Designing a new avatar is the first step in building your Behance profile and joining a community where you can showcase your creative work. See how you can use solid colors, gradients, and textured brushes in Adobe Photoshop to add artistic flair to your online presence.

Profile headshot of Kathleen Martin. The black and white image is accented with an orange to purple gradient around her hair.

Hi there, I’m Kathleen Martin, an illustrator and designer. As an intrepid creative explorer, I traverse the digital landscape with an evolving toolkit of handy workflows. You can also find me as a host of Adobe Live on Behance.

Before you start.
Go to Behance.net and sign in with your Adobe ID or sign up for an account. Check out the guide on how to sign up for Behance for more details. I provided the brush that I used in a Creative Cloud Library. You can use it too.

Step 1: Take a selfie.
Try different poses against a simple background. I discovered that profile shots provide an interesting silhouette compared to straight-on portraits.

Open your selfie in Photoshop and make some color adjustments. I applied a Black & White adjustment layer and experimented with presets before settling on Green Filter. Right-click the adjustment layer and choose Create Clipping Mask to apply the grayscale look only to the Avatar layer. This way you can still play with a colorful background.

A black & white adjustment layer set to the Green Filter preset converts the original color headshot to a grayscale image.

Step 2: Isolate your portrait.
To separate your portrait from the background, select the Avatar layer, choose the Object Selection tool, and then click Select Subject from the options bar. If the detailed edges of hair aren’t fully included in the selection, click Select and Mask to enter the workspace where you can fix this.

The profile headshot is selected and the Object Selection tool and Select and Mask buttons are displayed on the left.

Step 3: Select the finer details.
In the Select and Mask workspace, brush along the edges of hair and other detailed areas with the Refine Edge Brush tool. When you’re done, choose Layer Mask from the output settings and click OK. Your avatar should now have a blank background.

Left: Headshot has original background with a red overlay and the Refine Edge brush; Right: Headshot separated on to mask.

Step 4: Build your background.
Experiment with different background colors. Add a Solid Color adjustment layer, choose a color, and click OK. Don’t worry if the solid color fills the canvas and hides your portrait. To fix this, drag the Color Fill layer below Avatar in the Layers panel. I opted for a charcoal hue, but you can change the color at any point by double-clicking the color swatch on the Color Fill layer.

Headshot against charcoal solid color fill background with 2 smaller headshots against orange and fuchsia backgrounds.

Step 5: Make gradient magic.
Let’s create an interesting effect using a gradient. With the Color Fill layer selected, add a Gradient adjustment layer. Click the arrow on the Gradient preview and explore the options in the different categories. Click OK when you find one you like. I chose an option from the Reds folder and then tweaked the angle until I liked the overall effect.

Headshot has orange to purple gradient background. 4 panels include Layers and 3 panels to set the Gradient Fill.

Step 6: Create a gradient outline.
To create a colorful outline, first copy the layer mask to the Gradient Fill layer. Hold Alt (Windows) or Option (macOS) as you drag the layer mask from the Avatar layer to the Gradient Fill layer, and then click Yes when prompted. Now you should see the faint glow of the gradient behind your portrait.

The original layer mask is copied to Gradient Fill layer in the Layers panel and the gradient adds a glow around the hair.

Step 7: Move the colorful shadow.
Select the Move tool and drag the gradient to the left. You can increase its size by dragging the top-left handle. You may see some of the gradient peeking under the chin. To hide it, click the layer mask in the Layers panel, select the Brush tool, change the foreground color to black, and then brush over the chin.

The Move tool was used to enlarge the gradient and move it to the left of the profile. The Brush tool is set to black.

Step 8: Brush in some texture.
You now have a new avatar for your Behance profile. You could stop here or embellish it with colorful highlights. For example, I added some texture using different brushes.

To do this, select the Brush tool and choose a textured brush. Use the free brush I provided with this tutorial (Window > Libraries). You can also choose one from the Dry Media Brushes group—just click the drop-down next to the Brush tool at the top of the screen. Decrease the Flow in the options bar to add more texture. Then select the layer mask, change the foreground color to white, and brush over the areas where you’d like to reveal the gradient.

Want more brushes? Illustrator and designer Kyle T. Webster has made numerous brushes available for free when you sign in with your Adobe ID. After you download a brush pack, choose Import Brushes from the flyout menu in the Brushes panel.

The Brush tool is set to the Deliciously Dry Brush, Flow is 25%, and the color is white to reveal more of the gradient.

Let them see it.
Experiment with different background colors, gradients, and brushes. When you’re ready to upload your final avatar, export it in PNG format (File > Export > Export As) and then upload it to your Behance profile. The Behance help pages can assist you with that.

Kathleen’s Behance page shows her new profile picture and some of her sketches.

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