Become a Photoshop Sketch Artist!


Have you ever wanted to become an artist but never had any artistic talent? Are you skilled with a mouse and a computer, but have no business picking up a sketchpad? You are not alone! Having a natural acumen for drawing, painting, sketching, or any arts and craft skill seems harder to come by in a technical world. However, the good news about this is that modern art and graphic design is no longer completely dependent upon artists. Graphic design and illustration software such as Adobe Photoshop and Illustrator, both industry standards, have widened the world of art to unimaginable levels. Whether it is video editing, digital photography, article publication, image editing, and many other types, technology has drastically shaped the contemporary definition of art.

The truth of the matter is you don’t need to be particularly skilled at art these days to know how to use a program like Photoshop. You don’t even really need to be artistically talented either! There are plenty of samples to learn from online, and, in our online, social-network dominated world, you are subject to graphics and media constantly. Take some time to analyze artwork or a digital work and this can be understood. Unfortunately the concepts of modern design is a topic for another post.

However, to open your world, why not prove that anyone can do art today with a step-by-step tutorial? Drawing from inspiration of movies where artists sketch portraits and scenes, you can do very similar work in Photoshop in a fraction of the amount of time a sketch artist could do. The only requirement is to have an internet connection, Adobe Photoshop, and an open mind. If Photoshop is outside of your budget, consider a career at Sequoia, where we reimburse software licenses like the Adobe Creative Cloud suite!

Step 1: Find a Portrait

Go to an image searching website such as Google, or even a stock photography website like Shutterstock (paid) and Unsplash (free). From there, search for portrait photos of whoever you would like to try to sketch. When searching for potential photos, make sure you have a solid grasp on copyright law so that you are not infringing on anybody’s work illegally. The topic of copyright protection is a topic for another post itself, but, in short, so long as the work you do is educational in nature you can probably use it (fair use).

From there, open the image file in Adobe Photoshop.
File > Open > Browse to the image.

I found a picture of Bill Gates, and, by the end of this, he will look like the sketch next to him:

Step 2: Duplicate the Layer

By default, Photoshop will open an image as one “Layer,” in this case that layer is called the Background layer. It holds all the image’s appearances into a singular ‘layer.’ You can think of a layer as a sort of thin film upon a canvas; multiple layers can be stacked on top of or below of another layer. Layers on top of one layer will show “above” layers below. In Photoshop, these layers can have their own filtered, layer, or color effects. These layers can be manipulated in an endless amount of ways. For now, do the following to your Background layer:

Layer > New > Layer via Copy

In your Layer “Window,” you will see that Photoshop has created a copy of the Background layer. The term “window” is used to be a “container” for similar tools or functions. For example, the Layers window (which is displayed be default) holds most of the functionality related to Layers. There are many other windows that can have their visibility in the Photoshop user interfaced toggled such as Color, Character (Typography, Fonts, etc.), Brushes, Adjustments, and more.

Step 3: Make a Black/White Layer

With the duplicate layer being the active, selected layer (the layer on which you are currently working on), do the following:

Image > Adjustments > Desaturate

There are several ways to get a black and white version of a layer in Photoshop—this is just one of those ways. What Photoshop is doing when you apply the Desaturate Adjustment is removing saturation from the pixels on the layer. Think of it like Photoshop is stripping away the color profile of the layer to the minimal black and white shades and tints.

Your layer should have an effect like this now:

Step 4: Duplicate the Layer Created in Step 3

Layer > New > Layer via Copy

You might be wondering why we need to duplicate the layer we just created. As it turns out, we will be needing to have some more layers to work with to create a “stacking” effect of different kinds of filters. In this case, we need a layer below to be purely black and white while we work on new layers above.

Your Layer window will look like this:

Step 5: Invert the Layer Created in Step 4

Image > Adjustments > Invert

This will look very odd at first, but we need to have an inverted layer to work with as well. The Invert Adjustment essentially swaps what white color values with black color values. Your image will have a negative look-and-feel after inverting, sort of like this:

Step 6: Change Blend Mode to Color Dodge

This is a harder blending mode effect to describe, but, basically, it brightens parts of the image with saturation; the more heightened the color intensity, the more “bright” (in this case, white) it appears. The colors white and black are inherently intense, so you will be left with a bright white canvas.

Step 7: Gaussian Blue Filter

Filter > Blur > Gaussian Blur

This filter blur effect gets its name from the Gaussian function. I do not know too much about it, but it is the standard, go-to blur effect for many digital artists. It applies a blurry look to the image with a specified pixel intensity.

The pixel input is totally dependent upon the image. Sometimes an image only needs a radius of 5 pixels to get the job done, but there are also some images that could use a radius of 25 pixels. This is where you can use your best judgement or artistic intuition to get the best result!

This will get you a great black and white sketch effect that would already make some happy, but we want to give it some more sprucing. Here's what mind looked like:

Step 8: Merge Layers to a New Layer

(Holding down Alt) + Layer > Merge Visible OR do this keyboard command (Ctrl/Cmd + Shift + Alt + E)

This is like the earlier used layer command, except we want to merge visible layers into a new layer. You will see why we want to do this in the next steps.

Step 9: Minor Tweaking

Change the Blend Mode to Multiply.

In the same dropdown list where you found the Color Dodge blend mode, select the Multiply option. See the image in Step 6 for reference.

The Multiply blend mode will darken the image a bit; for sketches, this makes the "stroke" lines darker.

Adjust Layer Opacity

These numbers aren’t exact

Changing the opacity is one of the most common ways to get an image to look a little less dark and a bit more faded and lighter. It changes the transparency levels of the pixels on the layer.

Step 10: Duplicate Background layer again

We want the background layer copied since it holds all of the original color data of the image. You will see why we want this in the next steps.

Step 11: Move the Copy made in Step 10 to the Top

To do this, simply drag and drop the copy and move it to the top of the layers.

Step 12: Change Blend Mode to Color

Voila! A colorful, digital sketch that will remind anybody of a hand sketch on a canvas. Basically what we did here was apply some of the colors from the top layer to the layers below. This blend mode is commonly used for colorizing parts of black and white images and photos. In this case, we were colorizing the sketched black and white layers below.

Final Tweaking

You can lower the Opacity and Fill layer options to preferred appearance. The Fill option removes some of the hue and saturation of the colors, so do this sparingly and always see the result (Hint: Learn the shortcut for Undo)! When done, you can Merge all Layers together. From there, you can do File > Save As to get an image file of your masterpiece!

Parting Words

The possibilities of what you can make with Photoshop are endless. Whether it’s restoring old photography, colorizing vintage snapshots, or creating vivid landscapes, Photoshop is the tool that the professionals use the most. It is a core part of any modern artist’s toolkit. So, the next time you see any corporate graphics or an interesting desktop background, you now know the tool that created them!