Use clipping masks, thresholds and brushes to turn a photo into a pictureseque watercolour scene
First we will build a skyline so that we can get the best landmarks all in one place. You might want to create a fantasy horizon with your favourite buildings in it, but we’re going for a London-related picture. Find clear pictures to comp together.
For each photo, go to the Adjustment panel and choose Threshold. Adjust the slider until you get a clear black-and-white image of each of the landmarks. The less detail the better, as this is a silhouette effect, but a little white detail left over still looks good.
Now we’re going to combine these landmarks together. Paste them all into one document and use masks to show or hide different parts of each of the pictures. Use the Multiply blend mode if it helps – it will hide all white and show all black in the image.
Merge all, and paste in a picture of a river or water’s surface. Apply the same Threshold settings and place below the skyline. Duplicate the merged skyline layer and flip vertically. Change the blend mode to Multiply, and head to Filter>Distort>Riplle to create a realistic reflection.
Merge all, Ctrl/right-click the layer, choose Layer From Background. Create a new layer below and fill white. On the original layer, Select>Colour Range, remove white from the image to separate black and white. (In Elements, use the Magic Wand, uncheck Contiguous, select a colour.)
Find some pictures of trees. Use the Threshold technique, and then position them. Hide the tree layer, go to Select>Colour Range for the skyline layer, and select all the black in the picture. Turn the tree layer back on, click the Mask icon, then invert. This nifty trick will hide them behind the buildings.
We’re going to hide the tree layer again for a while and forget about it. Paste a watercolour image over the skyline layer, Ctrl/right-click and click Create Clipping Layer. This will stick the watercolour to the black of the skyline, working on the same way as a Screen layer.
Add a mask to the skyline layer and invert. Choose a watercolour brush from the supplied files, or find one online. With black selected as Foreground colour and an Opacity of 20%-40%, paint through the mask to reveal the watercolour clipping layer. Start from the centre and work out.
Use the washy edges of watercolour brushes to your advantage. Use them to create paint swipes or jagged edges to your watercolour, rather than just painting all the way up to the edge. Paint over the whole picture a number of times just to experiment with moving the brush.