Tessa Newbacher

Woman with fairy wings walking in the ocean during a sunset

My Photoshop Process for Creating Digital Art

One of my favorite things to do for fun when I’m bored, but feeling a little creative is to play around in Photoshop. It’s something I’ve been doing for fun since I was a kid (using Adobe Photoshop v4) and I still love to manipulate photos and turn them into surrealist-style works of digital art. I love taking photos or finding amazing photographs on Unsplash or Pexels and using them to create interesting and otherworldly scenes. This past weekend, I messed around and designed what you’re looking at today and I’m going to explain my process for creating this.

You should already have a basic understanding of Photoshop, specifically using layer masks, layer adjustments, and brushes. Those are the three basic concepts you can learn to discover a world of Photoshop creations!

Step 1: Creating the layer masks

The first step to anything I touch in photoshop is creating layer masks. An easy way to cut people or things out of an image is to use the quick-select tool. I grabbed the quick select tool and just grabbed the woman out of the image.

Use the quick selection tool to easily cut things out in photoshop

To get a nice, clean cut around the hair, select the “Refine Edge” button in the top left of your screen next to the quick selection tool settings. Hit the brush icon on the window that pops up and use your brush to make some strokes around the woman’s hair as it touches the background.

Use Refine Edge brush to get a nice clean cut around hair

Once you’re finished with that, just make sure the right layer is selected and click “Create layer mask” while your selection is still active. You’ll see the background disappear right before your eyes! Now you can move her around and place her where you’d like. SIDENOTE: Always name your layers something descriptive so you don’t forget what it is supposed to be.

Add layer mask in photoshop


Step 2: Adding the background & waves

After finding a nice sunset background image, I’m placing that layer behind the “Woman” layer and matching up the horizon lines together. Next, I’ll add the image of the rough waves and place that layer behind the woman. I duplicated the waves and used layer masks to “blend” them together so it looks like one seamless image.

Photoshop canvas with background image and waves

Step 3: Add colors and shading

After your images are all in the right place, we need to adjust the colors and shading so it looks like they belong together. To add the sunset color to the waves, I created a blank layer and used the eyedropper tool to select a color from the sky you’d like to match. Select a large brush with some texture to it and click around on top of the waves where you want to match the colors. Adjust this layer blend mode to Color and voila – your waves match the sunset color.

Brush and colorization layer

You can do something similar to add a shadow to our figure in the middle. I created a blank layer and used a dark gray color from the sky and created an inner shadow so it looks like the sun behind her is casting a shadow. I set the Woman’s Shadow layer to an opacity of 43% so it’s super harsh & dark.

Step 4: Fairy wings

I’m obsessed with magical fantasy creatures like fairies, so I always like to add some touches like this to my artwork. I found a really cool image of outer space on Unsplash I thought would be a nice wing design. I’m going to add the space artwork to the canvas and cut a piece out of it using a layer mask and these feather wing brushes. Adjust the fairy brush size to match your figure and use the white brush on the black background of the space mask to create the mask over the space background. Then we’ll duplicate this layer and rotate it so it is symmetrical. I combined my layers together to make one layer and added some layer styles, like bevel & emboss, inner shadow and outer glow to give the wings a realist, 3D and glowing effect.

Final layer with wings


Feel free to use some global layer adjustment setting to change the overall brightness, contrast or colorization of the image. If you’d like to download my .PSD file, just shoot me an email and I’d be happy to send the file over to you to play with.

If you follow along with this tutorial, feel free to share your creations in the comments! I would love to see what you’ve created. What other techniques do you use in photoshop to create digital artwork?

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