Photoshop tutorial: Composite organic smoke and textures

Create stunning images and compositions filled with movement and realistic textures with just a few easy tools and techniques.

It doesn’t take much to make a great looking piece if you have a strong initial concept and some nifty tricks to cover the technical side. In this tutorial Arturas Petkevicius shows you quick and easy techniques ranging from the Warp tool to clipping masks and adjustment layers to create a stunning final image.

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While the techniques seem simple at first glance they offer many opportunities: you can use them to create a sense of movement in your composition, to create realistic effects and textures, or to add a specific sense of colour to your final composition. Best of all, these techniques are flexible and easy to learn.

Time to complete

2-3 hours


Adobe Photoshop

Project Files

Please visit the desktop site to download the project files.


First we will need to find the right image to work with. Try getting an image that has some sort of a story in it, this always adds to the effect.

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I’ve used a photo that I shot, which you can find in this tutorial's project files if you want to follow this completely, or you can use one of your own.

Mask it out with the Pen tool in Photoshop – although I also used Vertus’ Fluid Mask 3 plug-in to make the job easier. 


Download Falln-Stock’s Smoke Brushes 1 and Smoke Brushes 2 sets. Use them to add smoke to the left side of the photo.

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Erase parts of the legs and add smoke in-between for a more dynamic effect. Use the Brushes window (F5) to adjust the angle of the brush stroke to fit with the flow of the photo.

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Ensure you put each brush stroke on its own layer. To make the smoke more realistic, select the strokes close to the arm and use the Warp tool (Edit > Transform > Warp) to play around with the positioning of the smoke. Use the Eraser tool (E) to delete parts of the smoke around the arm to give the composition more depth.

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Add a large letterform in front of the figure to add visual interest. I’ve used a ‘K’ in a font comprised of straight lines to contrast with the organic movement of the other elements.

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Next we’ll do the paint effects. Download this stock image of a red bird by rml-stock. Load it into Photoshop and mask out the background. Copy and paste the image on the right side of the stock and rotate it to an interesting angle that works with the composition, erase the rest.


The red paint is still not convincing enough. Use the Liquify filter (Filter > Liquify) and play around with the image by adding swirls and pushing it in different directions. This will add more flow to the image.

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Still working with the paint effect, begin by creating holes with the Eraser tool (E) around the arm. This will create the feeling of the arm coming through the paint and thus give more interest to the image.

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The image still looks pretty flat. To change this, select a splatter brush from the Eraser tool and add a few brush strokes.


Next we want to add some splash effects at the top. Do this by creating a new layer and, using a splatter brush, paint with white in the top area. Next load the image we used for the red paint, copy and paste it as a new layer on top of the splatter, right click and create a clipping mask (Layer > Create Clipping Mask).

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Create some more clipping masks and using the Move tool (V) play around with the positioning. You can also use Free Transform (Edit > Free Transform) to scale, rotate and distort the clipping mask. When I’m finished, I like to use a colour adjustment layer (Layer > New Adjustment Layer > Colour Balance) to add unity to the image.

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