Create Beautiful Works of Digital Art
I’m going to level with you here. There are probably hundreds of ways to make abstract art in Photoshop; and each way will produce a completely different look. Even using the same technique each time can produce a different look. That’s the beauty of digital art.
Rather than tell you every single specific way to create abstract art in Photoshop, I’m instead going to walk you through some of the ways I use to create. The five tools and techniques I use most often to create abstract art in Photoshop are the Clouds and Fibers filters, and the Depth Maps, Warp, and Liquify tools. Here’s a bit about how to use each of those to easily create abstract, digital art.
Note: I’m using a canvas size of 1600 x 1080 at 72 dpi, RGB if you want to follow along.
Using Clouds & Difference Clouds
How To Create Clouds
There are a lot of things you can create from the clouds tools. They give you a quick, one step way to generate some texture on an otherwise blank canvas.
To use, just go to Filter > Render > Clouds or Difference Clouds
This creates a cloud like texture on your canvas that is based on the foreground and background colours you have selected. Using Clouds will give you a texture using the exact colours you have selected, while Difference Clouds will give you the inverted colours.
For example, the below example is using Clouds with a foreground colour of #00eaff and a background colour of #ff0072
This one is using Difference Clouds with the same foreground colour of #00eaff and same background colour of #ff0072. You can see how the colours invert.
From here, you can play around with the colours until you find the perfect combination. Also, note that the actual texture of the clouds is random each time you generate it. This means that if you’re not happy with the look, just do it again.
This is a very simplistic way of creating abstract art in Photoshop, but it’s really just a starting point. Now that you’ve created a unique texture you can manipulate it however you like. Change the colours, play with the contrast, or pile layers of clouds on top of each other using blend modes. If that makes no sense, let me explain.
Using the image I created with Clouds (The blue and magenta one), I’m going to create a new layer by hitting the New Layer icon on the Layers panel, or by going Layer > New Layer, then hitting OK. Now that I have a new layer created, above my other Clouds created image, I’m going to go Filter > Render > Clouds once again, using the same foreground and background colours as before.
Now that I have two layers of blue and magenta clouds, I’m going to click the top layer and add the blend effect Hard Mix in the drop down menu. This is what I get:
At this point, you can see some really solid forms with hard edges. You can keep going with this look, or if you prefer one of the other blend modes, experiment with them instead. To continue we can make subtle adjustments to the colours and brightness in the above image to change the entire look.
With the top layer selected, go to Image > Adjustments > Hue/Saturation
Adjust the sliders until you’re happy with your image. Or, to follow along with mine, bring the Hue down to -50, the Saturation to -20, and Lightness to +1 (Or just ignore Lightness since that +1 isn’t doing much).
Suddenly, just by making those minor adjustments, we have a really cool piece of abstract art. From there you can keep experimenting with more cloud layers, blend effects, and adjustments.
How To Create Fibers
Using the Fibers tool/filter is another great way to generate texture from a blank canvas. It works the same way as the Clouds tool where it generates a specific texture based on your foreground and background colours.
To use fibers, go Filter > Render > Fibers
You can then adjust the Variance and Strength settings based on the look you’re after. I just went with the default.
For example, the below example is using Fibers with a foreground colour of #00ffcc and a background colour of #2f044a
The image that’s created is a highly textured pattern of vertical lines that looks similar to either close up hair or fur.
How To Take it Further
From here you have lots of options depending on what kind of abstract image you’re going for. For instance, you can add a third colour to part of the image using the gradient tool.
Create a new layer by hitting the New Layer icon on the Layers panel, or by going Layer > New Layer, then hitting OK. Next, I’m going to change the foreground colour to #e20180. Then using the Gradient Tool (Press G or find it in the toolbar) I’m going to draw a gradient that blends to transparent from the top left corner diagonally down to the bottom right. Here’s what that looks like.
