Creating Mood Art: An Interesting Deviation

By Al Ward
of Action Fx Photoshop Resources

Dateline: April 5, 2004
Volume 1, Number 4
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I've been doing some experimenting of late with Photoshop, if for no other reason than to remind myself that this is still fun, in spite of deadlines and workloads and having too many projects on the plate at the same time. With the book on its way to the stores, I can sit back and enjoy some quality time with just me, the keyboard, and Photoshop again. What book, you ask? Well, never being one to pass up a shameless plug, it is Photoshop for Right Brainers by none other than... Al Ward. It's available now on Amazon.

Anyway, let's get on to the effect. I'm going to show you a technique I use to create a painting-style effect employing spot color selections and a couple of layers. Just another trick to add to your arsenal, so I hope you enjoy it. To begin, I've chosen a portrait from You can download this and use it as your sample image for this tutorial (right-click to download), or use one of your own portrait images.

First, duplicate the Background layer in the layers palette. This is something you should be well versed at already, especially if you have spent any time with my tutorials.

Now go to Select > Color Range. When the Color Range dialog box appears, set the fuzziness to 40-45 and change the Selection Preview to White Matte. With the Eyedropper, click on some of the shadow between the woman's hand and her neck. The amount of selection I'm looking for is seen in the next example. Keep an eye on the image itself (the White Matte will appear) so you can keep track of the pixels being selected.

Do not click out of the dialog box just yet. After my first selection, the image on the matte looks like this.

The lady in the painting is starting to appear, but a few more pixels will help realize the effect. To add to the selection, hold down the Shift key and click to an area close to the shadow in the Color Range viewer: very close. We don't want to add too much. If you think you have too much selected, simply release the Shift key and select again. To select more simply repeat the process.

Still more revealed:

Repeat the process above one more time, adding to the selection by holding the Shift key and making a selection close to the shadow. The Color Range viewer shows that my selection will contain the pixels seen as white in the viewer.

When looking at the image with the white matte in place and before closing the Color Range dialog box, the selected areas look like this:

Hit OK and close the Color Range dialog box. The active selection will encompass all the pixels revealed as white in the dialog box, but the white matte will disappear.

We are going to separate the selection from the photo. Go to Layer > New > Layer via Copy (Command/Control+J). This will place the selected pixels on their own layer.

What we are looking for is to regain the effect of the white matte. This can be done by simply creating a layer beneath the new layer and filling it with 100% white, mode to normal.

Want to see what the photo/painting would look like with a black matte? Simply fill the white layer with black.

To me this almost looks like one of those posters they used to make on black velvet.

Let's play with the color a bit and see what happens. I'm simply going to adjust the Hue of the top layer.

Here is the result: same woman in turquoise.

Let's try one other thing. Starting with the original image, I'll repeat the technique above, but this time select the skin tone from a spot on the woman's hand instead of the shadow.

Wow… this reveals a drastically different mood than the previous piece, don't you think? To me it has an almost creepy feel to it.

Let's add a bit more of the skin tone: I'm not looking for creepy, but more forlorn or sad.

That's better. Not that she's sad, but I love the effect of the selected tones on the black background. I'm going to try this one last time, but this go around I'm going to use a photo that already has a black matte: an xray.

Using the same technique as above (the black matte version) and experimenting with sampling different portions of the xray, I increased the contrast on the image and came up with the following result:

I'm not sure what to call it, but hey, it looks cool to me. I hope you enjoyed this week's experiment. Until next time, I'll see you at Action Fx!

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Want to add to your own COOL FACTOR? Al Ward, the author of this column and NAPP Actions Guru, offers thousands of Photoshop goodies for download on his website (! He also has several Photoshop Goodies available on CD. So who is this Al guy anyway? He has co-authored Photoshop Most Wanted: Effects and Design Tips , a manual of popular Photoshop Special Effects and Foundation Photoshop 6.0 from Friends of Ed Publishing. Al is the Author of Adobe Elements 2 Special Effects, a new solo title from Hungry Minds/Wiley Publishing. He has been a contributor to Photoshop User Magazine, a contributing writer for Photoshop Elements 2- 50 Ways to Create Cool Pictures , Photoshop 7 Effects Magic , Inside Photoshop 6 and Special Edition Inside Photoshop 6 from New Riders Publishing, and writes for several Photoshop related websites including the National Association of Photoshop Professional s Official Website,, Planet Photoshop and the Photoshop Café. Al was a panelist at the Photoshop World 2001 Los Angeles Conference, and contributes to the official NAPP website as the Actions area coordinator. Al lists Scott Kelby, Editor-In-Chief of Photoshop User Magazine as his Hero, Coffee as his favorite food group, and Sleep as the one pastime he d like to take up some day.