Design, Photomanipulation

Create an Amazing Abstract Heart Surreal Photoshop Tutorial

In this surreal Photoshop tutorial, you’ll learn the entire workflow from start to finish of creating an incredible surreal abstract artwork.  Starting with just a single photograph, you’ll learn how to apply adjustments to bring it into an easily workable color scheme, as well as then using the pen tool to create amazing surreal shapes.  Then, you’ll learn how to finish it off with a few other effects and another stock photo, for an incredible surreal artwork.

This is sort of a follow up tutorial to our previous surreal Photoshop tutorial, Create an Unbelievable Surreal Abstract Artwork with Photoshop.  If you’re curious as to the sort of results you can achieve with these techniques, check out these two interviews with established surreal abstract artists:

Enjoy the tutorial!

If you have any questions, feel free to ask in the comments!

Tools Used:

  • Photoshop CS
  • Various stock images

Final Image Preview:

Step 1: First Step In Stock Manipulation and Background Creation

To start off we will need to grab a stock image, you can use whatever you like but i would suggest using a stock image that focuses in on the face since this is the main part of our piece.

My image looks like the below image and was found on Shutterstock.

Next we can grayscale this by pressing CTRL SHIFT U on our keyboards.

Now we need to start isolating out our shapes that we will use to create our piece using the pen tool. At this point is is essential for you to take your time and make smooth curves. You don’t want any blocky shapes! If your having trouble doing this you can find a great tutorial for the pen tool here:

So start off by making a selection around the eye/nose as I have done in the below screen shot.

Next we can make a new selection around the jawline and mouth.

Once you have done this you can move over to the opposing eye if you want. I just duplicated the original eye, flipped it and removed the nose. But this is up to you, its going to be your piece after all.

Now just continue making shapes from some of the plain skin sections. You don’t need to make anything overly complex for this to work out, you just need some simple curved shapes.

My shapes look like the below screenshot.

Now that we have our shapes, and face selections, its time to get started on the background. So start off by creating a new document at your desired resolution, I went with 2000*3000 but you can use whatever you like. However keep in mind that you can always size a piece down, but enlarging it is another story!

Once your new document has been created its time to fill it with black. Next we are going to create a spotlight like gradient, to do this just use any sized paint brush (on your current layer) and paint something similar to what I have done in the below screenshot.

Now just Gaussian blur this a few times with a radius of 250px and you should have something that looks similar to my gradient in the below screenshot.

Next we need to add some texture but we aren’t going to add a texture we will just simply apply a noise filter. So to do this, create a new layer and fill it with black again, now go to your filter tab select noise>add noise. Once that is done set your document up as mine is in the below screenshot.

Apply this filter about 3 times and then set the layer as an overlay with an opacity of 8. This will create a faint grain to the image and add a slight sense of depth when paired with the blurred background.

A close up shot of my background now looks like the below screen shot.

Step 2: Face and shape manipulation

Now its time to drop our shapes in, we will start off with the face.

On the left side is my finished face section, on the right hand side is the original cut out.

Now as we have discussed in our previous tutorial located here these curvy shapes protruding from the face are created using the liquefy filter, more specifically the forward warp brush in the liquefy filter.

So to create these shapes I grabbed and pulled these sections with the forward warp brush, this is exactly what you want to do. For a better explanation please see the below screen shot.

So as displayed with my beautifull arrows I pulled up on the nose making an S shape as I pulled. I then did the same process on the check bone. Nothing too complex just some simple pulls and your done! So go ahead and open up your liquefy filter and start pulling on the sections you want to distort, once you have finished we will move on the lighting correction.

Now that your face Is been pulled its time to contemplate how to burn/dodge this to create a 3D like effect. This again, is something we have discussed preciously in another tutorial located here But for everyone who has not seen that tutorial we will cover it again here.

Looking at the above image you can see the arrows are colored according to that representation. Obviously the purple light from above shines down on the face and highlights certain areas (the red arrows) and some are left dark/darkened (the green). This may seem very elementary however it’s the key to creating the 3D look we want. Its also important to take into consideration the sections that are not in hidden from the light but are still burnt, like the top green arrow. This is because other sections are above it preventing the light from hitting it, sections like this usually are bent/curved sections and it important that you handle them correctly.

To create the burnt/shadow areas grab a nice sized soft brush (I used 150px) and set your burn tool to midtones at 14%. Just gently go over these areas. It may take a few passes but that is ok, its much easier to darken something up more than to dodge it (dodging can lead to texture destruction). Once you have successfully burnt these sections set your dodge tool up the same way and dodge the top sections (my red arrows). Finally you can switch your dodge tool over to highlights, turn you brush size down and go gently over some of the sections closest to the light.

Now we can add in the rest of our face and look it over.

You can see that the sections are done exactly the same. The highlights and shadows are again represented by green/red arrows and appear to be hitting the same kind of sections as before. This is something you defiantly want in your piece.

