photoshop creative

Create an abstract brush portrait

Posted in:
Tips & Tutorials, by Mark White
October 11, 2017

Harness the power of Photoshop layers and brushes to easily create a colourful abstract portrait

1. Prepare your reference image

Source a reference photo to help you with your portrait. We’ve used the image 28120087 from Dreamstime. Set up the guides by dividing your canvas into thirds. Enlarge your image so that the eyes meet the guides. Adjust the Levels, Curves and Posterize settings to help bring out the highlights and shadows.

2. Start brushing

With a black Hard Round Brush, set Size to 45px, Angle to 39, Roundness: 12%, Spacing: 1%. Begin with the eyes by painting the more obvious shapes of the iris, eye lashes, and brow bone, each on its own layer. Switch between black and white brushes by pressing X on your keyboard.

3. Create tones

Experiment with brush Opacity and Flow to create different tones. Alternatively, open up the Color Picker and set Color to different tones of grey. Press E to activate Eraser Tool. Toggle between [ and ] to control eraser size. Erase parts of the brows to make them look less blocky.

4. Set up a colour palette

Setting up a palette can help organise the colours of an illustration. For our image we wanted an overall purple tone with bright yellow and orange for highlights. Create an eclipse and set its colour to a bright yellow/green. Duplicate and set the rest of the colours as shown.

5.  Begin colouring

Ctrl/right-click on a brush layer, select Blending Option. Turn on Color Overlay to set the colour of your brush stroke. Use the Color Picker to select one of the colours from your palette. You will notice that playing with the brush Opacity settings earlier will now affect a colour’s translucency.

6. Continue colouring

Assign dark colours to the blacks and dark greys; lighter colours to the lighter tones. We’ve kept some of the really dark areas like the iris, nostrils, and inner mouth black, while the white of the eye and the teeth stay white.

7. Adjustments

Tweak the colours by Ctrl/right- clicking on the area to select the layer, and change its colour using the same Color Overlay option. Add more highlights on the left forehead and cheeks with a white brush, with the layer’s blend mode set to Soft Light. Repeat for the shadows around the face using a black brush.

8. Introduce the wave guide

Load a horizontal guide such as the one in the screenshot into your artwork. Begin warping using the Twist, Wave or Flag option to create your desired wave form on the lines. Set the layer blend mode to Multiply to form a guide. We’re going to create the next portion of our brush strokes along these guidelines.

9. Painting wavy strokes

On a new layer, start painting strokes using the Hard Round Brush you used previously along these guides, picking the colours from your colour palette. Place these strokes around the edges of the face to blend the face and the wavy strokes together. Organise them into layer groups for ‘big’, ‘medium’ and ‘small’ strokes.

10. Bring up the facial features

As your brush strokes build up, some of the facial features might get lost as a result. Add in some white highlights on the cheeks and forehead. Similarly, boost the eyes with some black shadows on the brows, eyelids and lashes.

11. Add a drop shadow

Create a separation of your wavy strokes from the artwork. Group your wavy strokes into a folder. Duplicate the folder with Cmd/Ctrl+J. Merge the folder with Cmd/Ctrl+E. Select this merged layer, Ctrl/right-click, select Blending Options and turn on Drop Shadow. Set Opacity to 25%.

12. Soft toning

Using a Soft Round Brush, start painting highlights on the face as shown. Set the layer’s blend mode to Soft Light, Opacity at 50%. Repeat the steps, this time painting black on the shadow areas. Build up more shadows towards the side of the image, keeping the face bright for focus.

13. Colour adjustments

Create a Selective Color adjustment layer underneath the wavy stroke layers. We’ve darkened the reds by adding cyan and moved the hue towards pink by reducing the yellows. On the midtones, we’ve gone towards blue and yellow. Set colour gradients to Soft Light, Opacity: 50% for overall toning.

14. Cleaning up

With so much colour on your canvas, there will be distractions. Clean up areas where there are only tiny bits of colour. On a new layer, select the surrounding colour by pressing I to switch to the Eyedropper Tool, and start painting over the area. Be sure to select All Layers under the Sample drop-down box.