In this tutorial, I will teach you how to create the crumbling beauty image below from scratch. More importantly, you will learn the method of how this effect was produced, which can be used over and over again to achieve other creative results as far as your creative mind could go. However, I will not cover every tiny little detail from start to finish. I believe it’s more important to focus on the method as they will allow you to expand your means and utilize them for many other purposes. I can teach you everything every single step of the way, but that will leave no room for imagination – which is what this entire ordeal is about. Use your creative mind and you will see the world differently, yes? With that said, let’s begin.
What you will need:
- Picture of the beautiful woman. Download it here. (You can download it for free for a 7-day trial upon signup. However, if you don’t want to create an account, you can still follow this tutorial, learn the principle and apply it to your own image)
- These custom photoshop brushes
- Concrete texture – download here
- Nebula photo – download here
- Any CS version of Adobe Photoshop
Difficulty: Easy-intermediate – Basic knowledge of Photoshop is assumed.
Setting Up the Background
The first thing we want to do is setup the background. It is more of establishing the mood really than setting up the background. In this phase, I usually don’t have anything concrete yet. I just know I want a glamour-ish piece so I just go about trying things that I like, looking for a direction that I want to follow. In this early phase, don’t be too hard on establishing the background or mood right away. You’ll find that as you go along, you’ll sometimes want to go back and reshape the elements – both background and foreground – to make the overall piece look and flow better.
Open the picture of the woman and with the use of the crop tool, expand your canvas like in the image below. The crop tool in Photoshop isn’t just limited to cutting, it can also be used to expand your canvas. So grab the corner anchor and drag it outwards to expand your canvas. Basically what we want to achieve here is just make more room around the subject so we could have more freedom with the background. Keep the woman somewhat in the middle and some even space around her like so:
Before actually getting started with the background, let’s get one arduous task out of the way first so we could focus on designing the background better: extracting the image of the woman. We’d want to do this first so we could overlay the image of the woman over our background and see if we’re doing a good job with the background; this would not work if the woman photo still has a background of it’s own. That’s why we’re taking that one out first.
There are many ways to extract an image from its background. The internet is filled with tutorials and plugins on this subject alone. Whatever method is convenient to you, make sure you do a nice, clean extraction of our subject. For this project, I used the pen tool for the entire outline of her body and used a layer mask to clean off the more delicate parts such as the hair. The hair is probably the only challenging part of the extraction process. In the image below, you’ll see the layer mask where I hid the part of the hair we don’t want. Don’t worry if this area isn’t perfect, it wouldn’t matter much in the bigger picture. Look at how I masked off the hair when zoomed in – at first it looks completely untidy, but when you zoom out and look at it full-length (left photo), you’ll see it’s not even noticeable. So don’t be too meticulous on this one small area and move on.
At this point, it would be smart to label the layer so we could quickly reference back to it when layers start to pile up. Double click on the name of the layer and change its name to however you please. For the purpose of this tutorial, this layer will be referred to as the ‘Subject’ layer.
Now to the background.
Create a fill layer by clicking on the small round icon located at the bottom of the layers palette and hit ‘Solid Color…’ Paste in this hex value to obtain the color that we want: #7b7f82. This would give it a bluish grey color. Drag this Solid Color Fill layer and move it below our Subject Layer so our subject is now against this color.
Next, open up the Concrete Texture image in Photoshop and rotate it 90 degrees clockwise for a portrait orientation. Before placing it on top of our file, clean up the dirty marks on our texture. You can do this instantaneously with the Patch Tool . (You may have to cycle around the Healing Brush tool to reveal this tool. Hit Shift + J to cycle around underlying Healing tools) Also, go ahead and crop out the ugly edge on the left.
When you’re done cleaning the texture, place it on our canvas and put in on top of the Color FIll Layer. Free transform it (Ctrl+T/Cmd+T) and match it up against the edges. We will want to cover the entire canvas with a texture. Bring the opacity down to 50%, and rename it to ‘Concrete Texture’.
Next, create a new layer on top of our Concrete Texture layer and label it as ‘Ellipse’. This would be the ellipse shape of the background where our nebula photo would be contained.
Then grab the Elliptical Marquee Tool (Shift+M if to cycle around marquee tools) and create an ellipse behind our lady. Fill it with black and lower the opacity to 32%.
Next, open up your nebula photo and place it on top of the Ellipse layer. Label this layer as ‘Nebula’. Now what you would want to do with this Nebula layer is have it clipped on the Ellipse layer below it. What this means is the Nebula layer will only show on the perimeters of the layer it is clipped to. So go ahead and right click on the Nebula layer and hit ‘Create Clipping Mask’. The Nebula should now be masked off to the shape of our Ellipse layer and should appear at an opacity similar to the said layer. Also, our Nebula layer should now have an arrow pointing below to indicate it is clipped to the layer below it.