Now lets look at one of the loopy sections from the previous image. This demonstrates exactly what I meant by burning sections that were blocked from light. However I did not burn it completely, why? Well by not burning this section entirely, in fact by slightly highlighting this section you can create a sense of realism and depth, the shape is blocked from the bulk of the light however compared to the rest of the shape it should be the brightest section. Again this is something you should keep in mind when burning and dodging your sections.

Now let’s pull over one of the shapes we created previously. I used the below shape (granted I cut a hole in it with the marquee lasso).

The red arrows represent where I pulled this shape (or pushed) with the warp forward tool in the liquefy filter. As you can see its nothing very exciting but that’s the point. You don’t need to make an extravagant selection or pull and push on a shape to create a great piece all you need is a little now how! So grab one of your shapes and liquefy it up!

I placed this shape beneath the jaw line as seen in the below screen shot.

Below is the shadow/light setup.

As you can see we need to burn this in order to create a shadow for the face, this can be done the way we burnt everything prior just maybe a little darker than before. Also since none of the edges are in the direct light there is no need to highlight any of these sections, in fact you can just simply burn all of your edges. I did however highlight a little bit of the shape towards the certain, this was done for realism but for more of an aesthetic value, the shape would appear far to flat all burnt up and dark. Like wise the hole was highlighted on one side, again this was not so much for the realistic value as it was to create the depth of a 3D shape. These are all things to take in to account when doing your piece, what looks good and what looks real.

My face now looks like the below screen shot.

Next we can just add in another section and adjust it as we have done previously. My new shape is the t shaped section I created previously and it looks like the below screen shot.

Now its time to get the hands in! I used a set of hands from Deviantart which were provided by Nykolai, it’s a wonderful collection and is located at§ion=&q=hand#/dh4p3w

So now go ahead and grab some hands that you like, isolate them out and repeat the above process to them. I used the same hand just flipped and then I played with them differently. They look like the below screen shots.

As you can see in the above screen shot, the green arrow represents where I grabbed and then pulled the edge of the arm using the liquefy filter. This is something that you will want to do even if you aren’t using the same hand! Also you can see that I have burnt and dodged the hands accordingly, this is something that you defiantly want to do otherwise they won’t appear as if they fit into the rest of the scene.

Now just continue adding shapes in and setting them up as we have done previously. My process looks like the below screen shots.

As you can see in the below screenshot, the highlights and shadows are the same as they were before! Keep everything the way it should be and you will wind up with a much better final picture!

Once you have added in enough large shapes to fill up your canvas to your liking we can move on to the next step.

Step 3: Heart incorporation and final shapes/processing.

Now its time to add in the heart. This is the only colored section of the piece. You can find the heart I used on Shutterstock and it looks like the below image.

All you need to do is isolate the heart out, burn/dodge it accordingly and drop it in!

Now just go back to adding in your shapes, this time focusing on smaller shapes that will add more of a depth to your piece (not a literal depth, but an aesthetic depth).

Now we can grab a few of our shapes (whichever ones you like the most) duplicate them and apply a Gaussian blur. Move these shapes around your canvas and vary the blur. You will want some large shapes and some small ones to create a nice sense of depth, like wise your Gaussian blur should range from a radius of 5px to 12px.

And we are done, there’s more you can add to your image to beef it up more but as of now it’s a finished piece and a very nice looking one at that! My final image looks like the below screenshot.

I hope you enjoyed reading my tutorial and wound up with an image you like! Or came out with knowing a few new tricks! If you have any questions please don’t hesitate to ask.

Also, if you have any ideas for future tutorials please say so!

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  1. Your tutorial makes me want to return to my illustrator roots – I love your work and your very interesting tutorial – thanks for sharing your Photoshop skills!

  2. I made sure to watch that Pen tutorial first before commenting to ask. :)
    I used the pen tool to outline the eye and nose but instead of the dotted line, it’s a solid line that I can move around anywhere on the face but it doesn’t move the eye and nose. I even tried it on a different layer but it did the same thing, just with a white fill.
    Am I doing something wrong? How can I get it to outline and take the parts of the face that I outlined?

    1. Hey Leanna,

      Sorry for the late reply! :(

      Once you have closed your path with the pen tool, if its a solid white block, just marquee that. You can do it by holding CTRL and clicking the mask layer that you just created. Or with the path activated you can press A on your keyboard to bring up the path selection tool, then just right click and choose make selection :)

  3. First off, absolutely amazing idea. The final product is epic. And this tutorial is incredible in itself, just how you explain everything. I wish every tut was like this.

  4. surreal!.. love your step by step amazing tutorial.. no school can teach me the way you do here. The one of the most complicated design can be learn in just minutes works by following your steps. hope you can create more tutorials soon.

  5. Great tutorial, only snag is the link to the arms isn’t working any more! I don’t suppose you know of another location for them, I’ve looked but am not having much joy.

  6. this is one hell of an awesome tutorial! (Y) I had a project about surrealism (digital) soo I was wondering if there’s a meaning behind the picture?

    thx in advance

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