Use clipping masks and blend modes to complete a painterly illustration
Open a new document in Photoshop and create a new layer in the Layers panel. We’re going to start with a simple, rough compositional sketch. Use the Brush tool (B) and a Default brush of your choice to sketch out a portrait similar to the one pictured. Use reference if it helps with your design.
Create a new layer in the Layers panel and use the Pen tool and Ellipse tool in order to better define the shape of the head and jaw. On another new layer refine your original sketch. This may take a few layers of progressively cleaner line art. Once satisfied with your work, merge (Cmd/Ctrl+E) your final line art layers together.
Use a bird silhouette stock photo to copy and paste birds onto new layers over others. Use the Lasso tool to select the area around each bird when copying them into your working document. Use the Magic Wand tool to delete the background of the birds. Collect layers into folders in the Layers panel to keep yourself organised.
Under the line art layer, use the Brush tool, set to a default Hard brush, to fill in your portrait’s skin tone. We’re going to use various tones for this design, but you can deviate from any of the presented colour palette if it works better with your overall design. On a new layer, colour in the eyes with shades of grey-violet. Later we’ll use a clipping mask in order to add stock images to each eye rather than rendering the irises manually.
We’ll draw highlights onto the face on a layer above the skin tone layer. Using a Smooth Hard brush, map out areas of the face that would be hit by light first. Consider the nose, chin, part of the forehead, beneath the eyebrows, and the sides of the mouth as areas to highlight. Use a light brown a few shades lighter than the base skin tone rather than white for this step. We’ll add bright hot spots to the design later.
For the shadows, we’ll use a brown that’s a few shades darker than the skin tone. Paint it into areas where facial features are overlapping and casting shadows onto other parts of the face. Consider under the nose, inside the ear, on the outer edges of the upper eyes, and under the chin to be areas cast in shadow. Reduce the opacity of your brush while painting shadow shapes in order to build the value up. You may also change the lighting completely if you feel it benefits your composition.
Next we’ll go to Filter>Blur>Gaussian Blur to apply a smooth Gaussian blur. The radius applied to the layer will depend on the size of your document. We’re going to apply a radius of 16.9 pixels so the highlights and shadows blend together without extending too far beyond the face within the design. Hit OK and use the Eraser tool to erase the blur effect from outside of the face. This will keep your design and background clean.
Create a new layer above the blurred layer and continue building up values in the same manner as was done before. Vary the opacity of your brush and consider using textured brushes in order for the skin to look more painterly rather than as if it’s been pencel-shaded like a cartoon. You can also use the Blur tool to blend pixels in smaller areas of the portrait rather than blurring an entire layer. Add mauve-coloured blush to the cheeks and warm brown for the lips.
On a new layer, we’ll build the hair. Our subject’s hair is fluffy and cloud-like. In order to create it you’ll need to overlap ellipses with the Ellipse tool. Hold down the Shift key while drawing your ellipses in order to create a singular mass. Fill the shapes in with a bright, easy to see colour in the Properties panel.
Import a galaxy stock image. Place it above the filled-in hair layer in the Layers panel. With the galaxy layer selected, go to Layer>Create Clipping Mask (Cmd/Ctrl+alt+G) to clip that layer to the one below it. Note that you can use the Move tool to change what portion of the galaxy image appears within the boundaries of the hair so long as you’re only moving the galaxy layer.
Repeat the previous step of applying a clipping mask to the portion of hair in the layer behind the back of the head. You can either adjust the stock image so both galaxy layers line up or you can choose a darker portion of the stock image to give the illusion of depth within the hair. Then, you’ll do the same thing to the bird silhouette folder and the eyes. Clipping masks applied to a layer above a folder will clip to the folder’s contents.
On a new layer underneath the base hair layer, paint brown and dark brown to give the illusion of the galaxy cloud casting a shadow onto our subject’s forehead. When you reduce the Opacity of the brush to 40% and the Flow to 60% you can build up the value slowly and use a softer brush to blend those shadows in together. Follow the direction of the shadows we created earlier in the tutorial to remain consistent within our design.
Direct your attention to the eyes. On a new layer, use the same dark purple or dark brown we used in creating the line art to shade the eyes. Reduce the Opacity of your Soft brush to 20% and build the shadows up organically to create depth within the face as well as soften the look of the eyes themselves. We’re not going to add any more detail to the eyes than this, since the second galaxy stock image is detailed enough.
Next we’ll finalise the portrait on a new layer above the rest. Smooth out the values on the face, add additional highlights to the eyelids, and deepen the shadows being cast by the hair. Move down from the face to the neck and shoulders. Add shadow and subtle highlights with a soft, transparent default brush. Switch to a Chalk or Scatter style brush to add texture to the skin on the face and body. Doing so gives the portrait a slightly realistic touch.
Now we’ll work on some fun details within the rest of the design. Notice how our subject’s galaxy cloud is raining in the final image. To make the rain effect use a very small one to four point Round brush and draw a series of dots around the bottom of the hair on a new layer. Go to Filter>Blur>Motion Blur and apply a Distance of 156 pixels at a 90° Angle. Duplicate the layer, repeat, and set the Opacity of the second layer to 41%.
In the Layers panel, select the bird folder, right-click, and hit Blending Options. Choose the Inner Glow option to create a rim lighting effect. Set the blend mode to Color Dodge, Opacity to 53%, and the Color to pink or blue. Set the Technique to Softer, Source to Edge, Choke to 22% and the Size to 49%. The other settings are all at their default. You may find that you adjust these settings to work better with your composition and colour palette.
Once again, select the bird folder in the Layers panel, Cmd/right-click, and hit Blending Options. Choose Outer Glow this time. Under Structure set the blend mode to Color Dodge, Opacity to 56%, and the Color to indigo or purple. Under Elements set the Technique to Softer, Spread to 7%, and Size to 250 px. Finally, in the Quality section, set the Range to 73% and the Jitter to 0%. This and the previous step help the birds pop out from the dark background.
Add additional birds as a sort of necklace or shoulder decoration in order to fill in the composition and finalise the image. Like the other bird folder, make sure each bird silhouette is cut out from its background and a galaxy stock image is clipped to the folder itself. Draw sparkles, highlights, and raindrops with a Small Round brush as was done with the rain effect earlier in this tutorial. Perhaps the rain’s colours mimic those from the galaxy images themselves.