Have every post delivered to your inbox and get access to hundreds of useful design freebies.
In this design tutorial we are going to create a nature inspired composition using a lioness as our subject. We will learn how to take various images and textures and seamlessly blend them together into one cohesive design. We will be working quite a bit with Clipping Masks and Adjustment Layers to create the highest quality image without compromising the quality of the design, and we will also cover some helpful coloring techniques along the way. Let’s get started!
Here is a preview of the image that we are going to be creating:
The first thing we want to do is open the image of the white lioness from the resources folder so that we can isolate it from it’s background. There are several methods for doing this, so feel free to use whatever method you find works best. If you happen to have a tablet then this task will be much easier for you. I know that often times this process can be quite daunting, especially when dealing with tricky hair or fur in an image. Usually when asked to silhouette an image such as this most people would call in sick, but today we are going to face the challenge head on.
The first image shows the image before removing the background:
And this is the result after a bit of finessing:
Pay close attention to the whiskers and pieces of fur around the edges as shown in both of the close-ups below:
Once you are happy with the results of your silhouetted image, we will create a new document by pressing Command/Ctrl + N and making it Tabloid size (11” x 17”) and 300 dpi as shown below:
Next, drag your lioness into the new document and place it roughly in the center of your canvas, above the Background layer.
What we want to do now is just remove some of the extra pieces of the lioness that we don’t want (i.e. part of the torso and back). To do this we will simply add a mask by first selecting your layer and then clicking on the Layer Mask icon highlighted below:
After adding your Layer Mask, switch to your Brush Tool (B) and select a soft round black brush and begin to paint out the portion of the body that we want to take out.
You should now have something like this:
By using a mask we can add or remove parts of the silhouetted image without losing or compromising any of the original data. This is good practice for the non-destructive editing of an image.
What we want to do now is add a Hue/Saturation Adjustment Mask. To do this, simply click on the Adjustment Layer icon highlighted in the image below:
When the list appears, select “Hue/Saturation” as shown here:
Once the box for the settings appear, we just need to move the middle Saturation slider all the way to the left in order to desaturate all of the layers beneath this Adjustment Layer. What’s nice about Adjustment Layers is that it comes with a built-in mask that will allow us to have more control over the areas that we want to be in black and white.
We will now bring in a bit of a subtle grunge texture so we will start by opening the “grungepaper6” texture from the resources folder.
Bring this image into your document and place it just above the Background layer before reducing the opacity to about 42% as shown below:
For now we will leave the Blending Mode set to Normal as reducing the opacity is enough to blend the paper texture in a subtle way.
Next, select your lioness layer and press Command/Ctrl + J to make a duplicate of the layer. From here, select the color #BFFF36 as shown below:
After that, go to the Filter Menu and choose Sketch > Bas Relief.
For the settings we will use a Detail of 12 and a Smoothness of 1. We will also be changing the Light setting to Right.
Apply the Filter and then change the Blending Mode of the layer to Soft Light and you should have something like this:
With your Bas Relief layer highlighted, click on the Adjustment Layer icon at the bottom of the Layers Palette.
From the menu we will then choose Levels as shown here:
When the dialog box appears, use the settings below by moving the left slider towards the right.
After you apply the settings you will notice that the details and contrast in the image appear to be quite a bit sharper. Sometimes experimenting with different filters and combining them with other adjustments can produce some interesting and often unexpected results!
Next, hold down the Command/Ctrl Key and click on the layer thumbnail icon of your lion layer. Doing this should activate a selection around the shape of our lion as shown below:
What we want to do next is create a new layer at the top of your Layers Palette and switch to your Paint Bucket Tool (G) before filling the layer with solid black.
From here we just need to change the Blending Mode to Soft Light and reduce the opacity to about 30-35%.
What we want to do now is open up the image of the decorative picture frame from the resources folder.
Since our background is solid white, all we need to do is switch over to our Magic Wand Tool (W) and select the white areas inside and outside of the frame before pressing the Delete Key to remove the background.
After removing your background, bring the frame into your main Photoshop document and angle it slightly using the image below as a guide.
Once you are happy with the angle and placement of your frame, press Command/Ctrl + Option/Alt + U to bring up the Hue/Saturation Dialog Box. Move the middle Saturation slider all the way to the left in order to desaturate the frame as shown below:
One last thing we need to do before moving on is adding a Layer Mask to the frame layer. To do this, make sure you have your frame layer highlighted and simply click on the Layer Mask icon indicated by the red box in the image above.
