Design a conceptual symmetrical composition in Photoshop

Design a conceptual symmetrical composition in Photoshop

In this tutorial the talented graphic designer Edmar Cisneros will explain an easy way to realize a marvelous conceptual composition in Photoshop, using skulls, flowers and barbed wire. You’ll learn some useful techniques to make your works simmetrical and work on small details, with a color balanced and unique end result.


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conceptual symmetrical composition in Photoshop


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Support resources:

  1. Deer Skull Stock by grim-stock
  2. Rose by senzo
  3. Skull by freaksmg-stock
  4. Butterfly by Shoofly-stock
  5. Rose 2 from stock.xchng
  6. Plant Tree Leaf Stock Cut Out by Enchantedgal-Stock
  7. rose petals by two-ladies-stocks
  8. Barbed Wire by GreenFroggy489
Step 1

Open a new document in Photoshop. It should be 2400×3700 pxl at 300 dpi.

Hold down the ALT key and double click on the white layer to unlock it. Rename it “Background”.
Double click on the thumbnail of the layer to bring up the layer styles menu and select gradient overlay.
Apply a linear gradient going from a very dark grey (#080505) to a dark red (#3f0a0a):

Create a new layer, rename it “Noise” and fill it with black. Then go to Filter>Noise>Add Noise. Select an amount of 30% and check the monocromatic option.
Set the layer to screen and lower its opacity to 20%. This will give your background a grainy texture. After that your background should look like this:

Step 2

Open the deer skull stock and extract it from the background using the Pen tool (P).
Place it in your document, rename it “Deer skull” and expand it:

Go to Image>Adjustments>Brightness and Contrast and apply the following settings:

Go to Image>Adjustments>Hue/Saturation and reduce saturation to -65 and lightness to -5:

Go to Filter>Sharpen>Smart Sharpen and apply the settings shown in the screenshot to bring up image details:

Add a new layer and rename it “Shadows and Highlights”. Create a “clipping mask”  by pressing ALT and clicking in between this layer and the “Deer skull” layer thumbnails – a small arrow will appear near the transparent layer.
Set the layer blending mode to “Overlay”. Now all what we will do in the upper layer will affect only the area covered by the deer skull.
Grab a large soft round brush (around 400pxl with hardness 0% and opacity 30% ) and gently paint with black where there should be shadows and with white where more lightness is needed.

Step 3

Grab the Rose stock and extract it from the background. Then Apply the following settings:

Resize it and place it under the “deer skull” layer. It should look  like this:

Duplicate the rose and go to Edit>Transform>Flip Horizontal and place the rose on the left side of the skull.
Duplicate again both roses,resize them and place them under the original roses. Arrange the layers so the new 2 roses are placed above the first ones. Here is my result:

Grab the other rose and extract it from the background.
Go to Image>Adjustments>Levels and move the grey arrow to the right:

Resize and move it to the lower area, your composition should now look  like this:
(Tip) You can create a group and place all Roses layers inside of it to keep things in order. To create a group select all the layer in questions from the layer window and press ctrl+G.

Step 4

Select all the roses layers and merge them (CTRL+E). Create a new layer, make a clipping mask to the merged roses and do the same as the final part of the step 2 to create the shadows and highlights.
Create a new layer and rename it “Shadows” place it under the “Deer Skull” layer. Grab a large soft brush around 300px, hardness 0% and opacity 25%. Set your foreground color to black and start brushing on the sides of the skull to create a shadow effect over the roses:

Step 5

Grab the human skull stock and extract it from the background. Resize it and place the layer below all the roses layers  and  the “deer skull”.
Open the adjustment window (Window>Adjustment in Photoshop CS4 or go to layer>New adjustment layer in Photoshop CS3) and select levels and brightness/contrasts with the following settings:

Take a rose from the step 3 and duplicate it.  Rotate it to a straight position and resize it (ctrl+T) so it’s a bit smaller.
Place it over the “Human Skull” layer.
Grab the rose petals stock and extract one of the petals.
Make lower its brightness to match the tone of the roses. Rotate and place it below them. We want to fill the part of the rose that the “Human Skull” is blocking and create  perspective so it seems that it’s resting on the skull.
Duplicate the petal, flip it horizontaly and place it on the other side of the rose. After that you should obtain something like this:

Create a new layer under the rose we just created and rename it “Shadow”. Do the same thing we did in step 4 to create a shadow effect over the skull.

Step 6

Create a New group under the Roses Group and title it “Leaves”. Grab the leaf stock and extraxt it from its background.
Decrease brightness and increase contrast (image>Adjustments>Brightness/Contrast) and place it inside the “leaves” group:

Now we are going to Duplicate and transform this layer many times to fit our composition:

Merge ,duplicate and flip them to create a symmetrical composition:

(TIP) Remember to work out the shadows and highlights clip masks – just as the final part of step 2 – to match the lightnings of our environment.

Do the same on the top of the “human skull” to give more details to our image. (This leaves should be placed under the Fill we did for the lower Rose and over the “Human Skull” layer).

Step 7

Creave a new layer over the leaves layers. Grab a soft round brush about 100pxl, 0% of Hardness and 25% opacity and start gently brushing the edges to create a shadow.
Do the same thing for all the leaves that are placed above another object.

