Creating A Photo Illustration Effect With Watercolor Brushes: Part 1

I’ve had a lot of requests for a tutorial on how I created this image of a French Castle that looks like it’s an illustration.

Chateau de Chinon as a photo illustration by Leslie Nicole

A Tutorial In Four Parts

While this technique is pretty simple, I wanted to cover a lot of the different options involved which would make for a very long, complicated tutorial. (Which is why I’ve been procrastinating on it!) I’ve decided to break it down into manageable sections, so I’ll be doing this tutorial in four parts.

  1. The Overview: (This post) An introduction, overview and a road map for the tutorial break down.
  2. Preparing the Color Image: In the next post, I’ll cover ways you can prepare your color image such as using filters.
  3. Creating a Line Illustration Effect: In this post, I’ll cover several different ways to create a black and white line drawing of your color image.
  4. Putting it all together: In the final post, I’ll show you the details of how it all works together, including using watercolor brushes in the layer mask.

An Overview

This technique is very popular in digital scrapbooking.

The Elements

The Color Photograph

Travel images seem to be well suited for this process. This is a photograph I took of the Château de Chinon in France (my husband’s birth place!) I’ll cover the processing information in the next post.

Chateau de Chinon by Leslie Nicole

The Line Illustration

From the color image, we create a line drawing effect. I’ll show you the various ways to create this effect in Part III.

Line Drawing Effect Chateau de Chinon

A Texture Background

The background would be either the scrapbook page or in my case, a texture. A background that is plain and light is probably the best bet. This texture is Serene, lightened and desaturated from the French Kiss Les Textures 3 Collection

French Kiss Collections Texture Background

 The Layers

Here’s a simplified version of my Layer Panel in Photoshop. (I’ve taken out minor tweaks specific to my image to show the essence of the technique.)

From the Top Layer Down:

  1. The original color image is set to a Normal Blend Mode at 80% Opacity. I used Photoshop watercolor brushes (spot and spatter) on a layer panel filled with black to reveal some of the color photo.
  2. The line drawing version is set to multiply at 100% opacity. Again, I used Photoshop watercolor brushes on the layer mask. In this layer mask, I extended how much of the layer is revealed beyond how much the color is revealed so you get the look that the color is added onto the drawing.
  3. The texture background.

Photoshop Layer Panel showing illustration technique

That’s a quick overview of the steps we’ll be covering in the tutorial.

  1. Part 1: An overview of what will be covered. (This post)
  2. Part 2: Preparing the Color Photograph.
  3. Part 3: Creating the Black and White Line Illustration.
  4. part 4: Putting it all together and using the watercolor brushes.


You can find Photoshop Watercolor Brushes and Textures on French Kiss Collections.

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14 Responses to Creating A Photo Illustration Effect With Watercolor Brushes: Part 1

  1. karen September 5, 2014 at 6:51 pm #

    Where is the actual tutorial………?

    • Leslie Nicole September 6, 2014 at 7:45 pm #

      Karen, it’s in 4 parts. This first part is an overview of what I’ll cover.

  2. Lorelei September 5, 2014 at 8:57 pm #

    Dear Leslie,
    So pleased that you’re divulging your wonderful secrets of how to make an image like yours! I’ve been looking forward to this! Your husband’s birthplace certainly deserves to be a gorgeous painting and you have made one!
    PS Just back from a 2 month trip visiting family on the West Coast. Now back to work full time. Got to shoot past clients and grandkids. Love using your great products to make those images sparkle!

  3. Judith September 6, 2014 at 2:05 am #

    Thanks for the tutorial Leslie. I have never been sure how to use these brushes and I love the effect. i will be looking forward to the other parts of the tutorial and having a go at using them myself.


  4. Liz September 6, 2014 at 5:16 pm #

    This looks really interesting can’t wait for the next part. Thanks.

  5. Leslie Nicole September 6, 2014 at 7:47 pm #

    By the way, someone emailed me asking when the other parts will be posted. I’m hoping to get them all done next week.

  6. Carol September 12, 2014 at 7:34 pm #

    thank you for all of the work that you put into these instructions – they are excellent; and, they are always helpful. As someone with all of the software programs that you are using and comparing, that is also a plus to have the different software available for comparison. Thanks again for your continued inspiration.

  7. Bill September 12, 2014 at 8:01 pm #

    I like buying YOUR creations because you do such an awesome job with tutorials!

  8. C Vandenberg October 20, 2014 at 3:16 pm #

    An awesome and highly useful tutorial – thank you

  9. M Ballard December 17, 2014 at 3:59 am #

    It is now December and I can’t find the rest of this tutorial. Do you have the other 3 parts of it somewhere? I really love the look of the “watercolor” effect you got using your textures and would like to practice on some of my photos.


    • Leslie Nicole December 26, 2014 at 5:57 pm #

      Hi, all the tutorials are there. The links are at the bottom of each post.

  10. Larisa April 18, 2015 at 9:09 am #

    Большое спасибо. Мне очень нравится такая обработка фотографий, где красивые старинные замки и дома.

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