Create a pop-art portrait using Adobe Photoshop
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POP ART WAS A CREATIVE MOVEMENT that began in the late 1950s and flourished in the United States. It saw the artistic space that had been previously inhabited by refined painting and sculpture invaded by common objects, particularly comic-book panels and mundane images, such as Andy Warhol’s soup cans.
There was more to pop art than a few stacked tins, however—it also saw the removal of subjects from their contexts, and a return to hard-edged composition in contrast to the softness of earlier portraiture. It could be surreal, minimal, colorful, repetitive, and even created mechanically.
Here, we’re going to look at a pop-art portrait, creating it using Photoshop’s layers as well as its clever Smart Objects and Smart Filters, which retain the information you used to create them, and allow you to go back and tweak them after you’ve committed to the effect. If you don’t like what you see, you can erase an entire section of your work and start again—it’s a very popart method of creating a portrait, so it seems appropriate to build something hard-edged and influenced by comic books.
1 SELECT AND MASK
The first thing to do is separate your portrait sitter from the background. Choosing an image with a clean backdrop inevitably makes this easier, but if you’ve got a busy background, Photoshop can help you out. We used the Quick Selection tool’s “Select Subject” option, found on the toolbar at the top of the interface, to make a rough automatic selection, before refining it with the “+” and “-” options, to make sure the young lady and her motorbike were selected, even though the colors were very similar in places to what’s behind her. Then, for further refinement, we chose “Select and Mask” from the “Select” menu, and used “Smooth” to remove any rough corners, and “Smart Edge Detection” to lock the selection outline to the edges of our subject [ Image A]. When you’re done, set “Output” to be a new layer with a layer mask, and hit “OK.”
In the Layers palette, your original Background layer should now be hidden, and a new backgroundless layer has appeared on top, called Background Copy. Create a new layer using the square-with-an-upturned-corner button at the bottom of the palette, and drag it below the Background Copy layer. Fill the new layer with white—if it’s your background color (press D to change to the default black foreground and white background), you can press Ctrl-Backspace to do this. Just make sure you’ve got the right layer selected. Alternatively, you could set white as your foreground color (D followed by X), and use the Bucket tool. Next, right-click the top layer, and choose “Convert to Smart Object.” This has the effect of changing all the filters we apply to it into smart filters, which can be altered after they’ve been applied. Now, using the same right-click menu, duplicate the layer twice. We need a couple of copies to perform different edits on, before blending them back together for the final look. By default, the new layers are called “Background Copy 2” and “Background Copy 3.”
Hide the top two layers using the eye icon and work on the original Background Copy. Open the “Gaussian Blur” filter from the “Filter” menu, and apply it to the layer with a “Radius” of around four pixels. We want an unfocused look, rather than a complete destruction. When done, head back to the “Filter” menu and choose “Filter Gallery”—we want “Cutout,” from the “Artistic” folder. There are some options on the right of the new window—we want the image to be simplified but recognizable, so use the “Number of Levels” slider to achieve this. Somewhere in the four to six range should work. It’s a complex filter that can take a while to reprocess its preview when you change something, so
don’t be surprised if you move a slider and nothing happens for a moment. We found keeping “Levels” low but turning the “Edge Fidelity” slider all the way up kept our portrait recognizable.
4 A BIT OF BLENDING
Bring back the Background Copy 2 layer using its eye icon, and you’ll see the effects of the “Cutout” filter below it disappear. Change the upper layer’s blend mode to “Multiply” using the drop-down in the “Layers” palette, and you should see the two blend together, but become darker. This is what “Multiply” does—multiplies the numeric values of the colors being blended together, then divides the result by 255. It always ends up darker. Make sure Background Copy 2 is selected, and open “Filter Gallery > Cutout” again, but this time go for a higher number of “Levels,” say eight, with high “Edge Simplicity” and low “Fidelity” [ Image B]. The preview doesn’t show the blended result; you won’t see that until you hit “OK.”
With Background Copy 2 still selected, open “Image > Adjustments > Levels,” and drag the white triangle at the right of the histogram to the left. This redefines the brightness of colors in the image that are rendered as pure white, and brightens all colors as it does. Drag it left until you’re happy with the result—we’re looking for good definition in the face, which had been darkened by our use of “Multiply.”
6 MORE FILTERING
Make the top layer, Background Copy 3, visible using its eye icon, and click it so it’s active. Head back to the “Filter Gallery,” but this time choose “Glowing Edges,” which is the only filter in the “Stylize” folder. You’ll see an immediate effect, but can alter it using the sliders to the right. You want “Brightness” and “Smoothness” to be quite high, but “Width” to be low [ Image C]. Blend this layer with those below by changing its “Blend Mode” to “Subtract” using the drop-down (experiment here—we found “Lighter Color” also worked well). Use “Levels” on the layer if it needs brightening up.
7 FINAL TWEAKS
Because we applied the filters as smart filters, we can go back and tweak them by clicking their entries in the “Layers” palette. You can also use the plain white Layer 1 we created in step two to create a background for your image [ Image D]. Save your work as a PSD to preserve the layers, and use “File > Export” to create a JPG or PNG version for posting online.