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My First Attempt at Photo Art

Photoshop Artistry 1

Postcard from the Apocalypse?
[click to enlarge]

This is my first attempt at photo art using the principles taught by my friend Sebastian Michaels in his  Photoshop Artistry course.

This course is the most popular thing I ever offered my subscribers!  It has become an international phenomenon with an almost cult-like following of raving fans.

You can still sign up for 70% off the regular price  during this special invitation-only sale for my subscribers.

So, here’s how I created this monstrosity.

1. I started with this photo that I shot at the Burning Man Festival in 2006.

2. To grunge it up a little I added a new layer with one of Sebastian’s Abstract textures (Bkg6.jpg), Blend Mode: Overlay.

3. I added a Curves Adjustment Layer to the image just to boost the brightness of the whole thing. (See my Photoshop Basics course for details).

The text layer

The text layer

4. For the text layer, I wanted something with a Matrix-like computer-code feel to it (the code that controls the robot tripods that are destroying the earth!), so I bought a vector image from iStockphoto for about $10. It looked like something I would use over and over again, so I’m happy to spend that money once to acquire it.

5. I changed the text layer to black-and-white (the green text sort of clashed with the color of the photo) and set its blend mode to Overlay.

6. To frame the edges, I took the burned paper texture from Sebastian’s Abstract Set 3, and I used Transform>Scale to squish it to a small narrow band which I placed on the top edge of my image. Blend mode: Multiply.

7. Then I duplicated that burnt paper edge layer three times and rotated and positioned it appropriately to make the other three edges.

That led to version 1 seen here:

Photoshop Art First Draft

The First Draft

Creating Version 2

But then I got another idea. I wanted the edges of the paper to look actually burned away, as if this scrap had survived the Battle at the End of Time.

So, encouraged by Sebastian’s “do it yourself” ethos, I decided to burn the edges off a piece of paper, then photograph it, then use that to frame my composition.

I outsourced the actual burning to my teenage daughter, who was sitting around with nothing better to do. After I taught her how to use a Bic lighter, she diligently torched the paper for me. (Aside: There are few things more comforting to a parent than discovering that your thirteen year-old daughter has no idea how to use a lighter. I think at that age I was probably carrying one in my pocket, and up to no good with it.)

Note: Standard printer paper is not ideal for burning. It burned, but it didn’t brown. So I put some lemon juice on the edges and baked it in the oven to brown it, but that didn’t really look right either.  I wish I had used some kind of heavy art paper. Nevertheless, in the end, we had a semi-incinerated paper, and I photographed it on a piece of white cardboard to get this:

burned paper

Not quite what I envisioned, but it will do.

Then I brought that into Photoshop, adjusted the levels to make it white, and then spent quite a bit of time erasing all the parts of my image that fell outside the burned edges. I did that by creating a layer mask on my image and painting it black to erase the “burned away” parts.

I set the blend mode of the paper layer to Multiply and I masked out some of the middle so it would have less effect on the center of the image.

That’s it! Of course I spent a lot of time tweaking the opacity of each layer and changing blend modes and positioning things until I liked the way it looked.

It may not be gallery-worthy art, but I’m proud of it for a first attempt.

Come join me in Sebastian’s Photoshop Artistry course while you can still get in for 70% off the regular price!  This offer is good this week only.


P.S. Some frequent questions I’ve been getting about the course:

Q. Can I use Photoshop Elements?

A. Yes!  Elements 9 or later is sufficient for this course and Sebastian has included additional videos for those students using Photoshop Elements.

Q. Can I start the course immediately when I sign up?

A. Yes!  Plunge right in.  There are over 60 videos, plus other bonus materials, so there is plenty to explore.

Q. Is there a time limit? Must I do the course in a certain amount of time?

A.  No time limit. This is a self-paced course, so you can do it at any pace that’s convenient for you.  Even if you can’t start it until a year from now, go ahead and get in now for 70% off the regular price, and start when you’re ready.


GREAT COMMENTS from students are pouring in.  Here are two:

“Hi Sebastian – I have already started watching the videos and have downloaded the textures and cheat sheet and am TOTALLY loving the information on photoshop and the way you present it.  I have already done quite a few on line courses and yours is right up there as your audio is great, your instructions are precise – and there is no presumption that I already know so much – and your visual directions are so easy to follow.  I am lapping it up and can’t wait to apply it to my own images. So pleased I signed up!!”  — Lynda Fletcher

“Sebastian, I just wanted to say a huge thank you for this course.  I have watched numerous videos on adding layers in Photoshop and everyone assumes you already know it all.  So the gaps they left in their explanations, meant gaps in my knowledge.  Turns out, much of it was really important as I haven’t been able to really achieve what I’ve wanted to. I’ve only watched Module 1, but I cannot tell you how many “gaps” you filled during those 25 minutes!  Too many to mention!  I feel so excited about this course and so ready to learn from the modules. Finally,  I know I will be able to create those images I have planned in my head. Thank you!” — Sarah Bultitude

Come join me in Sebastian’s Photoshop Artistry course while you can still get in this week only for 70% off the regular price!

