Artistic Portrait Effects in Photoshop

Artistic Portrait Effects in Photoshop

Hello all my artsy friends and welcome to July on the Scrapaneers Blog! This month I want to share with you a couple of artistic portrait techniques that can turn an ordinary photo into an art journal portrait in just a few steps.  Are you ready to get started with your portrait adventure?  Then come on in and join me . . .

I love digital art journaling – telling stories with images, colors and words.  Like any kind of journaling, I find it cathartic and empowering.  There are times when illustrative images are just perfect for the task, and others when I really want to use my own photos in the process.  Making your own photos fit with the artsy look and feel of the genre can be a difficult task.  That is where filters come to the rescue for me.  There are lots of amazing filters available for purchase, but I want to show you how you can transform a photo into an art journal portrait with the tools available in Photoshop.


Here is an example of the technique in action:



Ready to create your own artistic portrait?  The let’s get started.


Artistic Portrait with the Threshold/Gradient Effect

1. Convert photo to black/white. Use your favorite technique for the black/white conversion. I used Radlab on my photo, but a quick and easy way to do a b/w conversion right in Photoshop or PSE is to apply a Hue/Saturation Adjustment (CTRL>ALT>U).  (It also helps to increase the contrast in the photo.  You can do this in the Camera Raw filter in Photoshop (or in Lightroom) or Image>Adjustments>Brightness/Contrast and adjust the contrast slider.)



2.  Once you have your image converted to black/white, apply a Threshold Adjustment layer.  Choose Threshold from the pop up Fill/Adjustment layer menu at the bottom of the layers palette (half-filled circle).  A settings box will appear once you click on Threshold and you can move the slider until you get the look that you want.  These are the Threshold settings I used on my photo:



3.  You can use the photo with just the Threshold adjustment, or you can add some color to it to help it blend in with the page.  I applied a Gradient Fill layer to my photo.  The Gradient option is located under the same fill/adjustment layer menu where you found the threshold adjustment.  Click on the half-filled circle and choose “Gradient” from the top of the pop up menu.  A small box will appear with the gradient options.  Click on the gradient box at the top of the menu to choose your gradient design and colors.



Once you click into the gradient editor, you will find several options for different gradients and a color slider that you can use to choose your own colors.  I used the Transparent Stripes gradient preset and changed the colors to match the blue tones on my page.  When you click on the color boxes in the slider, the color picker box will appear and you can choose any color you want.  I used the eyedropper tool to choose specific colors from my page.



Once you have chosen the colors and gradient preset, close out the Gradient Editor by clicking the OK button in the top right corner.  This will take you back to the Gradient Fill menu and you can play with the gradient Style, Angle and Scale settings.  When I say play, I mean just that – change each of these settings around until you achieve the look you want for your photo.


And that was all I did to convert my photo to an artistic portrait for my page.  Here is a comparison to show you the different stages in the progression:


4.  Blend photo onto page (optional).  You can use the artistic portrait as is, or you can blend it into the background of the page by adjusting the layer blending mode.  I set my photo to Darken so that some of the background paper and paint showed through.  Setting the photo to Darken also let the journaling show through in the top left corner.


Artistic Portrait with the Cutout Effect

If you want a look that is similar, but a little less edgy, try the Cutout Filter located in the Filter Gallery in Photoshop (and PSE).  Here is a comparison of the Threshold and Cutout Effects:



1.  Convert photo to black/white (same as above).  This step is optional for the Cutout filter – it really depends on what look you want.  You might want to try both a color and b/w version of the photo to see which one you like better.


2.  Before you try to access the filter gallery in Photoshop, make sure that your photo is sized at 8 bits (the filter gallery will not be accessible if you are working on a 16 bit image). To check your image size click on Image at the top of the work space, then choose Mode in the drop down menu and select “8 bits/Channel” in the flyout menu. (This should only be an issue if you are working with a RAW image in Photoshop which is sized at 16 bits. PSE will not open 16 bit images, so this issue would not come up in that program.)


3.  Now we are ready to apply the filter.  Click on the Filter button at the top of the work space and choose “Filter Gallery” in the drop down menu. This will take you to a new screen where you can see all of the available filters. The Cutout filter is located in the Artistic Folder at the top of the menu column. Click on the folder (if it is not already open) and you should see the Cutout filter in the top row.

TIP: To make your entire photo visible in the viewing area, click on the size menu in the bottom left corner and choose “Fit in View.”


4.  Now all you need to do is adjust the settings that you will see to the right of the filter folders. There is no magical formula for these settings, you just need to play with them until you achieve the look you want with your photo. You will be able to see the adjustments on the photo in the viewing screen, so the process is pretty quick and easy. Here are the settings I used on the above photo:



And that is it!  While you are in the filter gallery, be sure to explore the different filters available to you there and don’t forget that you can layer different effects on top of one another for an even more unique outcome.  I hope you have fun with this technique – be sure to share your Artistic Portraits with us over in the Scrapaneers Gallery. 🙂


Until next time ~


BTW – Have you noticed the new title templates in the last couple of blog posts?  Yes, we are changing things up a bit here on the blog and on the site – so look for an amazing new format coming soon. 🙂




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  • Lori July 6, 2017   Reply →

    Judie, This is so fun! Thank you for sharing the detailed steps and examples. I am going to give this a try for sure! Happy Summer!

    • Judie Barger July 9, 2017   Reply →

      Thank you, Lori! Be sure to share your page(s) with us. 🙂

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