We will be adding a few more adjustments to our elliptical nebula to achieve our desired mood. Hold the Alt/Opt button and click on the Adjustments Layer button at the bottom of your layers palette and pick ‘Hue/Saturation…’. The layers property window will pop out and you will have options to name the layer, edit its opacity etc. What we want to do is tick ‘Use Previous Layer to Create Clipping Mask.’ Basically what this does is the adjustment layer will automatically be clipped to the layer below it. Repeat this and create two more adjustment layers: Levels and Curves. Input the values as indicated below.
Next, we will be creating our light streaks in the background. Creating them is very simple. On a fresh layer, take your Rectangular Marquee Tool and create a rectangular selection. Then, select a white color and create a vertical, foreground-to-transparent gradient inside your rectangular marquee. Duplicate this and position it slightly below your first light streak. Merge this two light streaks together and angle it at around 45 degrees. Label it as ‘Light Streaks’ and duplicate two times. Arrange them behind our subject as seen in the updated image below. Also, you could lower their opacity a bit so they’re not too strong, say around 50-75%.
Too add a final touch to our background, lets create a good ‘ol vignette. Create a new layer and put it on top of our Subject layer. We would want the vignette to cover our subject photo as well. While you’re at it, rename this layer as, you guessed it, ‘Vignette’. To create the vignette, Ctrl/Cmd click ON THE THUMBNAIL of our Ellipse layer (where the Nebula layer is clipped to) to grab the ellipse marquee selection. (You should perform this while on the Vignette layer) Inverse the selection (Ctrl/Cmd+Shift+I) and fill it with black. Then, go to Filter>Blur>Gaussian Blur and adjust the slider until you achieve a nice soft blur. Expand the vignette as you see fit. Your image and layers palette should now look similar to the image below.
Editing Our Subject
Now that we’ve established our background, it’s time to work on our foreground – the woman. Before we apply the crumbling effects on her, let’s work on some color tweaks first to further enhance the mood and make it blend well with our background. To achieve this, we’re simply going to clip a couple of adjustment layers on her. Go ahead and add in the following adjustment layers according to this order and configuration:
After applying all those adjustment layers, you should now have a result looking similar to the image above. As you can see, it’s starting to shape up and take on its look. At this point, it’d also be smart to start grouping our layers as they’re beginning to pile up. So select all the layers from our subject upwards and hit Cmd/Ctrl + G to group them. Everything below would be grouped as Background, as so:
Creating the Crumbling Effects
Now we’ve arrived at the part where we can have a lot of fun and get creative – the crumbling effects! This is the part where it will start to look different for each one’s work, unless of course you deliberately copy everything in this tutorial, which is fine but not encouraged as this provides the least learning experience. So be creative, and try to explore. In this part of the design, always remember to just have fun and not get too stressed about your work. It’s easy to get frustrated when you don’t get it right away, but that’s part of the learning process. Designing this part took me a couple of hours and revisions before I got the design right. So when it starts to get frustrating, take a break and do something else. You will regain enough creative juice for when you’ll be back at it.
The nice thing about creating these crumbling effects is that they’re fairly easy to do. Once you get the hang of it, it becomes very easy to focus on doing creative work.
Creating this crumbling effect is just a repetitive process of adding-something-to, and taking-away-from. To demonstrate this, create a new layer on top of our grouped Subject layer (label this layer as “Base”), and grab your Polygonal Lasso Tool (You may need to press Shift+L a couple of times to cycle through the different marquee tools). With the Polygonal Lasso Tool selected, start creating a random, blocky, chunk over our subject’s skin. This will be the “hole” in her body. With the selection in place, grab the Eyedropper Tool (Keyboard shortcut: ‘I’) and sample a dark color from our subject, preferably from the shadow formed by her arms over her rib cage, and fill the selection with that color. Voila, you’ve just created a void in her body. Easy, right?
You’ve just performed the “adding-something-to” part of the process. To complete the effect, let’s execute the second step which is “taking-away-from.” Basically what you will do here is delete parts of what you just created, thus “taking-away-from.” This will restore some of the skin that we just covered with our void and create some cool effects. So while still on our Base layer, grab the Polygonal Lasso tool and again create more blocky shape selections over our void. You will use these selections to delete parts of the void and restore some of her skin. Think of these as areas of her body which still hasn’t crumbled off. Once you’re got some nice blocky shape selections, hit delete.
Now the effect is starting to shape up. But we’re still not quite there, aren’t we? Continue playing with the process of adding in patches of color fill, and then taking away some until you arrive at a cool effect you’re happy with. When adding in and taking away voids, try to follow the contour of her body to make it blend well. Feel free to add in some minute details as this would significantly enhance the effect. The following images below show the results of doing additional work.