Next I’ll do what I did with the clouds image and play with the blend layer effects. On the layers panel, set the magenta gradient layer to Exclusion from the drop down menu to get a cool effect that looks something like this.
From here you can continue adding additional colours, text, or you can just call it a day. However, this is a really good jumping off point for the next way to make abstract art on this list, which is using one of the 3D tools.
Using A Depth Map
How To Create A Depth Map
Using the 3D tools in Photoshop is a lot of fun and I’ve done many videos and tutorials on them. One tool in particular is really great to for creating abstract art; the depth map to plane tool. However, unlike the two previous effects, for this one you need to first have an image ready to go. The depth map to plane effect only manipulates an existing image rather than creating a new one from a foreground and background colour. For that reason, we’re going to use our Fibers image from above as the starting point.
The first thing you’ll need to do is flatten your layers from the Fibers effect. To do this, you can select all your layers together by holding Shift, then right-clicking and hitting Merge Layers. Now you should have a single layer in your Photoshop layers panel. We’ll use the Depth Map effect on this layer only.
To create a Depth Map, go to 3D > New Mesh from Layer > Depth Map to > Plane
This particular 3D tool works really well in this case because there’s so much texture in the Fibers image. In fact, you get a pretty intricate looking 3D image right away.
To get an effect that will actually render without overheating your computer, open the Properties panel and the 3D panel from the Windows menu. In the Properties panel, hit Unlit Texture in the drop down menu at the top. Then, click Current View on the 3D panel and bring the FOV up to a number that lets your image take up the whole screen. I’m using 80.
At this point you can see how interesting this 3D tool is. You can adjust the angle of the 3D shape to until your happy with how it looks. To adjust the angle, click on Scene in the 3D panel and click on the image to move it around. Remember to adjust the FOV if needed as you adjust the angle of your 3D form.
When you’re happy with how your image looks, right-click on it’s layer in the Layers panel and hit Render 3D Layer, then wait for it to render. Next, right-click that same layer and hit Rasterize to completely flatten your 3D image. If you’re happy with your image, then great. But if your image looks like mine then you might want to make some adjustments.
Making Adjustments To Your Image
In my image, I want to increase the texture and contrast. To do this, I’ll use the Camera Raw Filter via Filter > Camera Raw Filter. Here I’m going to adjust the Temperature, Contrast, Texture, Clarity, and Vibrance. Then hit OK. The end result is pretty cool looking.
You can use the Depth Map to Plane effect on any image; one you’ve created yourself or even a photo. It simply extrudes all details from the image into a 3D space and makes a really cool abstract effect when it does so.
How To Warp
Another really fun way to making abstract art in Photoshop is to use the Warp tool.
The warp tool is found in Edit > Transform > Warp
The warp tool distorts existing imagery in any way you manipulate it. You can start with an existing image, like we did above, or create something brand new. Since we used an existing image last time, I think we’ll create something new here using simple techniques.
To begin, I’m going to create a new layer with a dark coloured background. I’m using #0c0422 assigned to my foreground colour and filling in my canvas by going Edit > Fill then selecting the foreground colour.
Next, let’s use the Elliptical Marquee tool in the main toolbar to create a circular selection in the middle of the canvas. Press Shift while drawing the circle to make it perfect.
Create a new layer above the background colour by going to the New Layer icon on the Layers panel, or by going Layer > New Layer, then hitting OK.
Here we’re simply going to use a large brush (Mine is 350 px)with a 0% Hardness to draw in some colour into the circle. I’m using the colours #00ffcc, #ffea00, and #ad00fe to colour inside the circle. You can add as much colour as you like.
Next we’re going to use the Warp tool to completely distort our colourful circle. So with the circle layer selected, go to Edit > Transform > Warp
Now there are some options on how you can warp the shape. You can warp any area of the shape either by clicking and dragging on the shape itself or the blue points around the bounding box. Manipulate the shape however you like, stretching, folding, etc.
