Photoshop tutorial: Surreal mixed-media illustration

Sachin Teng details how he finds references to underpin his artwork and the techniques he uses to blend contrasting components that are slick and clean with those that are grainy and organic. The idea is to explore the whole spectrum of art and graphics and find common ground to link all the underlying pieces together.

Intro


Here, illustration whizz-kid Sachin Teng reveals the process behind the piece, Sheep In Wolf’s Clothing. He details how he finds references to underpin his artwork and the techniques he uses to blend contrasting components that are slick and clean with those that are grainy and organic. The idea is to explore the whole spectrum of art and graphics and find common ground to link all the underlying pieces together.

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Sachin also shows you how to avoid common pitfalls of digital and traditional painting and how to bring some quirky practises in the steps of image making, such as avoiding the line art sketch altogether. His process is of course specific to him, but there are universal lessons that he hopes you’ll be able to incorporate into a process and style of your own.

Time to complete

4 hours

Software

Photoshop CS4 or later

Step 1

STEP 1

Most artists sketch before beginning the real deal, but for me there’s a very important step even before that. It’s commonly called a moodboard and is essentially the sketch for the spirit of the piece. Collect together every piece of reference material that interests you and you will define your visual identity instantly, for the artwork and yourself.

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Step 2

STEP 2

Ensure you have reference for a portrait – unless you happen to be an expert in anatomy. For this piece I didn’t create a line art sketch – I used a colour sketch made up of simple shapes. To do this, open a new document in Photoshop and create one-colour silhouettes with the Brush tool (B) for each element on a single transparent layer.

See also: 86 Best Photoshop tutorials

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Step 3

STEP 3

When you’ve created a face of blocked out silhouettes, go to the Layers panel. Underneath opacity should be the the word Lock with four icons. Click the checkerboard icon to Lock transparent pixels. You can now go crazy inside this layer without painting over any areas you’ve marked as transparent.

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Step 4

STEP 4

If you dive right into the details, thinking that you’ll save time by getting the hard work out of the way, you’ll actually give yourself more work. You will save yourself hours – days even – if you paint all the biggest sections of colour first. After this, you’ve essentially done 80 per cent of the work and only need to clean up the rough parts and add details.

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Step 5

STEP 5

Create a new layer where all the details will go. This way, if you go too crazy or mess it up, you can always go back to your original. With the Brush tool set to 60% opacity and 30% Flow, sculpt the rest of the portrait. For the softer, more blended areas, switch to 30% opacity or lower.

See also: 86 Best Photoshop tutorials

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Step 6

STEP 6

Now, go to the Layers panel and click the folder icon at the bottom to create a new group. Click and drag both layers into the group.

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Use the same technique of one base layer and one detail layer to start painting one of the wolf elements. Repeat for the rest – and the geometric elements – on separate layers. Create groups for these so that every object is in its own folder with two layers, one base colour layer with the transparency lock and one detail layer.

Hide all of the groups except your initial portraits for now.


Step 7

STEP 7

Go to Filter > Noise > Add Noise. This is how I produce the graininess in most of my pieces, it’s important that you don’t flatten the image and instead add noise to each layer one by one.

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Step 8

STEP 8

Once the Add Noise window opens, check Gaussian and Monochromatic. The Amount will vary based on what you’re adding noise to. The more graphic the image is, the more noise it will require and the more textured something is already, the less you’ll need. Typically a 300dpi image will require you to use an Amount between 5% and 20% – though the amount of noise you use should be consistent from layer to layer within a composition.

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Bring back your hidden layers one by one and apply Add Noise to each of them in turn.

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Step 9

STEP 9

This is the point in my creative process where I start to bring in traditional elements. I used sumi-e ink and the most damaged, ruined brush with the coarsest bristles I could find. As we want lots of texture – not a smooth line – the worse the brush, the better.

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Step 10

STEP 10

After you’ve scanned the image go to Select > Color Range. Your cursor will turn into an eyedropper. Don’t use the preview window to make a selection, instead select the white area from the actual image. Now adjust the Fuzziness until the white selected area has the same amount of gradation as the actual image and hit OK.

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Step 11

STEP 11

The entire white area should now be selected, so go ahead and delete it, then hit the Lock transparency pixels button we used in Step 3. You can now apply this ink stroke over anything with all its grungy dirtiness intact. I prefer this method to using the Magic Wand because that tool doesn’t pick up subtle details.

See also: 86 Best Photoshop tutorials

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Step 12

STEP 12

When using this element as a texture, you can now change it to any colour that will enhance the image with impunity, as the transparency locks you applied earlier stops any of it being applied to the background. I chose an off-white for my purposes because as with the colour palette I’ve chosen for the piece, light textures will be more visible.

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Step 13

STEP 13

Once you have the colour you want, hit Cmd/Ctrl + A to Select All and Cmd/Ctrl + C to copy your texture. Create a new layer above all the others then paste it. Change the blending mode to Linear Dodge, and set the opacity to 50%. Now position the brushstroke to best effect. Feel free to slice and dice it, copy and pasting parts of it over multiple layers so that it adds texture to all your elements.

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Step 14

STEP 14

Create a new layer under the texture. Create a QR code (perhaps using a site like qrcode.kaywa.com), paste it into your document and blow it up larger using Photoshop’s Transform tools (Cmd/Ctrl + T, then pull the corners while holding Shift to constrain the proportions). Change the the blending mode to Multiply and the opacity to 90%.

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Slice it up using the Lasso (L) and Marquee (M) tools, and cut and paste parts to frame the face. Black on white is a very strong contrast element, so use the elements sparingly and in a considered fashion.

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Step 15

STEP 15

Finally, remember to add noise to the brushstroke and to the pixels. There you have it, the image is finished. Enjoy your trippy artwork.

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About the artist

STEP 16

Sachin Teng creates surreal dream worlds, sculpted and composed with elements that jump back and forth fluidly in his artwork. His work has its own language made up of an 80’s manga-style, post-modern graphic design, and an expressive painter’s hand.

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Fresh out of school, this young gun has already racked up a gold award from the Society of Illustrators, and is hitting the ground running.

Contact

sachinteng.com