Next, hold down the Command/Ctrl Key and click on the layer thumbnail of your lioness layer. Doing this will activate a selection around the lioness. You should see the marching ants around the object indicating that your selection is indeed active.
Return to your frame layer making sure that your Layer Mask is selected and paint over the ears and the head of the lioness using a hard round brush with a solid black color – Doing this will give the illusion that the head of our lioness is in front of the picture frame.
From here, select both the lioness layer and the copy of the layer just above it by holding down the Shift Key and selecting both layers in your Layers Palette.
Once they are both highlighted, press Command/Ctrl + G to place both of these layers into a Group Folder.
After you have your Group Folder, click on the Layer Mask icon at the bottom of the Layers Palette to add a mask to the entire folder. The image below shows this process.
Use your hard round brush, again with a solid black color selected, and brush the bottom right and bottom left corners of the lioness to hide these areas so that it appears as though the lioness is contained within the picture frame.
The last thing we need to do for this step is to add another Layer Mask to the Black Fill layer since that part is still showing outside of the picture frame. We will use the same process of adding the mask and then using a hard round brush to remove the areas outside of the bottom of the frame. You should now have something like the image shown below:
We will now be making a quick adjustment to the picture frame by placing a Curves Adjustment Layer onto it. So, with your frame layer highlighted, click on the small black and white icon at the bottom of the Layers Palette. You should then see a menu appear where you can select “Curves.”
Once you have done that, hold down the Control Key and click on the Curves Adjustment Layer to reveal another menu, this time selecting “Create Clipping Mask.” By adding a clipping mask we can ensure that our Curves Adjustment will only effect the frame layer just below.
For the Curves Adjustment Layer we need to create three points along the grid and use the settings shown below for each of these three points.
Next, open up the “shapes.ai” file from the resources folder. Once the file is opened you will notice there are a few vector shapes that I’ve created for you to use in your compositions. The one that we are concerned with at this point however is the triangle shape to the left.
Select the shape, copy it, and then return to Photoshop where you can simply paste it into your document (Command/Ctrl + V). We want to leave the shape as a Vector Smart Object so that we can resize it and manipulate it without any loss in quality.
Here I have positioned the shape at an angle and placed it behind the frame and the lioness. You may use the image below as a guide or feel free to experiment with a different placement until you find something you are happy with.
We will now open the ink splat texture from the resources folder as shown below:
Bring the image into your document and place it just above the paper texture before changing the Blending Mode to Multiply. Feel free to play around with the placement of the texture.
I am just going to quickly add a Layer Mask to the ink splat layer and use a soft round brush to brush out a bit of the bottom right of the image so it’s not quite as dark and heavy.
Select the watercolor texture layer and duplicate it by pressing Command/Ctrl + J. From here, change the Blending Mode to Screen and move the layer above the Vector Shapes Layer.
Hold down the Control Key and select “Create Clipping Mask” from the menu just as we did earlier on.
We can now move the texture around and it will only be visible within the Vector Shapes. This will help to break up some of the flat colors while also adding some variation to the image.
Next, open up the images of the plants and vines from the resources folder. We want to eliminate all of the white in the background so that we are just left with the plants by themselves.
Here I have placed a black background behind the images I am using so that you can see what I mean.
After isolating the flora images, we will now begin to bring sections into the main document by using the Marquee Tool (M) and dragging an area around the vine, than pressing Command/Ctrl + J to duplicate the selection onto a new layer.
Once you have done that, simply drag the selection into your file and place it on top of the Layers Palette above all of the other layers. The goal here is to position the flora so that it appears to wrap around the picture frame as I have begun to do here:
Continue this process, taking some time to place some of the vines around the edges and sides of the frame.
Using a combination of these three images you can get quite a bit of variation going in your composition.
Once you are happy with the placement of your vines, select the top-most layer, and then select the bottom plant layer while holding down the Shift Key in order to select all of these related layers.
With all four of the vine layers highlighted, press Command/Ctrl + E to merge them together into one single layer.
Select your newly merged vine layer and click on the Adjustment Layer icon at the bottom of the Layers Palette. When the menu pops up, we want to select “Hue/Saturation” as shown in the image below:
Once this is added to the top of the Layers Palette, hold down the Control Key and click on the Hue/Saturation Adjustment Layer to reveal the dropdown menu. From this menu we want to choose “Create Clipping Mask” to ensure that the Adjustment Layer only affects the merged vine layer.