To further enhance this effect, we’ll be taking away from the image of the woman herself, particularly from her hips. This would give it a nice illusion of depth and give an idea that the crumbling decay is creeping all the way to her back. Here’s a preview of how that looks:
On the image above, the left side of the hips is completely eroded. While on the right side, there’s a small piece that has likewise chipped off. Applying this effect follows the same principle of taking-away-from. Instead of taking away from the dark patches of color that we created, we will take away from the image of the subject itself. To do this, select our grouped layer which we named Subject, and add in a layer mask (Layer>Layer Mask>Reveal All). So now we have a layer mask on a grouped layer. What this will do is it will mask off all the layers that are within that group. What we will do here is we are going to “delete” parts of her through a layer mask as we don’t want to actually delete from the photo itself. This is destructive and cannot be undone.
So click on the layer mask so that it is selected, and again grab your Polygonal Lasso Tool and start creating shapes which you would be removing from the subject image. Once you’re ready with your selections, fill it with black color. When you’re unhappy with it, simply bring it back by filling it with white color. Always remember when working with layer masks: black conceals, white reveals. Now the effect should really start to look nice.
To complete the effect here, we will start adding in textures. This is where our custom brush will come into play. But first, create a new layer on top of our “Base” layer, and clip it on the said layer. Label this new layer as ‘Texture.’ Then take your custom brush and load it into Photoshop (there are plenty of tutorials online on how to install custom brushes into Photoshop) and select the Square Rough brush. Now if you have a pen tablet, the following steps would come easily to you, however to maintain the wholesomeness of this tutorial, we will approach the next steps with the use of a mouse. So with your Square Rough brush selected and your Texture layer clipped to the Base layer, we can now start painting.
To imitate the behavior of a pen tablet, let’s configure our brush to the following settings: Opacity: 60%, Flow: 60% (If you already have a pen tablet, ignore this configuration as it is intended for mouse users). Also, set the brush to a moderate size – not too small, not too big. With your Square Rough brush ready, start by sampling light colors from our artwork and just dab on the void in our subject’s body. When I say dab, just point and click with the mouse repeatedly, not click and drag. Sample colors from other values every now and then and just dab over the colors until you achieve a nice rough texture. Dab dark colors on areas where you want it to appear deep, and light colors where you want it to look shallow. You may change your Opacity-Flow settings on your brush as you see fit once you’ve gotten the hang of it. Also, because we’ve clipped our Texture layer on our Base layer, you will see our painted textures only appear within the confines of our void. Neat trick, eh?
Now that you’ve learned how to achieve this effect, you can now replicate the effect anywhere on her body. To recap, those steps are: adding in the void with the use of a dark color, taking away from either the void or the woman, and texturizing the void to achieve a rough, concrete-like result. In the following image, you’ll see this technique being replicated all over her body producing a really cool effect.
Before proceeding to the last element of our piece, let’s first group our Base and Texture layers first and call this grouped layer “Crumble.” Your layer palette should now be arranged as so:
Now, let’s move on to the final part of our piece: the falling debris. These will be our tiny details that will give our piece some level of dynamism and flair. Painting this in is also easy. We will simply repeat what we did with texturizing our void. So again, create a new layer and name this as ‘Base-Debris.’ Grab your Polygonal Lasso tool and start creating little selections in the shape of rocks. When your done, sample a dark, earthy color from our artwork using the Eyedropper tool and fill the selections with this color. Similar to what we did with our crumble effects, the next step would be creating a new layer and clipping it on our Base-Debris layer and naming this ‘Texture-Debris.’ As you guessed, we’ll take our Square Rough brush and start dabbing textures on our little rocks, this time minding shadows and highlights a bit more – highlights on the top, and shadows at the bottom. There’s no need to be extra meticulous when doing this, as these are just little elements that wouldn’t be clearly seen when viewed at full-length. In the following images, you’d see painting in the debris didn’t require much skill and is very simple-looking.
When adding in the debris, make sure to vary the shapes and sizes, and place them as randomly as you can. Also be sure to take note of gravity and add the debris 90 degrees below where you imagine they would have fallen off. Otherwise it would seem they’ve been flung by some unseen force which would only be confusing for this piece.
To finish off, let’s group our layers once more and call it ‘Debris.’
And that concludes our tutorial on how to create the crumbling effect and artistically implementing it on a subject to achieve a nice looking artwork. I hope you learned something from this tutorial. If you did, a share or a like would be very much appreciated. If there’s anything in the tutorial that was confusing to you or need some help on, feel free to leave your questions in the comment section below and I’ll be sure to attempt to clarify it for you.
Here’s our final piece again, and thanks for reading. Happy learning!