photoshop creative

10 tips for creating surreal artwork

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Tips & Tutorials, by Mark White
May 6, 2016

Create something out of the ordinary this weekend…


1. Dodging and burning

Add a final fill layer of #808080 to pictures and use the Dodge and Burn tools to apply new shadows and highlights all over a picture. This is especially useful for surreal images that have had a new light source added.

2. Unrelated objects

Seeing something where it doesn’t belong is what makes something surreal. Surreal art knows no boundaries, but the best surreal artwork takes familiar objects and places them somewhere unexpected.

3. Use soft brushes

When you’re masking objects or subjects into a picture, make sure you soften your brushes. This means that you’ll get faded edges, which will look more seamless. With surreal artwork, it’s often easier to spot the editing than usual.

4. Warp

The warp tools are fantastic for distorting images into a shape to use in surreal compositions. Use Cmd/Ctrl+T to Free Transform – where you’ll find Warp – but also consider the Liquify filter (Filter>Liquify) for expanding and shrinking objects.

5. Adjustment layers

When you’re trying to get so many layers to look like they all belong in the same picture, try adding adjustment layers, such as Photo Filter, Curves and Vibrance, to get a whole picture looking unified and complete.

6. Blurring

Sharpening is useful for getting your image composition-ready, and blurring a final piece lightly can add focus to your picture. Use the two wisely to try and give tone and clarity to your surreal piece.

7. Use of colour

Colour is important in any composition, but atmosphere is integral in surrealism. Lots of surreal images use bright, evocative shades and tones, but darker themes need darker palettes. Use a Gradient Map adjustment layer to finish off your piece.

8. Screen mode

When you import an image into Photoshop with a black background to use in a composition, don’t try and isolate the object from its background. Instead, simply change your mode to Screen, which will erase the black for you.

9. A strong lead image

When you’re combining a few images together for a surreal composition, make sure you pick a strong lead image. You’ll need something to draw the focus to, otherwise your image will look like a mixed collection of unrealised ideas.

10. Attention to details

Details are very important in surrealism because they help convince an audience the image is real. If you’re working with water, use splashes. If you’re placing images in the sky, use clouds. Details can turn good artwork into great art.