Step 8

Take one of the butterflies and cut one of the wings out.

Expand it and place it under the “Human Skull” layer.
Apply the following settings:

Grab the Dodge tool (O) set the Range to “midtones” and the Exposure to 15%, with a round brush around 30px and hardness 0% and start brushing over the top of the panels from the patter of the wing:

Duplicate the wing, flip it Horizontaly to keep the symetry and lower down its brightness to fit the lightning of the image.
Create a new layer and place it over the wings. Wsing a soft brush with a black color, paint shadows around the skull.

Step 9

Take the barbed wire stock and extract it from its background. Create a new group named “Wires” and place it over all the other layers.
Grab the wire stock and lower its brightness to match the lightning of the composition.
Now we are going to make the wire tangle over the horns of the skull. To do that use the transformation tools , especially the “Warp” option (Edit>Transform>Warp).

Keep Duplicating the layer and transforming it. Use layer masks or the Eraser tool to erase over the tips of the wires to blend them with other pieces or to hide them under the skull.

Do the same on the other side of the horns,the roses and the human skull.
Watch out for the composition. Keep the wires flowing along the body of the image.

Step 10

Select all the wires that are over the roses. We are going to create shadows to give the wires some depth.
Duplicate all the layers and merge them (CTRL+E). Go to Image>Adjustments>Hue/Saturation and set the lightness to -100.
Go to Filter>Blur>Gaussian Blur and set it to 5 pixels.Lower the layer opacity to 70%.
Place the layer under all the wire layers and transform it to cast the shadows.

Create a new group above the “Noise” layer and rename it “Splatters”
I downloaded some Ink Squirts brushes from the resources here at Wegraphics.
Set the foreground color to black. grab one of the brushes and paint some splatters. Try to keep the composition simple. Remember to duplicate and flip the image to keep the symmetry going.

Create a new layer and sample the red color from one of the roses,grab a different brush and paint some more splatters.

Sample a green color to match the leaves and paint with a different brush.

Step 11

Select all the layers above the splatters group.Duplicate and merge them into a new layer (shift+ctrl+alt+E), rename this layer “Composition Shadow”.We are going to create a shadow for the whole composition the same way we did for the barbed wire.
Repeat the Step 10 but this time use 10px for the blur and lower the opacity of the layer to 90%.
Place the layer above the noise layer, above the “Splatters” group and using the transformation tools morph it to fit the lightning.

Grab the Eraser too (E) with a soft round brush around 300px and 15% of opacity and erase parts of the shadow where the light is more intense and also parts where the shadow looks stronger than it should be.

Step 12

Grab one of the Barbed wires and transform it to give it some depth.

Duplicate it and place it on different parts of the image. make sure they match the perspective to give an accurate depth effect. Blend them to the wires on the image the same way we did before.
Grab the blur tool with a large soft brush about 500pxl and with a strenght of 100% and stroke parts of the wire closer to the edges of the canvas:

To cast the shadows on those wires apply the same method we used before for the “Composition Shadows”.
Select all the wires duplicate and merge them. Change their lightness to 0 and apply a Gaussian Blur. Set the layer under the “Composition Shadow” layer and use the transformation tools to set the direction of the shadow.
Set the layer opacity to 50%

Step 13

As a finishing touch,we are going to increase the contrast on the overall image to create a dramatic look.
Go to Layer>New Adjustment Layer>Brightness and Contrast,place the layer on top of all the other layers and apply the increase brightness to 16 and contrast to 38:

Final result:


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Edmar Cisneros

My name is Edmar Cisneros a 21 years old graphic designer and illustrator from Mexico City. I started experimenting with digital art in 2007 and havent stopped ever since. I specialise on Digital manipulations with mixed media tecniques such as 3D compositing and matte painting. I'm looking forward to opening my professional portfolio later this year and start freelancing full-time.


(+add yours)
  1. Sharawadgis

    Great tutorial, thanks very much!

  2. Yeh Edmar did a great job

  3. Great composition and well-explained tutorial, dear Edmar. Welcome to WeGraphics Team!

  4. Thank you so much. Its been really great working with you guys.I’m gaining tons of experience with this tutorials,looking forward to collaborating more with your site.
    I’m glad you all find this tutorial helpfull!

  5. Nice tips for using ,thanks for shearing these tips..

  6. Hi!

    technically this is a great tutorial.

    But I keep seeing disturbing images of skulls and evil things masterly done…Why?

    Anything with a more meaningful and less destructive message to share Edmar?

    On a more general level this is the tendency today….great illustrations, great special effects…but used in the oddest way (e.g. violent videogames) and idol status to (in my opinion) “sick” comic/gaming authors…

    But, yes, good work for those who like it…

    • Hi Alessandro,
      Of course it is not our intention to spread out a “negative message” and sincerely I don’t see nothing related to violence in this composition. I love to draw skulls and put them into my works, and I think they have several meanings, but not violence.

      Anyway we respect your opinion, so thanks for stopping by and share your thoughts with us

  7. Mitch

    Two images are offline… help please :(

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