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Over Christmas I spent some time working through Photoshop. I wanted to push the limits of my Photoshop knowledge by learning new techniques for producing digital art. Here is a summary of the process I went through and a step by step guide to creating your own digital art!

When you start diving into the depths of Photoshop you start to understand just how complex this software is.

I think many beginners struggle with Photoshop simply because its features are so vast and configurable. It can be hard to know where to start.

One of the important things to keep in mind is that any sort of art is a process.

A painter builds up an image through layers of their chosen medium be it pencils, paint or whatever. A musician takes different instruments and overlays them to produce something special (or not, if you listen to the charts these days).

As photographers we manipulate the rendition of light and time to produce our art.

Digital art is very much the same in that you blend layers of images and effects to produce an overall final picture.

I spent a lot of time working with all the filters, playing with their settings and merging them together on different layers.

There are so many effects possible it is hard to know what you can create – here are a few of my digital art pictures using vastly different techniques.

Another important thing to remember is to make notes of every step you take.

I frequently forgot to note the settings that would enable me to go back and recreate the effects! Many times, in my excitement,  I found myself 7 or 8 steps ahead of my notes before realising I had got carried away with various settings.

Its all very well creating a technique, but totally useless if you cant remember how to recreate it. Please remember to make notes of each step as you go!

You will learn the three key elements of digital art are filters, layer blending and layer masks.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]

Photoshop Filters and Layers

I dont intend to make this in any way a tutorial on how to use Photoshop or specific techniques for digital art. Both subjects are so vast I could never dream to do either full justice.

What I do intend to achieve is to set out what I found useful, and give some pointers, for those who want to push Photoshop further than simple photo editing.

The first lesson I learnt was that starting with a blank canvas didnt cut it for me. After an hour or so I came to the conclusion that creating a colour palette from scratch was way too complicated, and to be blunt, tediuos.

I realised that I had thousands of ready made colour palettes available in my photo collection!

To save yourself some grief, and time, look through your photo collection for an image that has a palette featuring the key colours you want. Remember the chosen picture doesn’t have to be a masterpiece – it only needs to contain the colours you want.

I started with the image below because I liked the strong blue and red colours.[/vc_column_text][vc_row_inner][vc_column_inner width=”1/2″][vc_single_image image=”3632″ img_size=”large” alignment=”center” title=”Before”][/vc_column_inner][vc_column_inner width=”1/2″][vc_single_image image=”9079″ img_size=”large” alignment=”center” title=”After”][/vc_column_inner][/vc_row_inner][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]

Layers Blending Modes and Layer Masks

If you want to keep your adjustments under control then understanding the basic layers system of Photoshop is essential.

You are going to use filters and layer blending modes that, when taken in isolation just look a mess. Once these filters, blending modes, layer masks and adjustment layers are put together something beautiful (hopefully) could be revealed. But then again you might just get a mess!!

Layers, blending modes and layer masks are probably already familiar to you from your photo editing work. If not, hold on tight this could get bumpy!

Seriously, if you are not familiar with these features now is the time to start. Below is a very rough and ready quick intro to start you off.


Layers are an essential Photoshop feature and you need to be familiar with their use.

Without turning this into a full blown layers tutorial, a ‘layer’ is a container overlaid onto the ‘layer’ below it.

Your start image is usually at the bottom of the pile and labelled as ‘Background’. By adding further layers with different contents, filters or settings you affect what you see as your final image.

Layer blending modes

Blending modes affect how the chosen layer interacts with those below. Some blending modes completely obscure everything below that layer. Some allow certain colours or elements, such as lightness or darkness, to show through or be blocked. Some blend colours to produce different colours.

Layer Masks

A ‘layer mask’ allows you to restrict the effects to distinct parts of the layer. A layer mask is usually white which signifies that the whole image, filter, effect or settings of the selected layer interacts with the layer below.

Alternatively you can make a layer mask all black which means the layer has no effect on the layer below.

This becomes very useful because you can make the mask 50% grey (or any value between 1 and 99). This, unsurprisingly, means that the effect on the layer below is affected by half (or the percentage you state).

Even more useful is the ability to paint on the layer mask. You can paint over certain bits to restrict the affect on the layer below. An all white layer mask affects the whole image except for the bits you paint out on the layer. A completely black layer mask has no effect on the layer below except for the bits of white you paint onto the layer mask.

