When people see one of my abstract/surreal images, they sometimes ask ‘How did you do that?’

So, in this post I unpack some detail about the process of creating one of my Photoshop Creative readers’ competition entries. This is not a tutorial (I may produce some of these in the future), but rather I’ll show you some key points in the process of generating this artwork.

The challenge!

Each month Photoshop Creative magazine holds a competition for readers. Recently the challenge has been to take four random pictures that the magazine has chosen and turning those four images into a creative piece of artwork. You can use your own images if you like, and you don’t have to use all the images. However, I prefer if possible to set myself the challenge of trying to combine just all four images supplied and manipulate them in some way to make an image that makes sense.

The original images

Below are the four originals that were supplied – this shows you the entire image area that was available:



1. Brainstorming

I spent some time considering how best to use the images, their quality, size, subject matter so I could consider how I could combine them to make something that worked. I brainstormed ideas for a while. Eventually, I found a solution that made some sort of sense of the images when combined together.

The girl was the key. I noticed that if you cut her out from the background, so she was no longer holding the balloons, it looked like she was reaching up. This, coupled with the idea of ethereal golden clouds, formed the concept for “Receiving a Gift from Heaven’.

2. The balloon girl!

So as I often do, the first task was to isolate the elements in the images that I needed. In this case, I needed to isolate the model from the background, the boxes and the leaf. The first thing I did was isolate the girl. I have also included the final version of the girl on the right (separated as best I could from the final background) just to contrast and show the extra manipulation that needed to be added in order to achieve what I wanted for the final image. This included lighting, changing the skirt, removing tattoos, cropping, changing the colour of her t-shirt and adding the balloons as a print on the t-shirt.



4. Building the heavenly background

Once I had completed the first stage cutout of the girl (all the rest of the manipulation show in the right-hand image above was done much further along in the process when the background was built, and I could more easily visualise the lighting etc) I knew I needed to make the heavenly background clouds as this was a major part of my idea. The images below numbered from 1 to 4 show just a few of the stages involved in building the background – all constructed from manipulating the original golden cloud image and using layers, overlays, blends, cloning and filters.



3. Bringing the elements together

I decided to use all the elements I have created so for to produce a draft of the final image to check that it will work in terms of composition, lighting, background etc. I didn’t want to go right through with the finest detail only to be happy with the result. The image below shows on the left an early concept for positioning of the elements, and on the right an early stage of the final version.



5. Constructing the final artwork

This is the time consuming and detailed process. Having decided on the position of all the elements, I layered them all together forming something like the basic final image you see below (please note that I recreated this image stage, so doesn’t look exactly like the original version did at this point!).



6. The finishing touches

In this stage I add any further lighting and shadow enhancements to make the image more coherant and realistic and less like a random collection of images placed on a scene. This I usually do by eye and keep going until I’m happy with the overall general effect of what I’m trying to achieve. Once all the manipulation was done, this how the final image turned out…



7. Surreal – but what does it all mean?

This final image was especially interesting to me as it contained a great amount of symbolism. For example, the background clouds representing a hint of heaven with the dark clouds all around framing the image. Then the girl reaching up with her hand as if to take something from the light. Yet her other hand holds the leaf, which I manipulated to look dead and dried up – perhaps a hint of leaving behind an old life, while the other hand receives something bright and new. She’s also happens to be looking intently up towards the light, turned away from the dead leaf. As for the boxes and the colourful ‘glitter’ (made from the background of the balloon image)? Well these represent enticing gifts, with all their colour and glitter which could easily be a destraction, yet they are in semi-darkness and the girl is not looking at them either – her eyes are focussed on the brightest heavenly light. This was my concept, but what do you understand / see?


Phew! Hope you enjoyed travelling this journey of creation with me. Thanks for reading! Comments welcome below.


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