Photoshop tutorial: How to mix watercolours and photos in Photoshop with stunning results

Blend watercolour and textures from old textiles and photos to create a mixed media artwork.


Brazilian illustrator Murilo Maciel has demonstrated the power of mixed media art in a new experimental artwork, Distressed Beauty. This mixed media piece combines high-fashion photography with watercolours and tactile textile textures. The handmade feel is further emphasised by replicating the handmade look of screenprinting.

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In this tutorial, Murilo reveals how he composes these pieces. You’ll learn not only how to mix watercolour with photos, and use blending modes effectively, but also how to marry them together, harmoniously.

The model shot and scanned watercolour washes can be found within the download link; these are Murilo’s files for use in the tutorial only. They should not be used in other projects.

Time to complete

2.5 hours


Adobe Photoshop CS or later

Project Files

Please visit the desktop site to download the project files.

Step 1


First, paint some black watercolour washes. Try to do as many as possible, so you’ll have lots of variations to choose from. This is perhaps the most important part of the project, as the image will be overlaid on these washes. Hence, experiment with different papers and tools, in order to get nice textures and shapes.

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Step 2


Let’s paint some coloured washes. The key here is to keep experimenting, not only with tools and paper, but also with materials. Iodised table salt and Isopropyl alcohol give a really nice texture. Use different amounts; mix them up, or whatever you have in mind.

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Step 3


Now is a good time to paint some decorative elements, like ornaments and patterns. Once finished, wait until dry and scan in.

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If you don’t want to get your hands dirty, use the images within the download link. I highly recommend you create your own as it’s fun and you’ll have more control over the final piece.

Step 4


Open canvas.psd and adjust the levels of the photo to increase the contrast. Select this layer, then Image > Adjustments > Levels (Cmd/Ctrl + L). Change the left-hand shadow input to 14 and the right-hand highlight input to 199.

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Make a selection from the photo layer by holding down Cmd/Ctrl and clicking on the layer in the Layers panel.

Step 5


Create a layer group under the photo in the layer stack. Using the previous selection, create a mask by clicking the Vector Mask button at the bottom of the Layer panel.

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Select the photo again, and set the blending mode to Screen. You’ll notice that the photo will disappear.

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Step 6


Open blackwashes.jpg and select each wash with the Lasso tool (L), then copy and paste them into our image. For each, hit Cmd/Ctrl + L to open the Levels dialog, and adjust the levels to 74, 1, 209 respectively to increase the contrast of each wash.

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Step 7


Pick one of the washes and turn it into a black-and-white image by selecting Image > Adjustments > Desaturate (Cmd/Ctrl + Shift + U).

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Sharpening will emphasise texture, which is very important to get a great-looking image. Go to Filter > Sharpen > Unsharp Mask and set the amount to 106% and radius to 0.8. Repeat for each wash.

Step 8


Move a wash into the layer group; you’ll notice our image will begin to appear over the black areas of our paint. This is the main concept of this style, so it’s important that you’ve mastered this creative process. Make this layer 60% smaller and place it where you wish. 

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Step 9


The idea is to have more, and smaller paint layers, instead of just larger ones, to give far greater control over our image. It will also look richer and more detailed, too.

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Copy a few more washes into the folder, but change the blending mode of each layer to Multiply.

Step 10


Bring in blackwashes2.jpg and use these smaller elements to add detail. Keep building the image, until you’re happy with the results. Pay special attention to the borders of your image; try to leave a lot of white space, too.

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Incorporate some of the painted patterns you created before. This will make the image more interesting.

Step 11


Open coloredpaint.jpg and copy and paste it into the layer group. Resize it to 50% of its original size, and set the blending mode to Multiply. Move it to the left-hand side of the artwork. Duplicate it, then move this copy to the top of your image.

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Step 12


Open oldwallpaper.jpg. Go to Image > Adjustments > Desaturate (Cmd/Ctrl + Shift + U), then select Image > Adjustments > Threshold and set the Level to 144. This will simulate a screen-print effect.

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Copy this into the layer group, setting the blending mode to Multiply, and duplicate it. Move one copy to the bottom-left part and the other to the right – as shown.

Step 13


The image is pretty much done: It’s time to work on the detail. Open wc_circle.jpg and make a rounded selection around it, using the Elliptical Marquee tool. Copy the layer above the photo and move it to her right shoulder.

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Go to this layer’s Layer Style by double-clicking it in the Layer panel. Select the Stroke box and set the Colour to white and the Size to 4.

Step 14


Let’s add some more decorative elements. Open the file branch.jpg. Copy it to the layer above the photo; set the blending mode to Multiply. Duplicate this a few times, and place the copies around the image, ensuring some sit next to the model’s eye and hair.

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Create a mask around each branch element. Soften the edges using a soft rounded brush with 40% opacity to better blend with and colour match the rest of the composition.

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Step 15


Keep working on the details. You could add more watercolour elements to the background – and over the image, too – to create a more appealing-looking composition. This also helps to blend the elements together better.

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Step 16


Create a new layer above the photo. Draw a circle with the Elliptical Marquee tool. Using the Gradient tool, fill it with colour values of c45 m90 y50 k40 and c15 m0 y60 k0 for the ends of the gradient, and set the blending mode to Hard Light.

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For an abstract feel, use the Lasso tool (L) to delete parts of your circle. Add an additional lighting effect by duplicating the circle, rotating it about 45 degrees, and setting its blending mode to Screen. Now you’re done.