Monday, May 4, 2015

How to Posterize a Photo - Two Values

A couple of artists were wondering how to reduce a photo to two values.

The most difficult part is finding a photo that has an engaging pattern after it is reduced.

This is how I do it.

Select a reference photo.

Meet Cobie.

Make sure the photo is on your computer somewhere (a special desktop folder, Facebook, Flickr, ...)

Many websites are available to help from this point.   I like PicMonkey, a free photo editing site.  PicMonkey is the same site used to make painting collages for Leslie Saeta's 30-30 Challenge.

To begin, go to the PicMonkey website:

Click on PicMonkey's "Edit" button.   When you do so, the site will ask from what location you are uploading the photo you wish to edit.   Everyone's computer is different.  I have an old Mac; when I click "Edit,"  my computer asks from which folder I would like the photo uploaded (Desktop, my blog file, ...).

When you upload the photo to PicMonkey, your screen will look something like this.

As you can see, there is a list of "Basic Edits" on the left side of the screen.
At this point, I click the second icon on the left of the PicMonkey screen (the one underneath the green square that looks like a magic wand):

After you click, an assortment of  "Effects" appears.

Look for the "Black and White" rectangle (the 10th option from the top). 

Click on the rectangle.  Then the option will look like this:

Click on apply, and your uploaded photo will become black and white.  

After it becomes black and white, continue scrolling down through the "Effect" options (the rectangles) till you come to one that says "Posterize."  Click on it.   It looks like this:

Slide the option that says "Number of colors" to the left and reduce the number of colors to two.

You may also increase or decrease the amount of detail.  When you're finished, press "Apply."

This is what you will get.

As you can see, this photo of Cobie was not a good candidate.   I chose this so you will remember that not every photo, even one you absolutely love, is suitable for getting a desirable two value pattern.

Another photo, such as this one with more dramatic lighting, is a better choice.

Taken at the Biltmore Estate in North Carolina several years ago.

Compliments of PicMonkey

For those with less than perfect drawing skills, use the grid method to get an accurate drawing or turn the reference photo upside down prior to drawing it.  Both methods work for me.

And that's that.

I hope you have some fun with it!


  1. Either you'll have 8 comments or none at all. Just in case I'll try one more time. Love learning your process.. often wondered how you did those silhouettes. Thanks for sharing. Cool! ❤

  2. Either you'll have 8 comments or none at all. Just in case I'll try one more time. Love learning your process.. often wondered how you did those silhouettes. Thanks for sharing. Cool! ❤

  3. Great tip! I like to use PicMonkey for adding frames to a picture, etc.

  4. Thank you for this fantastic tip for what is essentially boiling the photo down to a notan, Chris! Love the sharing.

  5. That's a great tip, Judy. Thanks!

  6. Teri, thanks for your notan comment and great link.

  7. Dear Chris, I usually use ipiccy, but I really appreciate your sharing this tip! You have encouraged me to play a bit with this photo editing program.

    I also truly appreciate your kind comments on my blog posts, and I am so glad that your husband enjoys the things I post as well. You have made my day; thank you! :)

  8. Linda, thanks for the tip re: ipiccy. I will take a good look at it.

    And your blog is the first I open every single day. I have yet to leave it without a smile on my face!

  9. Dear Chris - this post was so helpful. I have been wanting to play around with picmonkey. Such great tips. So glad you shared. I think I will be referring back to this post for help. Take care. P.S. Don't you love the Biltmore Estate? I was there many years ago and so enjoyed it. Hugs!

  10. Thank you for sharing this! I have been wanting to work on composition and using notams, but it is completely unnatural to me. I have been looking at my paintings in monochrome which has helped but isn't as powerful. And I don't have photoshop on my current computer. This encourages me to find a tool that I can use simply.!

  11. Notans, phone! Is notams even a word???

  12. Fascinating post. So much great information. I will have to try PicMonkey again, Chris. I tried it for the collage on Saeta Challenge, but got so frustrated. You make this very clear. Thank you.

  13. Mellle, Teri ( suggested a link about notan (

  14. Thanks, Debbie. Yes, we spent two days at the Biltmore Estate although most of it was walking around the grounds. Can't imagine what it would be like to live there. What we saw of North Carolina was just beautiful!

  15. Julie, doing that collage for the challenge makes me crazy, too. I can never remember how I did it the previous time, and I wind up sitting on the computer too long. It should be easier. In general, though, I really like PicMonkey.

  16. Thanks, Sherry. Playing around with PicMonkey keeps me away from the TV and gives me some great ideas for painting.

  17. I use picaza, but thanks for your tips as an alternative I can try!

  18. Hope you like it, Joy. Thanks for looking.