Vintage collages in Photoshop

Layer found images and handmade elements with Photoshop and Illustrator techniques for a witty, retro style that’s got dozens of uses.If you want to provide an instant flashback to a bygone era while letting your creativity shine through, few techniques are as versatile as a collage made up of vintage elements.It allows you to pick and choose from the distinctive motifs, patterns and colours of an age, but the way in which you combine them is entirely up to you.There’s something wonderfully tongue-in-cheek about a really good vintage collage: if you’ve done your research carefully and found good enough sources, it’ll look so retro that it borders on the kitsch.In this tutorial, Murilo Maciel demonstrates that researching and finding the images to use in a collage is half the fun. He goes one step further, finding some fairly messy but original ways to create some of the elements by hand, using everything from coffee to a plastic bag, with surprising results.

01: First of all, think about elements that relate to our subject. Plan your illustration and look for references. Second-hand bookshops are very inspiring places for this, and great for getting resources, too. After you’ve done that, open canvas.psd.

02. Before we touch the mouse, let’s get our hands dirty. First, we’ll create the peeling paint effect. Get some black paint, a plastic bag and a white sheet. I love to experiment with using different materials to paint with. In this case, I’m going to use a plastic bag as my brush. Dip the plastic bag into the paint and start painting some rough textures with it. Try to leave some white space, too.

03. Scan your painting (or open peeling.jpg) and select Image > Adjustments > Desaturate (Cmd/ Ctrl+Shift+U). Go to Image > Invert (Cmd/ Ctrl+I), select Image > Adjustments > Levels (Cmd/Ctrl+L) and increase the contrast, changing the input values to 40, 1 and 244. Select the best parts and place this new layer over the background. Set the blending mode to Screen and the opacity to 44 per cent.

04. To create the aged paper texture, get a thick paintbrush, a white sheet and a cup of very strong coffee. Start painting the sheet with coffee and as soon as it’s dry, scan and import it to your illustration. Alternatively you can open coffee_texture.jpg. Put this layer on top of the others.

05. Open dirty_burn.jpg (I created this texture using the same technique described in Step 07) and copy into a new Alpha channel in your illustration. Go to Image > Invert (Cmd/Ctrl+I), then Image > Adjustments > Levels (Cmd/Ctrl+L) and change the input values to 15, 1 and 245. Generate a selection from this Alpha channel, and create a new layer above the old paper texture layer. Fill this selection with a dark grey tone (C=0, M=0, Y=0, K=80) and set the blending mode to Color Burn.

06. Merge the top two layers and set the blending mode to Multiply. Note that our old paper texture looks much better: we need to add details in order to achieve more realistic results. Look at old references and you’ll see that our illustration needs a bit of dust as well. So let’s go for it.

07. For a dirtier look, we’re going to need two white sheets of paper and a piece of charcoal. Use the charcoal in a very soft way to create this texture on one sheet. Get the other and make two lines, dividing it in four similar parts. Alternatively open charcoal_ texture.jpg and charcoal_lines.jpg.

08. Place the charcoal texture above the peeling paint layer and set the blending mode to Multiply. Do the same with the charcoal lines, placing above the other charcoal layer but now, setting the blending mode to Color Burn. This layer will help us to unify the elements.

09. Our background already has a very rich texture, but it also needs some decoration. For this, switch to Illustrator to create the beam effect. Make a straight line, keep the stroke size at 1pt and go to Object > Transform > Rotate. Set the angle to 2.5 degrees and click Copy. Duplicate it Cmd/ until the full circle is complete. Copy the shape to your illustration above to your charcoal-dirtied layer, set the blending mode to Color Burn and the opacity to 44 per cent.

10. Time to get our main subject into the illustration. Open grandma.jpg and cut out the central figures with the Pen tool. Place the image below the old paper texture. As this layer has yellowish tone as well, we need to desaturate our main subject. Select Image > Adjustments > Hue/Saturate Cmd/ and set the saturation to -48.

11. The image looks a bit flat, so let’s increase the contrast. Duplicate the layer and select Image > Adjustments > Desaturate Cmd/Ctrl+Shift+ U). Set the blending mode to overlay and the opacity to 50 per cent. After you’ve done that, merge both layers.

12. Open flower.jpg and, using the Pen tool, cut out the parts you like the most and place them below the ‘grandma’ layer. Select Image > Adjustments > Hue/ Saturate, check the Colorize Option, set the hue to 0 and saturation to -18. Do the same to the other petal but using a slightly different tone.

13. Select the Pen tool to draw some abstract shapes. Cubist references are very helpful for this, so you might find it useful to do a quick Google image search. Select a nice picture for the background (in my case used a landscape photo from an old magazine) and use the path you’ve just finished to create a selection. Select the best part to use and delete the rest of the picture.

14. Place it below the petals layer. Duplicate this layer and flip horizontally to create a mirrored effect. Make another copy of it, move below the peeling paint layer. Make it about 40 per cent bigger and desaturate it. Set the blending mode to Soft Light.

15. Let’s draw the same shape we created digitally but now with watercolours. It doesn’t have to look identical, just similar. Get black paint and watercolour paper and start painting. Also, let’s create two more painting elements on different sheets. For that, just drop some paint on the paper for a splash effect.

16. Alternatively open abstract_ watercolor.jpg, and splash 1 and 2.jpg. Select Image > Adjustments > Levels Cmd/Ctrl+Land increase the contrast, changing the input values to 40, 1 and 244 for the three images. Place the abstract watercolour in the centre of the canvas and above the beam layer. Set the blending mode to Multiple. Import the other two splash paintings, and place them above the petal layers on to each side, setting the blending mode to multiply as well. The black paint will give more contrast to our image.


01. For a more interesting texture on the aged paper layer, paint the page with coffee as in Step 04, scan it in and experiment with the Burn tool. Play around with the brush size and opacity, but remember that you’ll have much more control over the end result if you keep the opacity very low – around ten per cent.

02. Other materials to experiment with for great aged colours and textures include beeswax, old newspapers, brown paper, particularly chintzy wrapping paper and inks.

Author’s URL: Murilo

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