This month marks the celebration of Holi. The Hindu festival is known around the world for its use of brilliant colors to drench revelers and their surroundings, as they splash each other with brightly hued water and powders. The event honors the coming of spring, and provides celebrants with an excuse to let loose in a world of vibrancy and magical possibility.

We’ve taken this occasion as the inspiration for our latest Photoshop tutorial, a study in advanced collage techniques by Indian artist Archan Nair. Using a selection of images from Shutterstock (all of which you can find in our Indian Dream Lightbox), he created a fabulous Holi-themed work of art.

The time-lapse video above is a quick glimpse of how this work came to life. Follow along after the jump to see the final poster and get an in-depth, step-by-step guide on how to build it from raw visual materials. If you’re also a Photoshop pro, you’ll end up with something equally stunning yourself.

Step 1 Create a new Photoshop document. The size used here is 1600×2263 pixels at 300dpi, but you can go as big as you like. You can also change the canvas size later on, depending on the composition.

Choose the main image for your composition — I used a photograph of an elephant from Shutterstock — and cut it out. You can use the pen tool to make a selection and cut the image out, or use a soft brush if you prefer. Extract the image and place it in the center of the canvas.

Step 2 Create a black-to-grey radial gradient in the background behind the image.


Add a texture and invert the color so it becomes dark. Change the Blending Mode of the layer to Hard Light and set the opacity to 39%.

Step 3 Add an Indian motif pattern with the Blending Mode set to Luminosity and 16% opacity, Invert the pattern so it turns dark.


Step 4 Add a radial gradient from orange to magenta pink and set its Blending Mode to Color.


Step 5 Add a mask on the layer with the Indian motif pattern. With a soft, round brush, mask the outer edges of the pattern so they blend in behind the image of the elephant.


Step 6 Now it’s time for the composition of different elements and images. First, we need to cut out all the elements we are going to use (bird wings, lotus flower, peacock, etc.) using the pen tool. Extract and group all the images in separate layers, so you’ll have easy access to move them around and compose them any way you want.

You’ll notice that some of the image elements used in this tutorial were originally part of a more complete image. Keep an eye out for details you like in other images that you can isolate to add to your collage.

Step 7 While adding elements, think about how you can place them so they create a compelling flow. Be open to changing colors and manipulating objects as you go. You can also repeat some elements to create interesting patterns and add detail.

Here, you can see how I used a flower image and repeated it, changing the size and manipulating the color by adjusting the hue as I went along.

Step 8 After composing everything around the elephant, the next step is to add thematic elements. Since our theme here is the festival of color, we’ll incorporate things like the colored powder and splashes of water.

I’ve taken an image of a boy playing in the splashes of color and cut out some of the details in an uneven shape. Select the Eraser tool and use a soft-edged brush to change the shape and dynamics. Set the pen pressure to 85% and play around with a minimum diameter of 39%.

I also altered the angle slightly, around 14%. This radically changes the flow of the brush to create a more cloudy feel. Enable texture by using a dual brush with a textured brush, and use smoothing to add a bit more depth. Play around with the settings and try out different brush types!


Step 9 Gently erase the outer edges of the splash image so you get a cloudy, powdered look. Duplicate this and make variations by changing the colors and removing the edges with the brush a bit more, and place the duplicates around the elephant.


Step 10 Add some intricate vector motifs to make things more dynamic. Paisley, floral, and antiquated motifs will work well behind objects here like the peacock feathers and hands.

Right-click on each new vector layer and select “Rasterize” to change its properties. Change the colors of the vector to blend with the palette of your composition.

Step 11 It’s important to create some form of interaction among the elements used in the composition, so that they tell a story. Since we are already using color splashes, we can add some Holi water splashing from the elephant’s trunk.

Here, the splash image has been extracted from a photo in which a boy is being drenched in colored water. Since the image we’re adapting it for has a specific shape, we need to do some tweaking to make it feel like it’s splashing out. Use the warp tool (Edit > Transform > Warp) to distort and mold the shape of the splash.

