How to (Re)Make a Masterpiece

By Terri Stone

Ankur Patar is a digital artist who has worked as an illustrator, a graphic designer, and a photographer in India and Australia. While his experience is broad, he had never tackled anything as complex as the challenge Adobe gave him: re-create a stolen Rembrandt masterpiece using only Adobe Photoshop CC and assets from Adobe Stock.

The original painting, Rembrandt van Rijn’s The Storm on the Sea of Galilee, was stolen in 1990 during an infamous heist in Boston’s Gardner Museum. Thankfully, a digital copy exists, and Patar referred to it obsessively as he built the re-creation. 

The original (left) and the re-creation (right).


PATAR: I knew there would be thousands of layers. I have a fast computer, but even so, it takes a long time to render a big file. I thought I could save time by breaking the work into individual files. So I started with one Photoshop file for each element of the painting: sky and water were in one Photoshop file, people in another, sails in another, and so on. They totaled about 10 .PSB files and 60 gigabytes of data. After I had worked on each element, I merged the layers from those files into one new file to see whether the overall composition worked.

> How to create and manage layers and layer groups


PATAR: I used at least three Adobe Stock images for the broken rope that curves like an S, but they weren’t exactly right. I transformed them into the correct shape with Puppet Warp. I had never used Puppet Warp before; it was perfect for this.

> How to use Puppet Warp


PATAR: It was critical that I matched the actions and emotions of the people in the painting. Each face is made up of three or four models’ faces. I started with the man second from the top. I couldn’t find a model with the same expression, so I took parts from several models’ faces and still had to use the Liquify filter on the eyes to match the expression of the original man.

It was another challenge to find the parts of their bodies. Once I found a body part that would work, I often had to adjust perspective, color, and lighting.

> How to use the Liquify filter


PATAR: The shape of the original ship is weird; it was difficult to find photos of ships with similar shapes. So I re-created the ship as a carpenter would do it, plank by plank.

This is the plank I started with [above]. It’s a combination of a lot of things. In Adobe Stock, I found 10 wooden textures that were similar to the original. I pasted those textures onto a shape in Photoshop and used the Transform tools to bend and warp the textures into something that looks like the top plank in the original painting. I used almost all of the Transform options: Scale, Rotate, Skew, Distort, and Warp. Maybe not Perspective, but everything else! Then to match the lighting, I used Curves, Levels, and Color Balance.

How to apply the Transform options


PATAR: Traditional painters think of light as highlights, midtones, and shadows. In Photoshop, you can change those tonal values using Curves. I created three curve adjustment layers: one that increased highlights, another for midtones, and a third for shadows. When I wanted to darken an area of the painting, I clicked on the shadows adjustment layer and used the Brush tool to edit the layer mask in that area. Essentially, I treated it like a painting, not a photo manipulation, and I painted in the lighting using Curves and Levels.

> Adjusting Curves

> How to create and apply adjustment layers


If Patar has inspired you, now's your chance. Enter our Take 10 Challenge: Download 10 Adobe Stock images and make your own new artwork. We will award 10 winners year-long subscriptions to the Creative Cloud and Adobe Stock, and the grand-prize winner also gets an iPad Pro and an Apple Pencil. Check out the Challenge.

Visit the Make a Masterpiece website to learn much more about this piece and and three other artworks.