Thursday, November 3, 2011

Multi-layered Digital Collage (with recipe)

The challenge for Photo Art Friday this week is to do something we've been wanting to do to expand our artistic photo-art repertoire.  I've been wanting to attempt this form of digital collage that involves many layers and layer masks.

What I am showcasing for Photo Art Friday is a third attempt at making such a multi-layered composite.  I was not that thrilled with the first two attempts - one of which (the better one) you see immediately below - with a screen shot of the layers panel.  :) 

My third attempt and Photo Art Friday Submission

You may recognize some of the images in the above digital collage.  They are a few of the photo-art images created and displayed on my blogs during the past year. 
I will try to reconstruct my process for you:

1.   gathered images I wanted to showcase in this composite, into a file

2.  opened a few of the images from that file  that would make an interesting marriage, in PSE

3.  randomly placed images on a texture (2700px X 2700px) used as the background of the piece

4.   resized the images and placed them so that all the images covered the texture background and so that they overlapped each other ... placed more images on top of those

5.  each image was placed on a separate layer, as you can see in the screen shot below - this allows you to add a layer mask for each image used

6.  applied a photo mask to almost every layer with goal of exposing some of the images hidden in other layers beneath

7.  using a soft, black brush (opacity at 33%) gently removed parts of the various images (you can see the areas where I removed parts of images on the white layer masks in the layers panel)

8.  if I liked what emerged, I left it - if not, switched the brush to white to put back what had been removed

9.  it took time and patience moving among all the layers to find the balance between revealing and masking parts of the images, to produce a balanced whole.  (Looking at it now I see edges of images that I left exposed.  I will go back to the PSD version and make some changes to eliminate those straight edges).

10.  once satisfied with the composition, a texture was applied on top of the completed collage to help blend the various parts together.   The texture and collage were blended with Soft Light at 60% Opacity. You can see the pale blue 'art-easy' texture used - second from the top layer in the layers palette.  (The texture was pulled up to the top of the stack of layers after taking this screen shot.)

As you can see this is a rather imprecise, intuitive, hit-and-miss process.  I intuitively placed my images at different locations on my base texture - overlapping here and there.  I had only the most general idea of what I hoped to produce.  Some of the 'unmasking' worked - like the happy accident of exposing the green lips - while some manipulations did not produce a pleasing effect.  But there lies the joy of using layer masks, as you can put back some of what you removed until you get the effect you want. 

If you do not have access to a layer mask tool, you can use your erasure tool and your 'undo' button (when you don't like the effect), but that becomes a bit of an either/or process not allowing you to work with the variations and nuances as a layer mask allows.

If you have any questions about my process, I will do my best to answer them.  However, as you see, I am still finding my way.  If you have any ideas about how to achieve this effect, please share them here!  Am hoping to produce more of these abstract, multi-layered collages in the future.


  1. Both pieces are beautiful, Bonnie. The aesthetics are truly lovely. And, such rich color palettes. Masks are so much better than erasing because it is easier to emulate and/or reproduce. I did a composite of my "China trip" and started over when I learned Layers and Masking... Couldn't reproduce with the eraser! LOL -- Wonderful opportunities and growing experiences. Thank you for hosting. kareninkenai

  2. Bonnie, these are gorgeous. I just love your end result and thanks for showing us what you did to get there. Lots of very involved work here.

  3. I love your work. It does look quite involved but the results certainly are worth it.
    Thank you so much for the tutorial.

  4. Bonnie - this is stunning! I love the colors and the composition. It flows beautifully. And here I was so happy with my little photo with two images layered. I definitely need to push myself further! Thanks for the inspiration and for showing how you got there! Cheers.

  5. The final result is wonderful. I am only just learning how to work with layers and masks and find your instructions very helpful - thank you

  6. This is amazing! Thank you so much for showing your process...I would love to try this myself eventually. Both your blog and your generosity are so greatly appreciated.

  7. I would have no idea where to begin to achieve such an amazing composition. The result is stunning and inspirational. Thank you for sharing your work and for the information on how you created it.

  8. Wow, this is amazing Art, Bonnie. I work with GIMP instead with Photoshop, but I like to try your recipe next time. Thank you very much for sharing !
    Have a nice weekend, Bonnie.

  9. Bonnie,
    One doesn't realize how difficult this is and how successful you were with these, until you try it for yourself.
    Getting rid of the straight lines seems the hardes. And of course selecting components that will blend, both in content and style.
    A fascinating endeavour.
    Thank you for making us try things.


All comments are eagerly read and greatly appreciated.

While I do appreciate the honor, I do not accept awards or participate in assigned memes. Thanks for understanding. :)