Use a soft brush to make smaller streaks to add into the splash composition.

Step 12 Now we’ll play with some 3D shapes to add a bit more depth and fun to the artwork. Using a colorful vector background like this one, select some square cubes and paste them into a new layer in your main file.

Step 13 The 3D objects may look too flat at first, so using a soft brush and low pressure sensitivity, lightly shade the sides of the cubes.

In order for the cubes to look like they’re floating and in perspective, we need to add shadows. To do this, duplicate the cube layer and fill the duplicated shapes with black.

Add surface blur (I chose a Radius of 56 and Threshold of 152) and Warp the shadows to create an uneven shape that corresponds to the surface of the elephant where they’re “falling.” Reduce the opacity to 35%.

Step 14 We can add even more dimension to the cubes with a few more details. Take some peacock-feather vectors and place them over some of the cubes. Add a small, gentle shadow to make the feathers feel connected to the cubes.

Step 15 Now that we have certain elements “floating” above the main composition, let’s add some more elements that come up from behind it.

I added this image of a fish, reduced its opacity, and selected and deleted the area which would go behind the ear of the elephant. Next, you’ll need to bring the opacity back to 100% and create a new layer below the fish.

Take a small, soft, rounded brush and add a small shadow below the fish. Select Blending Mode to multiply the shadow layer, with opacity set to 85%.

Step 16 Next, we’ll add a watercolor brush stroke. You can download an image for this, or you can create one on paper and scan it. Add the watercolor into the artwork below and behind the trunk to give it a painted drip effect. Since the original stroke here was lime green, by adjusting the hue, I was able to change it to an orange tone.

Step 17 Since we have already used a lot of different elements — photographs, vectors, illustrations, watercolors — it’s important to get them all to blend with each other.

Group all the different layers together and create a new layer outside the group. Right-click on the new layer and select the “Create Clipping Mask” option.

Select the Gradient tool from the toolbar and choose orange to magenta pink in the Gradient Editor. (Make sure the gradient is set to radial.) Set the Blending Mode to “Color” and Opacity to 20%.

Step 18 It’s time to decorate the elephant! We’ll take two different vector patterns and place them over the elephant layer.

Add a mask to the new layers and mask the areas outside the elephant image, so that the patterns sit right over the ears and head. Change the Blending Mode to Multiply, then duplicate the new layers and change the Blending Mode to Overlay, with Opacity set to 14%.

Step 19 Take some spherical and polygon shapes and place them in the composition. Use different sizes and colors and add motion blur on some of them to create a sense of movement. This adds a nice touch of detail. You can see in the artwork how the spheres I added are coming out of the shell on the top right.

Step 20 Add some new brush strokes on top of the composition. Normal Photoshop brushes with Pen Tilt and bright colors will add even more dynamic detail.

Step 21 This is a great time to create some hand-drawn line art corresponding to the flow of your composition. If you do this, scan the line drawing and place it over the other artwork.

Invert the color (Ctrl+I for windows or Command+I for Mac) and select Overlay for the Blending Mode so the background blends in nicely, since it’s a scan.

Step 22 Since we’re almost done, let’s go back to the background color and make it come to life. Invert the pattern from step 3 again, so it goes back to its original tone.

Hide the gradient layer we created in step 4. (This enables you to go back and compare with the previous step.) Make a new layer and add a light cream to turquoise gradient, and change the Blending Mode to Darken.


Step 23 Add another gradient layer, with light-to-medium-tone orange and Blending Mode set to Exclusion. Then add one more new gradient layer, with dark purple in the center and orange on the edges. Keep the Blending Mode on Normal for that.


Step 24 Now for the finishing touches. You can mimic Holi splashes and powder by taking a (real) brush and splashing some paints on paper. Let them dry, scan them, and paste some variations into your artwork. These can be applied on any interesting elements, such as the bird or the dancers here, as well as on the edges of the artwork.

And there you have it: Your Indian Dream is complete!

View and download all the images used in this tutorial in our Indian Dream lightbox »

Explore more international art and inspiration in our Designer Passport series »