Search Query

We Can All Be Warhol in 15 Minutes

A famous quote from Andy Warhol goes, “In the future, everyone will be famous for fifteen minutes.” Warhol’s images of Marilyn Monroe, Elizabeth Taylor and Chairman Mao Zedong redefined portraiture in modern art. While I cannot gauge Andy Warhol’s prognostication abilities, today’s digital imaging tools allow us to easily recreate his Pop Art look.

Start with a scanned photograph. A nice sharp portrait with a light background is going to work best (Fig 1). A small picture will yield a softer image, especially if it is a deep crop on a snapshot. As always, sharpen the image using the Unsharp Mask filter (in Adobe Photoshop choose Sharpen: Unsharp Mask from the Filter menu).

Fig. 1

Next, convert the image to Grayscale (Mode: Grayscale from the Image menu). You may want to adjust the image to get the background lighter. Convert the image back to RGB mode (Image: Mode: RGB). Duplicate the background layer by dragging it to the New Layer icon (it looks like a document) on the Layers palette or select Duplicate Layer from the Layer menu. Rename this Layer “Art” and set the Blending Mode to Multiply in the pop-up menu on the Layers Palette. Multiply mode means that anything in the image that is black is still black, but anything that is white will be clear. Fill the Background Layer with White (Select Fill from the Edit menu) (Fig 2).

Fig. 2

I have often decried the use of the Brightness/Contrast adjustment in Photoshop or similar programs as being too crude for high-quality work, but this is the perfect application for its use. Select the Art layer and increase the Brightness and Contrast (select Adjust: Brightness/Contrast from the Image menu) to simplify the image (Fig 3). For this example I used Brightness: +34 and Contrast: +37, you may need different amounts depending upon your image.

Fig. 3

Now add a new layer between the Background and Art Layers (click the New Layer icon or select New layer from the Layer menu). Label this layer “Colors.” On this layer use the Brush tool to paint in the colors. Select some bright colors and a hard-edged brush and paint in where you want the color (Fig 4). Have fun, you do not need to be very accurate, “going outside the lines” works well with this effect.

Fig. 4

Warhol typically would use only three or four colors very flatly in his portraits from the 1960’s and 70’s. In later works he used a more painterly approach to the color, which you can simulate with the “natural media” brushes. You may need to touch-up the Art layer to take out any spots or to lighten or darken selected areas.
Art has come a long way since Warhol was the king of Pop Art in the 1960’s, but some of the images he created are timeless. The tools we have today allow us to imitate and learn from the modern masters and create our own Pop Art portraits.
Paul Vaughn is a freelance graphic artist, writer and web designer. Mr. Vaughn thinks Pop Art rules and is pleased that the San Antonio Museum of Art acquired one of the Campbell’s Soup Cans, check it out. Color versions of the examples can be seen at Email Paul Vaughn at

|| Home || Graphics Guy || Mac Guy || Gallery || Payment || ||

This site and all images and text contained in it are ©2006 Paul Vaughn.
(Unless otherwise noted)
Questions? Problems?