Adobe Illustrator & Photoshop tutorial: Design abstract book art

Nicolas Monin-Baroille explains the different Photoshop and Illustrator techniques he used to create this abstract artwork

Nicolas Monin-Baroille created this tutorial’s artwork for a book accompanying last year’s OFFF creative festival in Barcelona. He says that his aim with the piece was to have something in his own style that was messy and calm at the same time – and in keeping with the event’s them of ‘Unknown Disorder’.

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“I wanted to create something different using various techniques, and use both Photoshop and Illustrator in different ways to meld vector and bitmap styles together,” he says.

In the project files, you’ll find Nicolas’ brush strokes in both vector and bitmap formats, plus a layered version of the artwork. 

Time to complete 

1-5 hours


Black ink, paper, Photoshop, Illustrator

Project files

Files for this tutorial are downloadable from here. (Free registration required)


I started by sketching out various doodles and forms with a black ink pen on blank paper, and then scanned them into Photoshop. I then brought these across to Illustrator, converted them into vectors, coloured them and turned them into brushes. Finally, I painted some abstract swirls and loops. I saved the shapes out as an Illustrator file – you can find them in this tutorial’s project files.

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Next, I imported the AI file into Photoshop and composed the shapes in a pleasing way that I thought had the right mix of size and detail. I found it useful to pay attention to how the lines of the elements move the eye around the composition to make it appealing. 

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I always try to nail the arrangement of elements at this stage, so I can flatten the layers to create a single element to apply effects to.

After creating this raw base, I added some shadows to bring it off the page.

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I like to use unusual elements from photos – lights, glows and reflections – to texture abstract pieces in interesting ways. I apply these with a ‘Hard mix’ blending mode for maximum effect, but constrain them within the edges of my shapes.

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The image’s colours looks weird – and not in a good way– but I wasn’t worried as this would be fixed later.


I wanted to add some subtle lights onto the base artwork. Using a dark blue-violet colour (#2A2C75), I brushed on strokes at an opacity of 57% on the outer edge of our objects. I set the blending mode to ‘Screen’ (‘Negativ multiplizieren’ in the German version of Photoshop) and gave it a layer mask that connected it to the shape’s base layer.

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I also brushed on subtle shadows underneath the base image using a light grey tone (#9F9F9F), an opacity of 40% and a Multiply blending mode.


To lower the contrast a little, I added a layer of a solid dark blue colour (#020018), and set its blending mode to ‘Exclusion’.

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To resolve the Posterize-looking effect, I pressed Cmd/Ctrl + Shift + Alt + E to merge all the visible layers into a new one. Now everything I’d done looked a lot more like the end result I wanted.

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Some pixellated distortion is always a nice touch, on artworks such as these. It’s easy to achieve too; use the Mosiac filter (Filter > Pixelate > Mosaic). To constrain it to the bottom right, I used a mask, brushing with a soft black brush in the areas I didn’t want pixellated.

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As the final step to these kind of abstract artworks, I always use a ‘Hue/Saturation’ (‘Farbton/Sättigung’) adjustment layer to play with the overall colour palette, often chancing on the best arrangement by accident.

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