Photoshop tutorial: Create super psychedelic artwork

Ollie Munden explains how to create 70s-inspired poster art using sketching and multi-layering techniques in Photoshop


This tutorial guides you through some simple steps that will help you create a psychedelic-influenced Pharaoh-themed illustration. The use of bold colour and blurring techniques are brought together with hand-rendered imagery to successfully create a very eye-catching piece of artwork.

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You will learn how to tidy up drawn line work and you will construct a number of line work layers, which later form a completed composition. The use of some vector halftone-style dots adds a slight ‘pop art’ flavour to the work, this file is included on the project files.

Our project files include the layered low-res artwork I worked from, but if you’re feeling more adventurous, replace the Pharaoh element with a character of your choice. The main thing to focus on is a reflected composition and a bold colour palette. The use of the eyes in this example do help to make it more striking, so if you use another character it might be worth thinking about how you can acheive the same effect.

If you’re sitting comfortably, I think it’s time to get psychedelically started.

Time to complete

1 day


Adobe Photoshop

Step 1


Import a photograph of a Pharaoh into Photoshop and use the Pen tool (P) to cut around the head. If you don’t fancy using a Pharaoh, it could be any head-type image from an astronaut to an animal.

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Step 2


Our base outline needs complete symmetry so that any elements we add are more obvious. Cut the image in half using the Rectangular Marquee tool (M) + Delete. Duplicate the half image and reflect it by Cmd/Ctrl + clicking on the image layer, selecting Free Transform, then Cmd/Ctrl + clicking and choosing Flip Horizontal.

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Step 3


Using the Pen tool (P) and Elliptical Marquee tool (M), add in simple shape areas to indicate where you will draw in extra detail by hand. You do not need to follow where I have added these, you could add more circles (which will later become planets) or any other random shapes that could help you make a better final drawing.

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Step 4


To add some depth, I cut around the bottom stripy area of the Pharaoh’s headdress and used the Distort tool (Cmd/Ctrl) to create some perspective. With the piece aimed at having a psychedelic appearance, unusual perspectives like this will help create that impression.

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Step 5


I create and then print digital elements, draw on them, scan them in again, and repeat until I get what I want. The first layer is a sketch over the photo using the Brush tool (B). I added a second layer with a blending mode of Color Overlay (set to white) and a stroke layer mode to create the black outlines around the edge of each cloud. It helps me see where I want to add detail.

See also: 86 Best Photoshop tutorials

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Step 6


Print this photographic mock up onto A3 paper (or two A4s and tape it together if necessary). Using a soft pencil and tracing paper, trace over the main outlines of the photographic elements.

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Once that is complete you can elaborate upon the design with new puffs of smoke or abstract shapes. Use this time to be free with your drawing. Get experimental: it’s your time to figure out how the design will be.

Step 7


I always use pencil first before moving to pens for the final trace. Using three weights of fine liner pen, trace out each element of the piece on separate tracing paper sheets. I started with the main element: The Pharaoh.

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Step 8


Once you have drawn everything, scan in each sheet. Begin with the Pharaoh element. Tidy up the artwork using Levels Adjustments. Use the Dodge tool (O), set to 100% and Highlights, to clean up more intricate areas.

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Once clean, select exactly half of the illustration, but remember to erase any unnecessary elements. Duplicate this and flip horizontally, then aligning the two halves.

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Step 9


Once the Pharaoh is constructed, bring in and clean up the other artwork elements. Begin to contract the artwork as shown. Use Layer Masks to hide any unwanted details (using the Magic Wand tool (W) to select the areas first).

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Step 10


Using Threshold in the Adjustments panel, set as shown above, clean up all of your drawing layers to create hard linework. It’ll be easier to work with later.

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Now add colour. Create a new layer group for the colour layers and remember to create a new layer for each colour you add for easy adjusting if you want to make changes later.

Use the Magic Wand to select areas, then Select > Modify > Expand to select areas from the lifework layers.

Step 11


Begin adding colours on new layers using this technique. I began with the background layer first so I could lay down dark colours. Then when I came to the foreground colours I could see if they ‘popped’ the way I wanted them to.

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Step 12


Once the piece is fully coloured, open up dots.eps in Illustrator from the project and copy and paste all of the dots into your Photoshop document to give a halftone effect. If you don’t have Illustrator, you can Place the EPS into Photoshop, but copy and pasting will maintain it as a vector for smoother results after resizing.

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Choose how intense you would like the dots to be. I picked the mid purple that I used throughout the project, which keeps them quite subtle. I coloured them using a Colour Overlay. This can be done by double clicking on the dots layer in the layer palette.

Step 13


The piece is nearly complete. But the icing on the psychedelic cake are some final effects. Save yourself out a copy of the PSD for future editing if needed, then merge all colour layers and any other layer except for the overlaying clouds and spikes – keep these as separate layers for now.

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Go to Filter > Blur > Gaussian Blur and give this new layer a blur of around 0.5 pixels. This just softens the linework up a little. Merge all your layers.

Step 14


Add a Levels Adjustment layer and tweak the colours a little to make sure they are as rich as they can be. Select all, copy and paste. Set this new layer’s blending mode to Soft Light and turn the opacity down to around 40%. Also add a Gaussian Blur of two pixels to this layer.

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Step 15


Flatten all artwork to a single layer. Now duplicate this layer and use a Gaussian Blur set to 4.8 pixels on the new layer.

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Step 16


Select a soft, large Eraser brush (E) and begin to erase the blurred layer, taking care to leave areas of blur, particularly around the edges. This helps to give the art a more floaty, dreamy, soft focus-type look.

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About the artist: MegaMunden


Megamunden – aka Ollie Munden – is an illustrator whose work combines nature’s creatures, tattoo design, psychedelia, 80s skate graphics and an essence of the Far East to create his beautiful illustrations.

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As comfortable painting large scale murals as he is illustrating for advertising or publishing, it has been hard to escape Ollie’s drawings over recent years. British Airways, Havaianas, Nike, Toshiba, Vodafone, Penguin and The New Scientist are just a few brands that have fallen for his distinctive creations.

Alongside commercial commissions Ollie is finding more and more that he is being commissioned to design tattoos for private clients.


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