Well, I was supposed to be on my way home from Michigan today, but a snowstorm moved in and I'm stuck here. So I thought this would be the perfect opportunity for me to share how to make the colorful watercolor-textured background used in my last desktop wallpaper. This tutorial is a quick and easy one; it primarily makes use of Photoshop brushes and layer blend modes, and requires that you have a nice selection of watercolor brushes at hand. The two sets I used for this project are BittBox's Watercolor Photoshop Brushes, and Splatter Photoshop Brushes. They are free downloads, but please be courteous and read his TOU. Ready to get started?
Step 1: Creating a Colorful Base
Open up a fresh file in Photoshop. Since I was making a widescreen wallpaper, I started out with 1680px x 1050px canvas. Create a new layer above the white background layer, and with a large round soft brush (I used a 300px round brush with hardness set to 0%) paint areas of color on the new layer. Let areas of the white background show behind your color layer around the edges or in the corners. It should look something like this:
Step 2: Blending the Colors
Now we're going to soften the colors and blend them into each other using a Gaussian Blur filter. From the Filters menu, select Gaussian Blur and set the blur to around 80.
Step 3: Adding Some Watercolor Brush Strokes
Create a new layer above your color layer. Break out your watercolor brush stroke brushes, and using a medium gray color, "stamp" a couple different brush strokes around the edge of your new layer like this:
Set your brush strokes layer blend mode to Color Burn. Then duplicate your color layer and drag it so that it is positioned above your new brush strokes layer in the Layers Palette. Right click on the copied color layer in the Layers Palette, and select "Create Clipping Mask" from the menu that pops up. Then adjust the opacity of the gray brush strokes layer to suit your tastes. It should look something like the image below:
Step 4: Another Brush Stroke Layer
Next create another new layer above your first brush stroke layer and it's clipped color layer. Add another "stamped" watercolor brush stroke to the center of this layer, again using a medium gray color.
This time change the blend mode of this layer to Linear Burn. Again, copy the bottom color layer and drag it so that is positioned above your newest brush stroke layer in the Layers Palette. Clip the color layer to the brush stroke, and adjust the opacity of the brush stroke layer to suit.
Step 5: Lightening It Up with Some Splatters
Now it's time to get messy. Break out your watercolor splatter brushes, and on a new layer (above the layer we created in step 4 and its clipped color layer) throw a few splatters down in medium gray. This time change the blend mode of your splatter layer to Screen, and (yep, you guessed it) copy the color layer again, drag it above your splatter layer in the Layers Palette and clip the color layer to the splatter layer. Adjust the splatter layer's opacity to your liking. It should look something like this now:
Step 6: Tweak It Your Way
You can add as many splatter and stroke layers as you want. Play around with different blend modes to see what effects you can come up with. I also added a pattern overlay style to each of my clipped color layers, using a watercolor paper texture pattern to give more texture and depth to each of my paint strokes and splatters. Enjoy and have fun!