and #55514e. Then using various mouse moves, paint on this new layer to create a nice effect. Remember to mix these two colors.
  3. This is the kind of result we are looking for, after brushing.
  4. Lower the brush size to 1 or 2 pixels (use the Left and Right Bracket key to change the diameter size), then using the same technique add some single lines. Remember to sample colors from the t-shirt (but you're free to use the same as the bottom ones). Create a new layer and draw some lines (remember to mix colors). Create them pretty chaotically, like someone made them while sketching.

The soft brush with proper shape dynamics will allow you to achieve this effect. If you're lost, refer to Step 11.

Step 14

Follow the same process for every piece of this man's clothing. Now take care of his jacket. Remember to sample dark and light color from the surface you're painting on. In this case, try to sample the darkest and lightest spot from this jacket using the Eyedropper Tool (I). All settings will be the same as previously. There is only one exception, if your lines aren't visible enough, you may increase the Opacity and Flow of your brush.

Step 15

Same thing for the left side of this jacket. Keep in mind that every new process needs to be done on new layers. Not to get confused, it's better to create a layer group for each painted part of this werewolf.

Step 16

Now add some painted effects to the bottom of jacket. Sample the darkest and lightest colors from the bottom white area. You need to get the idea of creating this effect, it's always a random choice. There is no golden rule for finding colors to paint.

Step 17

OK, go to the bottom of the Layers Palette, create a new layer above the white background layer, and name it "colored bg." Grab the Gradient Tool (U), pick #081320 color and start adding some color to the background. Make sure your gradient options are set to Radial. You should get something that looks similar to the first image below.

Now add a Layer Mask to the "colored bg" layer. Grab Brush Tool (B) with the same settings as previously, and lower the brush size to 1px. Also the Fade setting can be increased if it's necessary, then select black for the color, and paint on the Layer Mask to create some scratches (second image below).

Finally, create a new layer and set the color to #01060b. Grab the Gradient Tool (G) and add more darker background tones (third image below).

Step 18

Now, open a nice looking texture. Drag it below the "werewolf" layer. Name it "texture." Then go to Image > Adjustments > Desaturate (2nd image below). Next, change this layer Blending Mode to Screen and hit Command + I on the keyboard to invert (third image below). Go to Image > Adjustments > Levels and make the texture more visible. Next apply Filter > Sharpen > Unsharp Mask to give it a nice sharp look.

Step 19

Make some duplicates of this texture (Command + J) and fill the whole background with it. Use the Eraser Tool (E) with a very low Flow and Hardness set to 0% to get rid of unwanted spots.

Step 20

Now I decided to apply something like failed drawn lines, that looks like they were made pretty much accidently. So grab the Brush Tool (B) with the same settings as in Step 11, sample colors from the jacket using the Eyedropper (I), and make some lines all around this person.
Remember to change the Master Diameter to 1px when you draw the tiny lines. But to create the wider paint marks, use one of the standard photoshop Spatter brushes (refer to Step 11).

Step 21

Now open the image of the moon. Drag it below the "werewolf" layer. Hit Command + Shift + U to desaturate it. Then grab the Dodge Tool (O) and brighten this moon (second image below). Next, add a touch of color to it. Go to Image > Adjustments > Hue/Saturation and give it a little green tone.

Step 22

Once again use the knowledge from Step 11. This time you may need to use a bigger brush, something like "Spatter 39 pixels" or "Spatter 46 pixels" (these are standard brushes in brush palette).

So this time I sampled a light and lighter color from this moon (I got colors: #e2e7e7 and #acadaa). Now use a brush with a very low Opacity and Flow to paint all over the moon. Try to paint in the right direction. The moon is a circle shape, so the brushes need be rounded there.

Always make sure that the Fade in Shape Dynamics option (in the Brush Palette) is set somewhere around 180. It's all shown in Step 11. This is a small reminder incase you accidently change your brush settings. If something goes wrong, always check your brush settings.

Now create a new layer above the moon and change its Blending Mode to Overlay. Grab the Brush Tool (B), and reset your settings. Change your brush to a rounded shape, set Hardness to 0%, Flow to 15% and Opacity to 100%. Pick a white color and start making some glow (third image below). Paint on the moon and around it.

Step 23

Now create new layer above the "werewolf" layer and set its Blending Mode to Overlay. And with the same brush settings as in the previous step (the rounded soft brush, that you made the glow with) paint on the left hand side of this person. Pick the color #2d251f for this, and try to darken this part of his body using a soft brush (first image below). Then pick #eae6e0 (light color) and add a glowing outline around the werewolf (second image below).

Although this will be a fantasy, abstract illustration, I decided to add a touch of realism to give it some depth. So the brushing process that we made here shows that the person is affected by the moon light. To make this effect harder, you can use the Dodge Tool (O) with Exposure set to Highlights and lighten the outlines of this werewolf. If you decide to do this, you need to paint on his body and clothes.

Step 24

The main idea is reached by now, but to make this illustration more complete we need to add something more. Let's find a nice image of a bird (raven or crow). Drag it to our main project. Name this layer "bird," then duplicate it (Command + J).

Work with this copy now, change its Blending Mode to Soft Light, lower the layer's Opacity to 80%. Go to Image > Adjustment > Gradient Map, apply the same colors as I did in the first image below. Then select the "bird" and "bird copy" layers and merge them (Command + E). Next, use the Dodge Tool (O) to lighten the right side of this bird, as it's the part that will be affected by the moon light (second image below).

