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Create a Surreal Portrait in Photoshop

Today we have a guest tutorial by Dustin from Vallys In The Vinyl, a brand new texture blog where he's releasing some of the best freebies around. He'll be showing you how to create a surrealist portrait in Photoshop using photo manipulation and textures. Enjoy!


Resources used:

Step 1:

Open Photoshop and create a new document, 1700 pixels wide and 1100 pixels tall, with a resolution of 72. I have named my document “Bittbox Surrealist Portrait Tutorial”.

Step 2:

Create three folders, named Adjustment Layers(1), Textures(2), and Portraits(3).

Step 3.:

Drag the “Vintage-Paper” texture from the source folder onto the canvas, resize it to fit, and name the layer “Base Paper”. Place the layer below the three folders. This will act as the base layer for our composition.
Tip*: It will be important that you make sure the layers for this project are “Smart Objects”.

Step 4.:

Drag the “stockvault-boy” image from the source folder onto the canvas and re-size to fit. Place it in the “Portraits” folder. Next, drag the “stockvault-Man-01” image onto the canvas and set the opacity to 50%. Rotate and move the image so that the man's right eye is placed and aligned directly with the boy's right eye underneath. Once you have done this, set the layer's opacity back to 100%. Now create a layer mask for that layer. Using a large brush, around 400px, 100% opacity and 0% hardness, mask out the left side of the face, from the eye down to the mouth, and around to the other cheek. Don't worry about detail just yet, we will go back and fine-tune the masking later on. You should now have a composition that looks similar to this:

Step 5. :

Keeping that same brush, add a layer mask to the “stockvault-boy” layer and mask out the nose and upper lip. I also masked out a little more of the facial hair on the man's face. Our progress should look like this:

Step 6. :

Now we are going to add the last portrait image, which will serve as the mouth for our portrait. Drag the “stockvault-Man-02” image from the source folder onto your canvas and place the layer under the “man-01” portrait. Just like before, set the layer's opacity to 50% and rotate/scale so the mouth area looks like it fits well on the face. Once you have it placed, bring the opacity back to 100%, create a layer mask, and mask out everything except the mouth area. Your progress should look similar to this:

Step 7.:

I think it is time to start adding some texture to this, so take the “Vintage Paper” texture from the source folder, drag it onto the canvas, re-size to fit, and set the Blending Mode to “Multiply”. Make sure that this layer is in the “Textures” folder. While we are working with this layer, go ahead and add a Layer Mask. Using a small, soft brush, mask out the eyeball areas. We are doing this so the eyes can maintain a crisp and vibrant look, helping them stand out in the composition.

Step 8:

The image is looking pretty dark right now, so let's go ahead and add our first Adjustment Layer. In the “Adjustments” folder, create a new “Levels” adjustment layer. In the input boxes under the Levels Histogram, set the far right value to “235”, and the middle box value to “1.2”.

Step 9:

It is time to add some excitement to our portrait. Drag the “Book-Mesh” texture from the source folder onto your canvas, placing the layer above the “Vintage-Paper” in the “Textures” folder. Set the Blending Mode to “Multiply” and Opacity to 80%. Rotate and scale the image so that the mesh part of the texture fits the cheek. A good reference tip is to rotate the texture so that the edge runs parallel to the nose. Then mask out everything except the mesh on the cheek, using a soft brush again. Make sure to mask out over the eyes and mouth area. As with all of our layer masks, you will be able to back and fine-tune everything towards the end. Your progress should look something like this:

Step 10:

Now it's time to add our last texture layer. Drag the “Crumbled-Leaves” texture from the source folder onto the canvas and place it between the two existing texture layers. Scale it so it fills the entire canvas, and set the blending mode to “Multiply”. Create a layer mask and using a large, soft brush, mask out everything except the right cheek and nose area. This is a step where you have tons of freedom. It is up to you where you want to have these leaves come through. Because this layer's opacity is staying at 100%, I have constantly adjusted my brush's opacity for masking in and out different areas. The main objective here is to give the skin a very flaky and brittle aesthetic. Here is what mine looks like so far:

Step 11:

You may have been wondering how we were going to fix the problem of the mouth being black and white in a color composition. We are going to address that now. Create a new “Hue/Saturation” Adjustment Layer right above the layer. We are going to clip this adjustment layer so it only affects the layer directly below it. To do that, we are going to look in the “Adjustments” panel, and click the third icon from the left the bottom tool bar. Done. Now we are going to set the adjustment attributes. First, check the “Colorize” check-box. Then set the Hue value to 35, the Saturation value to 45, and the Lightness value to -20. I know, it now looks bright orange and un-attractive, but don't worry, that will be offset by the rest of our adjustment layers.

Step 12:

We are getting close to finished. Let's make the rest of our adjustment layers. First, create a new “Curves” adjustment layer in the Adjustments folder, and place it below our Levels layer. This adjustment will be up to your judgment, but the basic idea here is to push and darken the blacks, and brighten the rest of the colors. Your image will look over-saturated and blown out after this adjustment. My histogram looks like this:

Below the Curves layer, add a Hue/Saturation layer. Bring the Saturation level to -20, then mask out the area over the eyes, so the eyes can maintain their color. Our last adjustment layer will be a Black & White layer. Create that and place it below the Hue/Saturation layer we just made. Set the opacity to 75%, and mask out mostly everything except the out of focus area on the left of our composition. What I chose to do for this was use the Gradient tool to make the layer mask and then go in with my brush for fine tuning. To use to Gradient tool to start, select the tool and make sure your Foreground Color is set as Black and Background Color as White. Now hold your Shift key and drag from the right side of the canvas all the way to the left side. Now with a solid foundation, you can go in with your soft, low-opacity brush and tweak it as needed.
Now here is our progress:

Step 13:

We are almost done, just a few small things left. The last layer we are going to make is a layer for some white paint over the left eye. Create a blank layer above every other layer and name it “Left-Eye White Paint”, then set the blending mode to “Overlay”. Then simply take a soft brush, around 300px and 30% Opacity, and brush some white paint over the left eye to help brighten that area. This is another step where you have lots of freedom and can use your taste and judgment.

All that is left to do now is to go in and fine-tune image positions and tweak all of your layer masks, particularly the portraits and textures, to make the image blend together as cohesively as possible. Here is my final result, of course it isn't perfect or anatomically correct sometimes, but these are some quick and dirty ways to have lots of fun creating digital art:

I'm the editor-in-chief of I'm a designer and developer by day, and a writer and musician when the feeling strikes. I enjoy vintage advertisements and puzzles with an absurd amount of pieces. Follow me on Twitter.

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