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  • Writer's pictureJanice Gill

How to Create Watercolour Effect with Photoshop 2023

Digital artwork created from a photograph featuring a kingfisher on a branch against a sandy background.
Watercolour Kingfisher Digital Art by Janice Gill

A few days ago, I was asked how I created a picture of a Little Owl from one of my photographs. I gave something of an explanation but promised to post a step-by-step procedure with screenshots.

This guide is aimed at someone with a little experience of Photoshop. If there are parts you are unsure how to proceed, let me know and I'll try and help.

1. First of all, you'll need to create your own brushes in Photoshop for that realistic watercolour background. I created mine by actually sloshing some watercolour paint around. I find it's best to use smooth surfaced paper because rough surfaces don't photograph close-up very well.

Wet the whole surface and brush on some dark colours randomly. Add some spatters by tapping a loaded brush over the paper. Take a photograph and open it in Photoshop. Change the image to black and white and turn the contrast right up, followed by the brightness till the background is as white as possible without losing the strong blacks.

Random watercolour brush strokes and splatters on paper uploaded to Photoshop
Random watercolour marks on paper.

2. The next step is to create a brush which we will use as a stamp. Go to edit and choose DEFINE BRUSH PRESET from the dropdown box, as shown above. The program automatically creates a brush, which it will ask you to name. Your new brush will be stored for use at any time. Repeat this for about four brushes.

3. Open an image you would like to make a digital artwork from. I chose a kingfisher with a blurred sandy-coloured background. Create a new layer coloured white and move this to the bottom of the layer stack. Copy your main image three times to create four layers with your image. Hide all but one of the layers, click on the visible one and add a mask, then invert it.

Your screen will now show just white paper. Open the brush tool from the left-hand menu and make the size a little larger than your paper. Click once to stamp your brush and make part of the image visible.

4. Hide the layer you have just made and repeat with another of your brushes. Play around with the size you make your brush and try stamping more than once without moving your mouse. Unhide the first layer and alter the opacity of each layer to see how this affects the combined image. Don't worry about the subject too much, just focus on attaining a pleasing background.

Selected subject on a new layer with background layers showing.
Select subject on a new layer.

5. As you can see from the layer panel, for this demonstration I have only done two layers with brush stamp masks. I would encourage you to create more as it gives more options. For the top layer, use select subject to create a mask.

You can refine this mask to your taste. I removed most of the branch as I didn't want it to appear too strong.

Branch sotened by removing from select subject layer.
Branch removed from select subject layer. It shows through from the lower layers.

6. On the subject layer, open the filters tab in the top menu and choose Filter Gallery.

For this watercolour image, I chose dry-brush. Play around with the effects sliders to get the look you want.

7. Unhide all your layers and play around with the opacity of each until you are happy with the final image. There is no right or wrong here - it's your personal choice.

8. The final step is to crop the image, then export and save it in your preferred format.

I hope you have some fun with this and enjoy the process. I'd love to see some of your work so feel free to post in the comments.

I nearly forgot - this is day 16 of the Ultimate Blog Challenge and I'm still there with 16 posts. Woohoo!

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Oct 17, 2023

Wow, that's amazing. I have little experience with photoshop and I do all of my painting the low tech way. Also I don't have Photoshop but I can see doing a watercolor painting that way. Thank you for the detailed directions! I really like that and am excited about exploring a different way to create art.


Oct 17, 2023

Your step-by-step guide on creating a digital watercolor background in Photoshop is fascinating and highly informative. Having no experience in Photoshop, I appreciate the level of detail you provided and the inclusion of screenshots, making it easier to follow along. Thanks, Janice. ~ Florence C.

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