Now that you have the same painted process as previously (Step 11). Make sure you change your brush settings and remember to sample colors from the bird (I mixed up a few colors: #cdc6c3, #362d2e, #645756, #a19894, etc.) and add some painted effects to the bird. I recommend you searching and sampling your own colors, rather than copy the ones I used because this is the point of using this method.

Next, create a new layer above and change it's Blending Mode to Overlay, then hit D to reset your colors. Change your brush settings to a rounded, soft brush and paint on the bird:

  • Use black (or dark, dull brown) to cover the left side (sixth image below).
  • Use white (or light, dull brown) to cover the right side (sixth image below).

Step 25

OK, now let's add some branches. You need to be patient and cut these branches out with the Pen Tool. Then drag it to our main project document (place it below the "werewolf" layer). Next refer to Step 11 again and start using the Smudge Tool (second image below), then add some brushing (sample colors from the branches) and fill the light spots (third image below).

Step 26

Now first of all go to the "werewolf" layer Mask, grab the Brush Tool (B), pick white for the color, and bring back the bottom part of this person (first image below). Make his jeans fit the bottom branches. Then switch the color to black and reveal the branch from the right side (indicated in the first image below on the right side). This will hide some parts of the arm making the branch visible.

Make your brush settings suitable to create painted effect again (settings from Step 11), then grab the Brush Tool (B) and follow the rest of the images below.

Step 27

Finally, we're done with painted effects. Now let's take care to color this piece properly. Go to the Layers Palette, create a new adjustment layer above all layers - Gradient Map, and pick the "Violet, Orange" preset.

Lower this layer Opacity to 25%. Then Hit Command + A to select the whole canvas, Command + Shift + C to copy merged, then Command + V to paste. This should paste the full image on a new layer. Name it "Gradient" and change this layer's Blending Mode to Soft Light, then lower it's opacity to 45%. Next, go to Image > Adjustments > Gradient Map, and apply some suitable colors (in this case, a gradient from #270f4c to #76c939).

Step 28

Next we will be creating some shattered parts that may look glass or mirror like. This is a step for some abstraction. If you don't like it, then just skip it.

So, grab the Pen Tool (P), create a triangle, then Right-click > Make Selection. Create a new layer above all layers (even above the gradient maps). Then hit Command + Shift + C to copy merged, and Command + V to paste. Use the keyboard arrows to place this piece above the wolf's head. Name this layer "shatter."

Next, grab the Dodge Tool (O) and add some light to this piece (second image below). Now create a new layer below the "shatter" layer, and name it "shadow." Sample a dark gray color from the head using the Eyedropper, switch to the Brush Tool (B) and create some shadow with a very soft brush (third image below).

Finally, select the "shatter" layer, hit Command + J two times to make 2 duplicates of this layer. Drag them below the "shatter" layer (but not below the "shadow" layer). Then use keyboard arrows to position the first copy 2 pixels down, 2 pixels left, and the second copy 3 pixels down, 3 pixels left. Select those copies and merge them using Command + E. Then grab the Burn Tool (O) and darken the edge of this merged layer. This is shown in the 4th image below, you should get a 3D effect.

Step 29

Repeat this process to every piece that you want to shatter. Create the 3D effect in different directions. Then if you want to create some bursts, refer to my Lust tutorial Steps 26 and 27. It's the same technique.

Step 30

Create a new layer group below the gradient layers, create a new layer inside it, and name it "geometric shapes." Grab the Pen Tool (P) again and create a triangle selection the same way as previously. But this time we're going to fill it with a radial gradient.

Before we do this, select the Eyedropper (I) and sample some random colors from this illustration. Then grab the Gradient Tool (G), set it to Radial, and change the Opacity to 5%. Also, make sure the Transparency option is selected (second image below).

Now, let's have some fun with filling this triangle, you can add several shots of gradient to this triangle, then the color will be harder. Use the same method and create lots of triangles, sample different colors and apply some gradients. You can merge a pack of triangles, duplicate them (Command + J) and rotate (Command + T) to get some messy results.

Step 31

Grab the Brush Tool (B), reset your brush settings, and make your brush rounded. Set the Hardness to 0%, Opacity to 100% and Flow to 5%. Pick color #f8ff7c, create a new layer above those triangles, name it "light1." Change this layer's Blending Mode to Overlay. Now start with a small brush, then add bigger and bigger dots in this place. Switch to white color and repeat the same process, but on a new layer (with Overlay Blending Mode).

You can apply those triangles and lights to every spot of this design, it's adds a nice touch of abstraction.

Step 32

As for the final step, create a new adjustment layer above all layers - Curves. Set the values for each channel separately. Set it to fit your main illustration colors - mine were purple/green.

Then above all layers hit Command + A to select the whole canvas, Command + Shift + C to copy merged, and hit Command + V to paste. Change this new layer Blending Mode to Overlay and go to Filter > Other > High Pass. Set the Radius to 1px and we're done!


I'm stopping at this point, as for tutorial purposes it doesn't need more details. But if you want to make this illustration even more complete, you can play around and add some more effects to fill the empty spaces. Anyway it's the final outcome. Hope you learned something new and helpful. Good luck with your own painted illustrations. Work hard on every detail and be very dynamic with your settings!

Thanks for reading the tutorial. You can view the final image below or view a larger version here.

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