Get really complex by using grey colours to reduce the affect – but now we are getting too much into the mechanics of Photoshop and away from the main topic. You get the idea though?[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]


I really wanted to get to grips with some of the filters and see what each could do in respect of digital art.

There are so many filters within Photoshop, it is hard to know where to start. When you add in each filters settings and options then you can be excused if you start to feel your eyes glaze over.

Some filters have amazing effects whilst others appear to have no effect whatsoever. Have a play yourself, and see what the various filters can do. I have highlighted those I found useful below.


Creating Digital Art

Step 1 – Deconstruct Your Photo

The very first thing I will state to anyone starting out and hoping to knock up a digital art masterpiece in two minutes is simply – good luck kiddo!

At all stages, keep in mind that your masterpiece will only reveal itself once you have several images on layers that might be described as ‘how on earth did I get that’, ‘what the …’ and ‘hmmm do I delete or duplicate’.

Dont get disheartened early on when your initial steps resemble an incoherent mish mash of random colours. Trust me, it will all come together in time.

Once you have selected your photo containing the colours you want, the first step is to deconstruct that image so it is no longer recognisable.

To do this, make a new layer – it is good practice to leave your master picture as the background and work on new layers as you add effects etc. Dont worry, you wont see any of the background image.

I found the following filters useful in deconstructing my pictures

  • Distort
    • Ripple
    • Wave
    • Zigzag
  • Pixellate
    • Crystallize
    • Mosaic
    • Pointillize

You can use one or more of these filters for your deconstruction. Try to keep each effect on a different layer. This way you can easily remove an effect or use the blending modes to fine tune the destruction and resulting colours.

If you really want to get creative try using Liquify for your deconstruction. If you enable the advanced settings you can happily spend hours just playing with the Liquify effects!

Step 2 – Smooth Out The Mess

The next step involves trying to bring a bit of order back to the mess you have created.

Before this step make a new composite layer by using SHIFT-CTRL- ALT-E.

This takes all the layers you have created and makes a new base layer for the next step. This makes it easy to go back to your main deconstructed image if you dont like how your adjustments are working out. Trust me you will be going backwards and forwards between layers to fine tune or completely change things.

I found these filters useful to smooth out the tones

  • Blur
    • Motion Blur
    • Radial Blur
    • Shape Blur

Again use these either individually or mixed on different layers.

You are defining the smoothness of your final colour tonality in this stage. Run your chosen filter only once or twice to have a chunky tonality. Run the filters 3, 4, 5 or 6 times (more if you want) to create silky smooth tonal graduation.

Step 3 – Bring The Digital Art to Life

Create another new Composite Layer. Duplicate this composite layer so you have two identical layers sitting on top of each other.

On the first composite layer run a filter such as Zig Zag or Wave.

On the duplicated composite layer, run the same filter, but crucially, reverse the settings. By this I mean if you ZigZag the first layer at 90 degs then ZigZag the second layer at -90 degs.

Now we get to the Frankenstein moment when the resultant mess is transformed into something special.

Select the top layer and click on its blending mode. Scroll through the blending options. You will be presented with some absolutely hideous results, but mixed in there will be some beauties – well hopefully!!

Below is a selection of the new Digital Art pictures I created.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_gallery type=”image_grid” images=”9075,9074″ img_size=”large” title=”New Digital Art Pictures”][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]

Taking Your Digital Art Further

There are literally no limits to the creativity possible using these techniques. To go further why not add different filters to each of the last two layers before blending?

You can go on and on and on …..

This last digital art picture was worked through with many different layers and effects blended together and finally reworked in black and white.

[/vc_column_text][vc_single_image image=”9076″ img_size=”large” alignment=”center” onclick=”link_image” title=”Further Adjustments”][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]

I have condensed 3 or 4 days solid tinkering into a few hundred words and barely scratched the surface of what is achievable. One useful side effect is the experimentation with layers, masks and blending modes will be extremely useful for your photo editing!

I hope you have enjoyed this article and found it useful. I would love to see your results if you decide to have a go yourself.

It would also be great if you shared your thoughts on what I have written.

Do you have any alternative processes or techniques?

Anyway, thanks for reading


Gary[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_separator color=”sky” el_width=”80″][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]

Share this new digital art information with your friends and colleagues …. thanks!

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