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  1. Scott Doyle says:

    Excellent course, just bought a couple a days ago. I now have something to keep me busy everyday. Went out and took about 150 images of just stuff like dirt and asphalt and leaves, things I wouldn’t have thought about before. Phil your first attempt is quite good.

  2. Phil Steele says:

    Scott, I know what you mean. I find myself walking around noticing textures, rust, pavement and stuff I used to ignore, and thinking, “Oh, nice texture.” It changes the way you see the world.

  3. Lucien H. Chin A Foeng says:

    Not bad at all, Phil, keep on trying. You already know a lot about the technique of the thing, so it’s a matter of unleashing your creativity, man! Your first attempt with a spiderlike monster is definitely an eye catcher! Keep going in that direction, brother Phil!:-) It’s only a matter of time now!

  4. Richard White says:


    Hints from working in my Frame Shop.

    Use a candle instead of a bic lighter and the candle will sit on a table and you can control the paper with both hands.

    #2: For a different effect, hold the paper horizontal about 12″ over the candle.

    Have your helper hold a butter knife in the flame. The knife will cause a smoke. The smoke when it hits the paper will leave soot. Move the paper around and it will provide a design on the paper that is pretty cool.

    #3: Next time if lemon juice and oven don’t work try a tea (as in Lipton) wash or coffee wash on the paper. When it dries it is a cool effect.

    Let me know how it works.

  5. Phil Steele says:

    Richard, thanks for the tips!

  6. Teena says:

    Ok, you conviced me. Just bought the workshop today. Love your first attempt. Hope I can come up with something half decent.

  7. Susan says:

    It’s funny…but yours is the only one I like, so I won’t be getting the course. I’m someone who needs to pretty much copy someone elses idea. I have little or no imagination. But I would love to replicate your image. Very cool. Keep it up!

  8. Kathy says:

    Hey Phil – enjoy your site, your tutorials and your work! Still thinking about this class… meanwhile, enjoyed your first project, but I must say that I really like the sharp / bright quality to the version one image. Like the burnt edges too though.
    Also loved Richard’s tips.

    I’ve created burned edges in photoshop simply by using layers, the eraser tool and then the dodge & burn tools.

    Best to you – and thanks again for all the lil’ nugs!! :)Kathy

  9. Lou Smith says:

    Started the course and am learning lots of valuable tecniques.
    Its easy to follow and absorb what you need to create your own works of art.
    Already recieving lots of likes on my attempts.
    Im hoping though to develop my own vision
    Of artistic photos thanks to this course

    Cheers n beers

  10. Phil, as you know I jumped right in and bought the course on your recommendation. It was a direction I wanted to go as I had done texture worked and knew my way around photoshop pretty well. I have finished the first 2 modules and am ready to jump into creating. Spent some time adding to my resources by scanning some natural items I had found outside. Sebastian has a good teaching style and is very professional in producing his materials. let’s do this!

  11. Mary Ann says:

    Thanks Phil for the recommendation….your 1st attempt is well done. I am into the module about collecting textures. I have many I took over the years but never thought about using the scanner. Need to get my husband to build the little black and white boxes. Hope to see more of your work in the future. Is there going to be a Flickr site where everyone can post their projects?

  12. Gary Bryant says:

    Your first attempt at Grunge Photoshop is pretty a-okay by me. I’ve been out of town on a photo workshop in Oregon so haven’t played around much with the course yet, but am anxious to get into it. Excellent start Phil.

  13. Teresa Gomori says:

    I like your first attempt & your burned paper inspired me to burn something! I am just at the beginning stages of the course where I am taking pictures of textures. This is awesome! I am seeing things to photograph that just did not register with me before & I am very excited to start using them!

  14. Nice attempt… Just begining my course. Later on I’ll tell you about my attempts… 🙂

  15. Bob Stine says:

    After reading the extensive promo, I bought the course on your recommendation. I’ve downloaded the bonus materials and listened only to the introduction so far. I really like his style and clarity. I’ve longed for the ability to do some work like he’s demonstrated. Can’t wait to get into it. Unfortunately, I have photo assignments today and tomorrow and won’t have much time to get into this. I hope to get started next week, though. Thanks for the referral!

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