Once you’re happy with your shape you can leave it as the interesting piece of digital art it is, or duplicate the shape to fill a larger area. That’s what I’m going to do next.
What To Do With The Warped Image
Since we have a pretty fantastic warped image already, why not duplicate it? Click on the layer you want to duplicate in the Layers panel, then press Ctrl J or right-click on the layer and hit Duplicate Layer, then hit OK.
Duplicate the shape as many times as you like, placing it all around the canvas. You can rotate some of the shapes (Ctrl T to transform, then Rotate from the corner) so they don’t all look identical, or even add more Warp to some of the shapes.
With each new shape you duplicate, try giving it a blend mode (As we’ve done previously) that works well with the look you’re trying to achieve. For example, in this image I’ve duplicated the initial shape twice and the two new shapes each have a blend mode of Linear Dodge.
I’m going to duplicate the shape three more times and place the new shapes around the canvas, rotating some of them. When all the shapes are placed, the last thing I want to do is add some noise to each one of my warped shapes.
Add noise to a layer by going Filter > Noise > Add Noise… then decide how much noise you want to add with the slider. I’m going with 11.55%
For each shape on your canvas, click its layer then go Filter > Add Noise to add the same amount of noise that you previously applied. Do this will all your shapes.
When you’re done you might have something that looks like this. You can decide to add noise to the background or not; I didn’t. You can continue to move the shapes around until you’re happy, but remember that once you’ve applied Noise, if you Warp any shape, the noise will warp as well. So try to have your shapes finalized before adding noise.
How To Use Liquify
Liquify is one of the coolest tools in Photoshop. It’s a really powerful tool for photo editing, but also for creating abstract art. Liquify is another tool that needs to work on an already existing image so we’re going to make one.
To use Liquefy, go Filter > Liquify… to open the liquify options.
First, we’re going to do something similar to what we did above, but simpler. Create a new layer and hide any other layers you have, or use the purple background from the previous image. I’m using a simple white background that I made by clicking on the new layer, then going Edit > Fill then selecting White under contents.
Using your brush tools, with a soft brush (0% Hardness), draw in some colour on the page. Really anywhere you like. You can use the colours we used above to make it easy. Those colours are: #00ffcc, #ffea00, #ad00fe, and 0c0422. This is what I’ve created:
The next thing I’m going to do is optional. I want the edges of each colour to be a little softer so I’m going to blur the whole image by going Filter > Blur > Gaussian Blur and bring to radius to 50. Now we’re ready to liquify.
With your image layer selected, go to Filter > Liquify. Now things get interesting. The Liquify tools let you manipulate the pixels in an image in a few different ways.
The different Liquify tools you can use are on the left of the Liquify window. There’s the Forward Warp tool, the Smooth tool, Twirl, Pucker, Bloat, and a few more. On the right are the settings for each tool. If you’re unfamiliar with the Liquify tools all the options here can be pretty overwhelming. So let’s just keep things simple for now.
I’m going to only use the Forward Warp tool which is found at the top left of the Liquify window. I’m using a brush size of 200 and default everything else. Now comes the fun part. Just mess around with the image. Click and drag that forward warp tool all over the image to make things liquid.
After playing with the Liquify tool for awhile, you’ll notice how your image has a very liquid-like effect. Mine looks like glistening oil, but I like it. Here’s what I made, moving the forward warp tool in every which direction, moving fast and slow, making large gestures and small.
And that’s pretty much it. You can go back and add more Liquify whenever you want, change colours, or take the whole image and make it a depth map like we did before. That might actually look pretty intense… but I’ll let you do that one for yourself.
Creating Abstract Art in Photoshop – In Summary
I really hope you enjoyed learning about the various ways you can create abstract art in Photoshop. I use these techniques and tools on a regular basis for creating abstract art; often using two or three at a time.
Is there another great way to make abstract art in Photoshop you know of? Let me know in the comments below!