Photoshop tutorial: Create a digital collage from hand-drawn elements

Sandra Dieckmann brings a dreamlike quality to her work


Here, illustrator Sandra Dieckmann guides you through how she creates her work, which combines the emotional depth of the hand-made with the boldness of graphics. 

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Sandra says that her approach to creating a piece is to “imagine a thing and bring it to life to share your inner vision”. She notes that when you are inspired by your dreams, sometimes it feels impossible to believe that what you see inside your mind will have the same power once it is in front of your eyes, but don’t fret.

By following her creative process, you will be able to combine an array of elements in a beautiful composition by keeping your layers separate and by learning how to tidy up your drawing, how to colour it, add textures – and through that really awaken the magic.

Time to complete

1 day




Files for this tutorial are downloadable from here

Step 1


To begin with you’ll need to decide on a subject and find some reference material. It’s important to make sure that you’re not infringing on any copyright protected material. Now draw – either digitally using a tablet or with a pen or pencil, and scan it. This drawing was created with a variety of pencils and then scanned in at 300dpi. Select the area around your drawing with the Magic Wand (W) and cut out the white space around it.

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Step 2


Copy and paste your drawing onto a fresh canvas with the required-size specifications for what you want to do with it (mine’s for the page opposite, so I used A4). 

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To add texture to your drawing, delve into your texture library and find a scan of some old paper (or get one from Desaturate it and place it on a new layer on top of your line drawing with a Multiply blending mode. Use Image > Adjustments > Levels on both layers to change the brightness and contrast to make the linework darker. 

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Step 3


It’s now time to add some colour. Select most of your subject, but leave some areas out for variety. Here I left out the antlers and hooves so that they are in contrast to the elk’s darker hide. Add a layer of flat colour and again position it above your subject using a Multiply blending mode. 

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Step 4


Add more texture if needed using the same technique as in Step 2. Building up textures will add great depth to you illustration. 

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Step 5


On each texture or flat colour layer, use Image > Adjustments > Hue/Saturation to tweak your hue and colour value to bring it in line with your overall idea for the composition.

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Step 6


To add even more interest and depth to the image, add some highlights and lowlights by selecting angular areas with the Polygonal Lasso tool (L) and then again playing with Hue/Saturation as in the previous step. 

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If you’re unsure of how this will affect the overall composition, duplicate the layer you are working on before you start just to be safe.

Step 7


The elk I’m working on here has darker, differently coloured parts of fur. To create a softer effect in these areas, which blends in with the colour below, it’s best to use a soft textured brush on a new layer with a Multiply blending mode and 50% opacity. Afterwards, go back to the layer with the drawing on it, select its content and cut out the excess on the new layer.

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Step 8


If there are any areas that you want to look really clean and stand out – such as the eye here – select that area with the Polygonal Lasso tool (L) and use Image > Adjustments > Selective Colour to brighten it up. This works equally well for any area if you only want to adjust the values of certain colours, black, white or neutrals.

See also: 86 Best Photoshop tutorials

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Step 9


Apply colours and textures to secondary elements – like I have for the antlers and hooves.

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Step 10


Another way to add variety to your work is to contrast different creative techniques. I wanted to add the texture of paint in the piece’s landscape to provide a roughness against which the more delicate elk sits.

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I created three painted textures as options, brought them into the composition and selected the one I thought worked best as the background. You can find the textures in the project files for use in your own work.

I could have used a different texture to create the foreground, but I wanted a similar texture to both foreground and background. I selected the part I wanted to use as the foreground, and inverted that selection (Cmd/Ctrl + Shift + I). I used a Selective Colour adjustment (Image > Adjustments > Selective Colour) to adjust the values of white and black to give it a kick.

Step 11


A great way of adjusting the overall colour of an image without losing any of its textures or linework is by using a Screen blending mode. Here I used a solid layer of blue to adjust the hue of the background. Using Screen allowed me to play with the colour of the solid layer and see results instantly.

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Step 12


Considering most of the image is quite soft and organic with no sharp angles, I really wanted to bring a graphic element into it. I introduced a triangular shape around the elk to guide the eye to the second focal point of the image. To integrate it into the composition, I set the shape’s opacity to 60% and used a Soft Light blending mode.

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Step 13


Like an all-seeing eye, the moon sits in the tip of the triangle. This adds a magical and dreamlike element to the atmosphere. The moon was constructed from three separate layers of white circles that were set to different opacities and had Multiply blending modes applied to them to give the effect of graphically fading out.

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Step 14


I added stars and swirls to the sky by first overlaying a photographic image of a night sky using the Screen blending mode, then applying dots with a small in Photoshop. I added a ‘spotlight’ pointing down towards the elk by layering a white triangle over the top and using a Soft Light blending mode. 

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To give the landscape a more natural feel, I first hand-drew sweeping and swirling linework, which I scanned in, inverted, duplicated a few times and then positioned around the elk, using a Screen blending mode.

To give elements like these a sense of depth, merge the layers and use Edit > Transform > Distort to make the lines come closer together for the section that is further away from the viewer.

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Step 15


Finally, to add some more magic and loosen up the composition a little I’ve added an inverted pencil drawing of some little geometrical shapes around the dreaming elk. This layer is screened and finally three coloured shapes are added to finish it all of. Tweak your layer hues and contrasts and you have reached the end of the tutorial. 

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About the artist: Sandra Dieckmann


Sandra Dieckmann is a German freelance illustrator working from her studio in East London. Her skills have been applied to a wide array of international commissions and projects, and in 2011 Sandra won an award for Upcoming Talent in Illustration in the UK for her image Fox Tree.

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