Now all we need to do is move the middle Saturation slider all the way to the left in order to desaturate all of the vines.
Select your vine layer once again, and then click on the Adjustment Layer icon and this time select “Curves” from the menu that appears.
For the settings on the Curves Adjustment we need to create three points along the grid and use the settings shown below:
Switch to your Gradient Tool (G) and select a Radial Gradient that fades from solid black to transparent as shown here:
Create a new layer at the top of your Layers Palette and click and drag your mouse outwards to create your gradient. After doing that, press Command/Ctrl + T to initiate a Free Transform Command and drag both of the handles on the sides outwards and the top and bottom handles in towards the center to create a narrow and squashed looking gradient.
After modifying the shape of the gradient, reduce the opacity to about 40% to create a soft shadow at the bottom of the canvas.
Create a new layer at the top of your palette and select a vibrant orange color – here I am using #FE5404 as shown below:
We want to use the same gradient settings that we used in the previous step.
Create a few small to medium-sized gradients on your new layer by clicking and dragging your mouse outwards.
After you have created a few of these gradients, change the Blending Mode of the layer to Linear Dodge (Add). The image below will show you the appearance of the gradients before and after changing the Blending Mode of the layer.
Next, create another new layer above the orange gradient layer and select a vibrant indigo color such as #460BEB.
Once again, we want to make sure that we have a Radial Gradient that fades from solid to transparent just like we used in the previous step.
Create one or two larger gradients in the center of the image before changing the Blending Mode to Linear Dodge (Add) and reducing the opacity of the layer to about 80%.
Feel free to experiment with the size and placement of these gradients to see what you like the best.
We will now create a new layer that will be placed below both the orange and blue gradient layers. Select a solid white color and use the same Radial Gradient to place two white gradients over the lioness as shown below:
With one gradient placed over the upper right portion of the lioness’ head and the other on the bottom left, change the Blending Mode to Soft Light and reduce the opacity of the layer to about 50%. Doing this will create some nice highlights and bring some detail back into the focal point of the image.
Create a new layer at the top of your Layers Palette and fill it with solid black using your Paint Bucket Tool (G).
Once you have done that, go to the Filter Menu and choose Noise > Add Noise as shown in the image below:
Use the following settings for the Noise Filter:
After applying the effect, change the Blending Mode to Soft Light and reduce the opacity of the layer to about 20%.
Looking at the image now there is one small change that I want to make before wrapping things up. The paper texture layer towards the bottom of the layer stack is a bit too dark so I will just lower the opacity down to 30-32% to lighten it up.
You can adjust this to your liking, but I don’t think that we need this texture to be quite as prominent since we want the viewer’s attention to come towards the middle of the piece rather than looking at the edges.
Next, create a new layer just below the noise layer and select a vibrant yellow color such as #F2D60E.
Switch over to your Gradient Tool (G) and you should still have the same settings as before with the Radial Gradient fading from solid to transparent as shown here:
Click and drag your mouse outwards to create a medium-sized gradient that will be placed over the right side of the head of our lioness. Change the Blending Mode to Soft Light and reduce the opacity of this layer to 80% in order to warm the upper part of the head.
The reason I have made this adjustment is that there seemed to be too much of the violet color covering the lioness, and by adding a complimentary color we can not only break this up but also create a bit of visual harmony.
At this point we will save our work and take a step back to see how everything is looking. If you have made it through the tutorial then give yourself a pat on the back because our design is now complete. I hope that you have enjoyed this tutorial and hopefully picked up a few useful techniques along the way. Thanks for watching!
You can view the final outcome below. I hope that you enjoyed this tutorial and would love to hear your feedback on the techniques and outcome.
Eric is a Graphic Designer, specializing in Print and Web Design. He's a graduate of the New England Institute of Art in Boston and has over 4 years of professional and freelance work experience. He lives in Brooklyn, New York working as a Graphic Designer and he has been featured in Advanced Photoshop Magazine, The Art of Fashion Art Exhibit and Artists In The Station Art Exhibit. Visit Eric's portfolio at ericvasquez.net.
Do you know the basic tools in Photoshop but feel that your work is still looking average? Join our creative community at FanExtra and get the direction you need to take your work to the next level.