Photoshop tutorial: Use brushes to enhance portraits

David Mahoney explains how to bring realism, texture and beauty to your digital pieces using traditional mediums

Intro


Taking advantage of both traditional and digital mediums is a powerful tool in any artist’s arsenal. The ability to quickly produce a piece of digital artwork that retains a level of realism, texture and beauty of traditional mediums is very powerful, especially in a world where deadlines can be tight and expectations high.

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In this tutorial, illustrator and product designer David Mahoney will explain how to create a ‘tradigital’ artwork such as that shown here. Entitled Mad About You, it features the photography of Bella Tokaeva. 

Additionally, he’ll take you through the techniques you’ll need to compose a piece of work similar to the one shown here, while shedding light on how some of these can be transferred to a variety of principles. 

You’ll need to use your own photo to follow along directly, but David has kindly supplied the texture packs he used in the project files.

Files for this tutorial are downloadable from here.

STEP 1

Start by creating your texture files on paper with paints. You want to create elements that artistically reproduce areas of the photo; here I’ve created ink splatters, drips and wispy brush strokes to resemble flowing hair and the ruffled fur on the coat. Once done, scan the pages into Photoshop at 300dpi to maintain detail and visual clarity. 

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STEP 2

Find a model shot with strong contrast and deep shadows. Open it in Photoshop, and if it’s not already black and white, select Image > Adjustments > Black & White. Leave it on the default settings and press OK. 

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Increasing the contrast will give you better results in later stages. You can do this using a Curves adjustment (Image > Adjustments > Curves or Cmd/Ctrl + M).

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STEP 3

Duplicate your background layer (Layer > New > Duplicate Layer). Create a new layer between the two and fill this with grey using the Paint Bucket tool. Erase everything in the top photo layer except for the focal point, as you’ll want these parts to appear in the final artwork.

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STEP 4

Open up your texture files or the ones I’ve supplied. Desaturate them using Image > Adjustments > Desaturate. It’s crucial that each layer you add to your composition is desaturated in order for the techniques you’ll use next to work. 

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STEP 5

Use the Lasso tool (L) to select the textures you want to make up the initial form of the composition. Copy and paste them into your artwork, and position them in a pleasing way. 

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STEP 6

Once positioned, change the layer’s blending mode to Linear Burn. This will give a dark effect that has not only removed the white background, but has also given us the foundations of the model’s cuff of her coat.

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STEP 7

Add another paint swirl to the model’s other cuff. Apply a Levels adjustment (Image > Adjustments > Levels) to add more depth to your paint elements since these are often lost when scanning). Slide the markers to darken the texture layers and once you’re happy select OK. Repeat Steps 5 to 7 on the other arm.

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STEP 8

I used a large ink splash to form the body of the woman, again using Steps 5 to 7. I wanted to create a distinction between the woman’s face, arms and torso. Use the Magnetic Lasso to cut out the arms and face, so that the paint elements don’t overlap these.

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STEP 9

Here I’ve used a simple brush stroke texture to add shadow to the face. Use a Multiply blending mode with element such as these to integrate it into the composition. Experiments with the opacity levels of layers that use this blending mode to improve the subtly of this technique, so these effects don’t appear to disruptive.

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STEP 10

To add back in the blonde hair that was lost when we initially chopped up the photo, first copy the bulb-shaped element from the texture pack (or create your own). Desaturate it and copy/paste it into your composition. Give it a blending mode of Divide, then use a soft eraser with low opacity to remove areas you don’t wish to keep.

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STEP 11

It’s now time to add detail to our composition. Duplicate the original photograph layer and drag it to the top of the layer stack. Using the Lasso tool and an eraser, remove areas of the photograph that are outside the boundaries of the black areas we created. Then apply a Lighten blending mode to bring back the hair from the original photo.

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STEP 12

We need some lighter elements on top of the dark areas we’ve created. Continue to add texture, shadows and highlights using Multiply and Linear Burn blending modes. Splashes can be achieved using elements with a Divide blending mode. Use a Curves adjustment (Ctrl/Cmd + M) to add more contrast.

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STEP 13

To add an additional photograph to a composition, first find an image with equally strong shadows and high contrast. Open it, then use Select > Colour Range to grab the lighter and mid-tone areas from it.

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STEP 14

Cut and paste the results into the composition and resize to fit. Erase any parts of it that don’t fit into the composition.

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STEP 15

To finish off, I used a sample from our texture pack – a section of wispy brush strokes with a Multiply blending mode applied – to create the hair of the second figure.

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