Hibiscus Flower – How to Turn a Photo into a Sketch

This is a fairly simple way to turn a photo into a sketch, as long as you know your way around the program that lets you do this kind of stuff with your photos. I use Photoshop Elements or GIMP, but any program that lets you work with layers will do. (The following instructions may not be all that helpful if you don’t already know how to work with layers.)

The photo I’m going to use is a hibiscus flower which is blooming on the most raggedy looking house plant I have ever seen. It spends most of its time growing leaves, which it turns around and kills a few short weeks later. Every day I pick up a hand full of dead leaves off the floor. When the plant looks close to death, I cut it back to almost nothing and pretty soon it starts sending out new shoots again. Then, about the time I think I will dispatch it once and for all, it blooms for a few weeks. (My two eldest children will remember this plant from their University days, over 20 years ago. It was the one they inherited from the previous tenant of the apartment they rented. They were ready to pitch the plant when it became bug infested. I blasted the plant with a bug killer, and cut it back to almost nothing. It survived. The bugs did not. )

Open the photo with Photoshop Elements (or some such program, which may or may not use the same tools I describe below.)

Step 1 – The photo will be called the Background Layer. Duplicate this layer (name it Layer 2) then hide the original Background layer.
Step 2 – You will remove the color from Layer 2. From the Enhance Menu choose Adjust Color, Remove Color.
Step 3 – Duplicate Layer 2 to create Layer 3.
Step 4 – You will invert Layer 3. From the Filter Menu choose Adjustments, Invert.
Step 5 – You will change the Blend Mode of Layer 3. The blend mode option is in the top left of the Layers panel. Change the blend mode from Normal to Color Dodge. Don’t get too excited here if your photo is completely white.
Step 6 – You will apply a filter to Layer 3. From the Filter Menu, choose Other, Minimum. This will open the Minimum filter dialog box. You will change the Radius value at the bottom of the box. Start with 1 pixel, and increase it until you get a sketch that you like. (Watch your photo, not the dialogue box, to see the results.) Then click OK to close the box.
Step 7 – Select Layer 3 in the Layers menu, then right click it and scroll down and choose Merge Visible. Now you have just two layers again.
Step 8 – You will change the Blend Mode of Layer 2 from Normal to Multiply to darken the lines in the sketch. If the sketch gets too dark, you can lower the Opacity Value (which is a slider to the right of the Blend Mode option.)

This is what the hibiscus looked like at this point.

Step 9 – If you want to add some color to the sketch, then duplicate the original background layer. Move this new colored layer to the top of the stack and unhide it if it is hidden.  Change the Blend Mode of this colored layer from Normal to Color and lower the Opacity until you get the color you want.

You could also try other Blend Modes, such as Soft Light or Color burn. (I don’t know if successive blend modes are accumulative or not, so I always cancel (Edit Undo) each action before testing a new one.)

Which one do you like best?

43 thoughts on “Hibiscus Flower – How to Turn a Photo into a Sketch

  1. I love that you taught me something that I did not know. Both photos have their own special qualities, and I can’t choose. Beautiful times 2. Thank you for sharing your knowledge. 🙂


  2. I know nothing about layers or sketching from photos, but your story here is fascinating and congrats to the hibiscus plant for surviving, and to you for creating a beautiful sketch. I like the last the best. You are another blogger on my stellar list!


    • Thanks Dor. I’ll tell the Hibiscus you are rooting for it. Maybe it will try a bit harder if it thinks it has a fan club. (I changed the fertilizer I use too – maybe that will help.)


  3. Oh, what a fun way to play with pictures! I think I have a program like this on my computer, but I’ve never learned to do much with it besides cropping, changing sizes, and taking out red-eye and the worst of the freckles. 😉 I think my favorite is the first colored one. The soft, gentle colors have the same intensity as a faint watercolor painting, but with the detail of the pencil-like line drawing above it. The bottom one is neat, but the sunlight looks photographic enough that my eye kept being drawn to it and saying, “Well, the rest looks like a painting but THAT looks REAL.” Kind of amazing how our eyes and brains work, isn’t it?!


    • You are well on the way to making sketches if you can take away a freckle!
      It is rather interesting how the computer program interprets what is in a photo. I can see what you mean by the sunlight on the petals of the last photo.


  4. Reblogged this on Hopefully Helpful Tutorials and commented:
    This is a helpful tutorial by my blogging buddy, Margie.
    How to turn a photo into a sketch using photo shop elements.
    I hope you’ll go visit her site and read her interesting and fun posts. 🙂


  5. Hey Margie,
    I love hibiscuses. It’s sweet the memories you have with this one. You’ve done a grand job to keep it alive for two decades. That’s awesome. 🙂
    I hope you don’t mind, I reblogged your post on my tutorial blog. Your sketches are so pretty and fun. Thanks for the helpful tutorial. 🙂


    • Apparently a hibiscus house plant can live for 40 years. If I had known I was taking on a plant that would stick around twice as long as the kids did, I probably would have left it at the kids apartment!
      Thanks for reblogging my post. I appreciate it.


  6. Great post–I’ve been considering buying PSE but for now use and play with a free program (paint.net) which has a lot is similar features, I think.
    Now if you could just tell me how to get more hours in a day I would be really happy! 🙂


    • More hours in a day – now that would be a wonderful thing, wouldn’t it!
      My next post will include a link to a freeware program that makes sketching and such much easier.


  7. Thank you, I wanted to comment on your last post and ask how you did that, but I was viewing it on my phone. Typing on glass is like a cat skating on ice. So I’m glad you shared your secret. How you figured this procedure out is way beyond me and therefore I declare you a secret genius. I’m still trying to figure out why WordPress won’t post my pictures with an opacity below 80%. I wanted to use them as background behind the posts, (like your blue wallpaper) but was warned it was illegal. Weird-o-rama. I’m sure I did something wrong…so back to wall paper. Thanks again.


    • No, I’m not a genius. I just found some basic instructions on other websites, then played around with them until they did what I wanted.
      I hadn’t thought about using a photo behind the post area. According to what I can find on the internet, if you have the CSS upgrade ($30 a year, I believe), then you should be able to upload your photo (with whatever opacity you want) and then use some CSS code in the Custom Design area. The instructions for this are at http://en.forums.wordpress.com/topic/how-to-add-an-image-for-post-background?replies=13
      However, the code will change from theme to theme, so you might have to ask your a new question in the forum, specific to your theme.


  8. Oh, my goodness, how I love this! I have had photoshop elements on my Mac for two years now and figure out how to use it. I don’t even know how to get a photo from iPhoto into photoshop. Something called pict bridge opens, and I don’t know what to do with it. Since I am laid up, maybe I’ll play with the program, using your great directions. I’d love to use the photos for notecards.


    • So sorry to hear about your foot, but I’m sure you will put your new found free time to good use.
      You’ll have to take a crash course in layers in order to follow my directions, but I’m sure you’ll be able to find an excellent tutorial on the web that will have you ‘layering’ in no time.


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