Create pop art like Andy Warhol

Everyone has seen the pop art portraits of Marilyn Monroe created by Andy Warhol in the 1960s and you can easily create the effect yourself in Elements.

One of the best things about creative effects, like pop art portraits, is that they can teach you a wealth of transferable editing skills. On the surface they’re a lot of fun, and can provide us with eye-catching images, but the steps taken to reach the end result should never be underestimated.

Pop art portraits by the likes of Andy Warhol and Roy Lichtenstein are so famous they’re now part of the public consciousness. And thanks to modern editing software it’s now easier than ever to emulate the look and feel of these iconic images in a matter of minutes.

You can use any portrait image for this technique, but to make life easier it’s best to use one with a plain background. Using a shot with a plain rather than distracting background means there will be less work at the point where you abstract the details of the image.

1. Apply a Threshold Adjustment Layer
Open your portrait image in Elements and hold down Ctrl+Shift+N to create an empty New Layer. Left-click your mouse on the Background Layer, then click on the Adjustment Layer icon. This is a half-blue/half-white circle at the top of the Layers palette. Select Threshold from the drop-down menu, and then drag the slider to the left until the lightest edge of the face has an outline.

2. Fill a selection with black
The Threshold Layer should be active and highlighted blue. Press A to select the Magic Wand. At the bottom of the window set Tolerance to 10, and make sure Sample All Layers and Contiguous are not checked. Now left-click your mouse on the black part of the image to create a selection, and then left-click on the empty Layer. Go to Edit>Fill Layer and select black from the options.

3. Create a New Layer to work on
Click on the eye next to Layer 1 – the one we were just working on to hide it. Now create another empty New Layer. Next double-click on the Threshold Layer to open the dialogue box. Reduce the Threshold slider so only the darkest areas of the portrait are visible. Follow Step 2 again using the new empty Layer. Click on the Background Layer and go to Edit>Fill Layer and select white.

4. Erase parts of the darkest Layer
Drag the Threshold Layer to the dustbin at the top of the Layers palette. Next click on Layer 1, which should be the Layer that contains the most black. Press E to select the Eraser Tool, make sure the Type is set to Brush and select a hard edge brush from the drop-down menu. Size depends on your image. Now you can erase the darkest parts of the Layer. See the Step 2 image to compare.

5. Merge the two black Layers
Some shadow/black areas may have be so deep that you have to reduce them with the eraser. Once finished, click on Layer 2 at the top of the stack. Press Ctrl+E to merge this Layer down into Layer 1. Now hold down Ctrl+Shift N to create a new Empty Layer, then drag it onto the Layers palette so it sits between the other two Layers. The colour Layer must be below Layer 1.

6. Paint colour onto the portrait
Now to add the colour. Press B and select a hard edge brush. You can change brush size when necessary using the slider at the bottom of the Elements interface. To select a colour, simply double-click on the Color palette below the Tools palette. Don’t worry about mistakes, as the current colour will always paint over the last one used. To finish, go to File>Save, name your image and click OK

Now watch the tutorial video...

This article was first published in the September 2014 issue of Practical Photography magazine - download back issues here.