The aim of the tutorial this month is to create an underwater, fantasy scene with a mermaid, shipwreck and bubbles. The main part of the work is the composition. Once this is completed you can finish the image off with a variety of organic and artistic styles, whichever you like best. You’ll need a few source images for this project. Firstly, there’s the photo of your mermaid figure which can be as demure or saucy as you like but needs to have some exposed skin onto which we’re going to graft some scales. Second, there needs to be a background photo. I got a free one from the Underwater Group on www.deviantart.com We also need some fish to produce the scales for the mermaid, so try this one from Morguefile: http://mrg.bz/7dpIY6. Next, we need a bubble brush for use in Photoshop. There’s a neat one here: www.deviantart.com/download/87116919/Brushes_BUBBLE_1_by_Mjag.abr. Also, to make the hair float around a little, some hair brushes are needed. Go to http://gorjuss-stock.deviantart.com and download Hair Pack 1. Once downloaded, copy the brush files into your Photoshop folder under Presets\Brushes.
01 Background layer
Load the background sea layer and duplicate it. Call this the ‘Working background’. Select the Polygonal Lasso Tool (L) and mark all the way around the foreground rock. It’s fairly blurred so it’s faster than using the Pen tool. Hold down the Alt key and click inside the hole in the rock to exclude it.
02 Refine edge and copy
Go to Select> Refine> Refine Edge. Smooth the edge by 10 and Feather by 1px. Click on Okay. A new layer is created with a layer mask. Move the mouse over the layer mask and right click. Select Apply mask to remove the rest of the background. Rename this as the ‘Foreground’ layer.
03 Extra Background
Select the ‘Working background’ layer, right click on it and select Duplicate layer. Call this the ‘Colour toning’ layer. Now load the mermaid photo into Photoshop, but not this project. Press Cmd-A to select all, then Cmd-C to copy. Switch back to this project and press Cmd-V to paste as a new layer.
04 Size and set
Close the mermaid photo and rename this new layer as ‘Mermaid’. Position it under the ‘Colour toning’ layer but turn that off for now. Select the Move tool and position the ‘Mermaid’ layer on the bottom and left of centre so that she is half behind the foreground rocks. You may need to resize your image here.
05 Cut out mermaid
Zoom in to the mermaid and select the Pen tool. Use this to make a path around the outside of the figure. Stay tight to the hair, excluding any background but don’t bother being accurate with it around the back. Complete the path by clicking on the start point. Right click over the path and click on Make Selection.
06 Finish cut out
Enter a value of 1 pixel for the Feather Radius and click on OK. Go to Select> Inverse and then Edit> Cut to remove the rest of the background. Press Cmd-D to remove the selection. If the cut out isn’t clean enough then consider tweaking it with a layer mask and then applying it.
07 Floating hair
Create a new layer and call it ‘Hair’. Position it under the ‘Mermaid’ layer. Select the Brush tool (B), click on the down arrow for the brush type and then on the brush catalogue icon. Select the gorjussHAIRpack01. Select the first brush. Open the Brush parameters dialogue box. Set the size to around 140px to start.
08 Adding bits and pieces
The process to follow is to click once to add some curling hair. Vary the size and the angle of the brush. Also, tick Flip Y for some of the hair to make it move in the opposite direction. The aim is to get it to float off the head. Where the hair changes colour, click on the ‘Mermaid’ layer and hold down the Alt key to sample a new colour. Remember to click back on ‘Hair’.
09 Big Curls
Use each of the brushes in turn – there are four – to add curls without it getting too repetitive. Make them longer at the back than at the top. When finished, select the ‘Mermaid’ layer and Merge Down to merge it into the ‘Hair’. Rename this layer back to ‘Mermaid’.
10 Wave it around
Select the Polygonal Lasso tool and mark around the hair, close to the scalp and then wide around the curls. Feather this by 100px. Then go to Filter> Distort> Wave. Set the Wavelength to Minimum: 20 and Maximum: 250. Go to Filter> Blur> Motion Blur. Set the angle to 0deg and Distance to 20px.
11 Something fishy
Create a new layer called ‘Scales’ and position it above the ‘Mermaid’. Load in the fish photo from earlier and select as much scaled area as you can. Copy this, switch back, click on the ‘Scales’ layer and press Cmd-V. Use the resize tools to cover most of the back. Set the Blend mode to Soft Light.
12 Mask it in
Add a layer mask to the ‘Scales’ layer. Select 100% black and a normal brush and paint on the mask to blend the scaled area into the back of the mermaid. Right click on the Mask and select Apply Layer Mask. Add a second part of the scales to the neck and repeat the process. Apply the Mask then Merge down into the Scales layer.
13 Into the sea
Go to Image> Adjustments> Color Balance and set Color Levels to -100, +42, +54 to reduce the red tone. Click on the ‘Colour toning’ layer and make it active. Set the Blend mode to Overlay. Duplicate this layer and call it ‘Water’. Set the Blend mode to Normal and reduce the Opacity to around 50%.
14 Add some extras
Okay so now’s the time to add some extra elements. At this point Merge the ‘Scales’ into the ‘Mermaid’. Add the shipwreck image as a layer under the ‘Mermaid’. Use Color Balance to match the colour to the background. Apply a 2px Gaussian Blur to lose some detail and reduce the layer Opacity to 80%.
15 Final touches
Merge the shipwreck layer down into the ‘Working background’. Select the Brush tool and load the Brushes_BUBBLE_1 set you download earlier. Use three different brushes sizes, with the smaller bubbles at the bottom. Sample a light blue colour from the water. Paint one set on the ‘Water’ layer and another on the ‘Working background’.
Extra Tip: Make it organic
So that’s the actual composition side done. The final stage is to give the image an organic or creative feel. Now, if you have any filter packs, this is where to use them. The Topaz Labs Simplify 4 filter will produce an excellent result here. This used the Ghostly simply option to reduce the detail. A Curves adjustment layer controlled the brightness. An option for staying with Photoshop is to use the Palette Knife with Stroke Size: 25, Detail: 2 or 3 and Softness: 5. Then add a gradient fill to darken the corners and a Curves adjustment to add some contrast. One of the other options is to use the Paint Daubs or Underpainting filters and then use the new CS6 Oil Painting filter to add an impasto texture to the top of the image.