Here’s a tutorial to help you make a sketch-type watercolor drawing from your photograph using Photoshop’s Filter Gallery. The best part is, you don’t even have to know how to draw (which is especially handy if you can’t draw stick figures, like me.) This tutorial will focus more on just transforming the photo into a drawing-the following tutorial will handle blending it to look professional and putting the final touches on it. If the birthday of your lover is next week then you can consider creating sketch painting using this trick as a special gift for lover.
(Disclaimer: I’ve had people ask me complex questions about getting into the professional photography business. While I have friends in the profession and know that Photoshop is a necessary tool for the modern photographer, I’m not in the business, so I can’t answer related questions; I just have a knack for retouching the photos of friends and family and am familiar with the workings of the program.)
First things first. Open the picture you want to transform into a drawing. You may want to copy the file first. To do that, just click on “Image/Duplicate”. This will help ensure that your untouched photo stays safe in the event something bad happens to the file you’re working on. Click the “close” button on the original file, and focus on the copied file.
Be certain you have only a single layer to start with, or you’re going to run into a lot of trouble later. (Note: yes, Photoshop will let you pile up your filters and apply it all in one fell swoop, but since we’re going to be masking areas of each layer, that won’t work in this instance.) At the moment you’ll have only one layer labeled “background”; change the name to something else (I normally use “first”) because you’re going to be dealing with a lot of layers and you need to keep them separate. Rename a layer by double clicking the given layer to bring up the “New Layer” box, then type in the label you want in the name box. For the sake of this tutorial, let’s use the label “first”.
Bring up the Filter/Distort/Wave menu. Normally in a sketch or drawing image even straight lines will have a certain natural flow to them, so apply the Filter to curve out the straight lines of the objects in your photo. (This step might not have much effect if your photo contains no straight lines, like a nature scene or a person’s face.)
Click on “Create New Layer”above your “first” layer and name it “bg” (for “background”.) You can do this by clicking “New Layer” on the bottom of the Layer Palette. You can also hold down the Alt button and click “New Layer”.
Fill in the background layer (“bg”) layer with white color. You can easily fill a foreground color by pressing Alt + Backspace (or, if using a Macintosh, Option + Delete) and a background color by pressing Ctrl + Backspace (Command + Delete for Macs). Typing “D” will reset the foreground color to black and background color to white. To toggle between foreground and background, hit “X”.
Copy the “first” layer by dragging it to the “New Layer” on the Layer Palette box, or just right-click your mouse and click “Layer Property”. Rename the layer “base”.
Apply the Water Color Filter by clicking Filter/Artistic/Watercolor to enter the Filter Gallery. You can play with the settings a little to get the effect you’re looking for, just choose a low texture setting.
At this point you may find that part of your photo is suddenly in sharp relief. Don’t panic; you’re doing well. Just fix it by using a little Gaussian Blur (Filter/Blur/Gaussian Blur).
Copy the “first” layer again and switch it over to the top layer, and change the name to “hstroke”. Decrease the opacity on the layer slightly, between 55-65. Click on Filter/Artistic/Poster Edges to adjust the thickness, posterization and intensity and set the Gaussian Blur (by going to Filter/Blur/Gaussian Blur) to “1 pixel”. This will soften the rough, jagged edges and give the finished product a more natural feel.
Copy the “first” layer another time set it as the top layer, relabeling it “slight”. Use the “Angled Strokes” Filter (Filter/Brush Strokes/Angled Strokes) and adjust the Direction Balance upwards (around 30), then adjust the Stroke Length and Sharpness accordingly. Change the Layer Blending Mode at the top of the Layer palette, to “soft light” and change the Opacity between 30-40%. You’ve just made a layer that will accentuate the digitized brush strokes and adjust the contrast to make the colors more pleasing.
Copy the “first” layer yet again and relabel it “pstroke”, setting it as the top layer. Use the Find Edge Filter (Filter/Stylize/Poster Edges). From the menu, click on Image/Adjustment/Hue (or just press Ctrl+U for the Hue box. Move the Saturation bar as far left as it will go. “Layer Blending” needs to be at Multiply and Opacity at half-power. The pencil stroke (hence the layer’s name) will define the outlines of the picture’s objects.
Click “New Layer Set” on the layer palette. Put “base”, “slight” and “pstroke” in the new set in the order you created them. You can do this easily with Photoshop CS2 (or later versions); just move all the layers to the new layer set by holding down the Ctrl button and clicking the layers you want to move. This will enable you to move all of your layers at once. For those of you with Photoshop 6 or earlier versions, you’ll have to clip the layers individually instead of dragging them.
Now you have the makings for a great watercolor drawing-effect photo, but the fun is just beginning. The next tutorial will focus on blending your layers to give the photo a natural hand-painted effect.