Photoshop tutorial: Create a mixed-media portrait

Paul Holland combines pencil drawings with the power of Photoshop to create a unique look


Paul Holland’s work is often figurative. He draws with a range of regular pencils (from 5H to 6B, he says), as well as pulling out his pens and paintbrush. He then brings the results into Photoshop, where he adds components and applies colour and textures, digitally enhancing the final visual through the use of some classically inspired montage techniques.

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Here Paul demonstrates how he went about producing a portrait of singer Beth Ditto for an editorial illustration. He hopes the tutorial will inspire you to explore the endless possibilities available in software. The techniques outlined here aren’t complex. What’s more, they maintain the integrity of the original hand drawing, preserving the artist’s style and individuality.

Having followed this tutorial, you should be able to take a drawing and turn it into something that’s not only stunning but also worthy of being used for a commercial project.

Time to complete

3 hours, excluding drawing time


Adobe Photoshop

Step 1


Before you start, remember to consider how your drawings will be manipulated once scanned. You must ensure that what you produce is versatile enough for the purposes you have in mind.

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I work from a range of reference photos of my subject. I start by drawing just the face, which I scan into Photoshop (you should use a resolution of at least 300dpi for this key element). The hair and other elements will be drawn individually and saved in separate layers in Photoshop.

Step 2


Along with the main image, I scan an outline of the hair in pencil, putting this in its own layer. This outline is fairly rough as I want the hair to appear as realistic as possible, so I don’t want a hard edge. I also trace any outlines I needed to work within, such as the edges of the lips, and put them in their own layers.

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To get a strong black-and-white main image for this work, I also altered the contrast using Image > Adjustments > Selective Color, then adjusting whites, neutrals and blacks.

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Step 3


I then drew an eyebrow with a pencil crayon (doing it by hand gives a softer, more realistic look). This was scanned in, copied and flipped horizontally for the other eyebrow. With the Elliptical Marquee tool (M), I added small solid white circles over the eyes to make them pop. These sit on their own layer above the portrait’s layer.

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Step 4


Hair can be tricky. I often collage photographs of hair and create the desired shape myself using layers. As mentioned earlier, I want the result to appear lifelike and to have some sense of movement if possible. Therefore I’m not too concerned about the quality or resolution of the images I use; the result just needs to create a sense of depth and softness. Above you can see how I built up the hair from elements scanned into layers with different opacity levels.

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Step 5


When I was happy, I selected the hair layers and did Layers > Merge Layers. I gave the result an extra colour dimension: I chose a blue, applied as a Linear Burn at 100% opacity over the original hair. This effect was used elsewhere to add depth and a hint of colour.

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Step 6


The hand was hand-drawn and scanned into Photoshop. And as before, I created an outline as well as a solid form. This means that the shape is more flexible and easily selected when passing certain elements in front of or behind it.

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I also experimented with a photograph of glitter over the lips, using a Lighten blending mode at 100% opacity.

Step 7


The record deck’s arm was created in the same way as the hand. I’ve adjusted the opacity of the solid form to show you how the outline and solid elements interact. When positioned in the finished image, it will look similar to the final hand shape shown.

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Step 8


I scanned the drawing of the microphone shown and treated it as I did the portrait, adjusting the contrast and creating an outline of it.

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Incidentally, to make it easier to find and manipulate elements, I usually group all the layers of one particular element together.

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Step 9


Once the microphone had colour applied, I duplicated it to produce a pair that I arranged on either side of the face. I also added in shadows cast by the face, making the mikes appear as if sitting within the hair. I then added a duplicate layer of the original hair over the microphones, plus reflections to lend the work a three?dimensional quality.

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Step 10


Now I sketched and scanned in a microphone cable, putting it in its own layer. I left some gaps in the cable where I wanted it to appear blocked by other elements.

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Step 11


We want to make it look like the cable is wound tightly around the head and microphones and tangled up in the hair. As I’d put outlines around each of the elements, it was easy to achieve this by selectively erasing parts of the cable – for example, those that overlapped the face.

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When working this way, remember that you can invert the selection where necessary, erasing or masking parts of the image as you wish.

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Step 12


The necklace in the illustration was inspired by lyrics from Beth Ditto’s material. The text was drawn freehand, scanned and then coloured. I also overlaid a gold leaf texture – created by scanning an actual piece of gold leaf – and added some lighting effects as with the microphones. I played with layer effects and opacity until I had the look I wanted.

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Step 13


The necklace’s chain was originally a photograph of a silver chain, scanned and saved as a monotone image. I contorted the chain using Edit > Transform > Warp, applied colour and added a shadow so as to give the necklace a more three-dimensional look.

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Step 14


Finally, I zoomed in and cleaned up any areas where the different elements didn’t intersect correctly. With all the components together, I could also make any tweaks that I felt the composition needed.

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To finalise the portrait, I linked all the layers together and saved out the finished piece.

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