Surreal portrait in Photoshop

At the core of this lesson is a terrific work the author of which is Rob shields.

A little about the author:
Rob Shields – digital artist, self-taught. Currently lives in Philadelphia. Active participant in many commercial and charitable projects.

The work was created for the exhibition “Episodes“, organized by the efforts of the creative association” Designers Against Child Slavery “(Designers Against Child Slavery).

For many months, artists from all over the world created their works, the basis for which was the problem of sexual slavery. The result was a collection of work that clearly demonstrates the world through the eyes of a victim of trafficking.

The exhibition included works on three main topics: coercion, enslavement and restoration.

The work of the author is dedicated to the topic of recovery. In this lesson, Rob will share the steps involved in creating his work, in which drawing and photography are combined.

To start the lesson you will need:

  1. Adobe Photoshop
  2. Graphics tablet
  3. About 10 hours of time
  4. Pencil and paper.

Do not worry if drawing is not one of your strong skills. The sketches that are needed in this kind of project are pretty simple. Achieving realism is not a priority.


  1. Model
  2. Abstract texture
  3. Abstract texture 2
  4. Petals
  5. Orchid
  6. Large petals
  7. the Rose
  8. Brushes “Twigs”

Step 1

For starters, I found a suitable stock photo. The face of the model is quite childish and has beautiful hands. I created a quick selection of the desired sections and copied them to a new layer.
Under the layer with the face and hands of the girl, I created a new layer and using the tool Gradient (Gradient Tool), painted over the background with colors from white to dark purple.

Also, I created a new layer over a white-purple background and plotted on the canvas the position (marking) for the trees using the tool Line (Line Tool (U)).

Step 2

Using a large black hard brush, I sketched the shape of the hair. Next, I painted the neck and shoulders using the same solid round brush for work. Color for drawing skin was chosen Pipette (Eyedropper Tool) with face and hands. Having done this, I added shadows and highlights for which I chose purple, white, beige and black shades.

Step 3

To make the background more interesting, I used the tool Ellipse (Ellipse (U)), and drew a large white circle behind the girl. Next went to Layer style (layer style) “Circle” and added External glow (Outer Glow). Pink colour; blending mode (blending mode) – Screen (Screen) with an opacity of 75%.

I also placed the texture (which you can find in the resources for the lesson) above the circle layer, set the blending mode to Overlap (Overlay), opacity (opacity) – 75%. The texture did not cover the entire canvas, so I used a transform and scaled it.

Step 4

The next step was the work on the girl’s hair and makeup.
I filled the gaps behind the model’s neck in black and added bright highlights to the hair using a round hard brush (50–60% opacity) in white. After that, I added shadows and a blush on my face using purple and pink shades.

Step 5

If you looked at the final result, you noticed that there are clouds behind the model. To create clouds, I originally sketched a pencil on paper without drawing details. Then, I scanned my drawing and opened the image in Photoshop. Further, he activated a round rigid brush (brush tool) of black color and drew an abstract cloud, being guided by a pencil sketch.

Step 6

I added an abstract texture again, but already in the document where I worked on the cloud. Next I use the layer mask in order to apply the texture only to the sketch of the cloud. The blend mode for the texture layer is changed to Multiplication (Multiply). Then, using a soft round brush (opacity 20% – 60%), I add light-gray shades to the black-and-white blank. Also, to the cloud layer, I applied a layer style Internal glow (Inner Glow) leaving the default settings. And layer style Gradient overlay (Gradient Overlay): color – from pink to white; blending mode – Screen (Screen); opacity – 50%.

Step 7

Then I transferred the finished cloud to the main work and placed it behind the girl.
Then, using Photoshop tools, I added shadows from the hair and highlights of the light on the face and hair (as shown in the picture below). Using light pink and purple colors, I additionally worked over the eyelids of the model and the area around the eyes, which made the look more expressive.

Step 8

I continue to work on the hair. To give them a more dynamic and natural look, I drew a light purple thin strands at the bottom of each of the cocoons of hair. I also modified the outline of the neck a bit, because it was too thin.

Getting to work on facial features. To make the shadows on the face more natural, I added more pink to the areas of the lower lip, nose and chin. In this paper, I used a hard and soft round brush from the standard set; mode – Normal (Normal); opacity (opacity) – 5-20%

Step 9

To give the work a more romantic and delicate look, I added rose petals to the ends of my hair.

First, I created a composition of petals, and then changed their color scheme to the general mood. Added a white accent to the left side of each petal and purple on the right side.

Of course I did not forget about the hands. I finished the base of the sleeve, the palm and the corresponding shadows.

Step 10

The dress model lacked draping on the shoulders. In order to match the clothes with rose petals, I chose one color from the petal and then used various shades of this color to add shadows and highlights on the clothes. Do not forget, when drawing wrinkles, that lighter areas are located higher and darker (shadows) are lower.

Step 11

The tears of the model were created using the same methods as for the hair. You can use my image as a reference (see picture below).
I also added a big flower to my hair, using the stock image of a plant.

First of all, I separated the flower from the background, discolored it (Cmd / Ctrl + Shift + U) and used the layer style Color overlay (Color Overlay). The hue was chosen pink from the overall color scheme of the work; blend mode (blend mode) – Color tone (Hue).

Step 12

In the hand of the model, I placed a black rose – as a symbol of the dark side of the soul.
To blacken the rose, I made the level adjustment (Cmd / Ctrl + L).
Also, I decided to add large flower petals to give dynamics to the image.
As in step 11, I changed the color of the petals, but this time I added a slight blur to some of them (Filter >Blur > Motion blur \ Filter> Blur> Motion Blur).

Step 13

I again take a pencil and paper and draw a sketch for future dry branches. I still do not draw small details. My task was to create a form and similarity of the bark.
Then I scan the sketch, open it in Photoshop and delete the extra background (Fig. 1).
I used a little trick to darken the sketch. First, I increased the contrast using Levels (Levels) (fig. 2). Secondly, I inverted the image with a sketch (Cmd / Ctrl + I) (Fig. 3) and again added contrast using Levels (Levels) (fig. 4).

Step 14

I transferred the finished branch to my main document and placed a layer with a branch above the layer with lines (which I outlined in step 1).

Next, I copy a new layer with a branch several times and begin to “grow” tree trunks.
In order for the branches not to look the same and boring, I used such tools of transformation and deformation as:

Scaling, Warp ( Editing> Transform> Warp \ Scale (Edit> Transform> Warp \ Scale)); Puppet Warp (Puppet Warp (CS5)).

Step 15

Using a large black soft round brush with 50% opacity, paint over the dark border at the edges of the image and set the blending mode to Multiplication (Multiply). Now go to Layer> New Adjustment Layer> Levels (Layer> New Adjustment Layer> Levels) to increase the contrast and brightness. I used two adjustment layers Levels (Levels) for the final effect.

Step 16

I finished work on the details. And at the end of the work, to make the whole image complete, I used the correction layer Selective color correction (Layer> New Adjustment Layer> Selective Color Correction \ Layer> New Adjustment Layer> Selective Color). At this stage it is worth experimenting to get the most attractive result.

Step 17

We have come to the end of this master class where Rob Shields shared the steps of creating a great work.

Click on the final image to view the work in larger size.
I hope you were interested!

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