Using “Liquify” Filters Creatively

by Cynthia Crawford | January 1, 2010

© Cynthia CrawfordThe image below was created using the filter “Liquify” from Photoshop. It is a versatile tool, and fairly simple to use.

Liquify tutorial © Cynthia Crawford

After you open the filter (Filter > Liquify or Shift+Ctrl+X) you’ll get a new window with tools on the left side bar. Hold your mouse over the tools to see what their functions are. The top tool is called “forward warp”, and it’s what I use most. You just drag sections around with it. On the right you can change the brush size to control how much you want to move at one time. I use a fairly large brush and make a few changes at a time. Smaller brushes are good for details, but I find it easier sometimes to shape things with the clone tool in the regular Photoshop dialogue. If you want to freeze portions of your image so they don’t distort, use the “freeze mask tool” on the left, and click “show mask” on the right.

This is really a tool for exploring and playing around. Try a few things, save them in layers, or use revert to start over. You can also undo things in the Liquify window with the reconstruct tool on the left, or tweak them with reconstruct options on the right.

Most of all, have fun!

I like to look for stumps and pieces of wood that suggest a form of some sort. This stump is pretty much they way it looked in my photo, except I used a light posterization filter (from the filter gallery), and enhanced what looked like an eye. I reduced the intensity of the effect by immediately going to Edit > Fade [Effect] in the Photoshop menu after running a Posterize filter. You must do this before making any other changes, otherwise the Fade option will no longer be available. I like this scene “as is,” but also wanted to play with it a bit. I use Image “duplicate” for working from my original rather than a duplicate layer so my original can be put away intact.

Posterize filter © Cynthia Crawford

In my version of Photoshop (CS4), you can also “load mesh” and “save mesh” in the Liquify filter. This is a grid overlay that shows you just what you moved and how you moved it. It can be a handy reference if you want to backtrack. Here is a grid overlay with some elements moved.

Load Mesh and Save Mesh in Photoshop

In the next picture you can see how I started to pull various elements around in “Liquify.” During the process, various shapes appeared that suggest objects. A horse-like creature was evolving here. This layer was saved, and then next stage created.

Photoshop Liquify filter © Cynthia Crawford

The background became a tree and the horse grew legs over the next few layers. At this point, I alternated between using Liquify and cloning some areas that just wouldn’t move the way I wanted them to in Liquify. There were several more versions leading up to this final result. I often find that I think I’m done with an image, only to discover another feature I want to add, or that I like an earlier version. In this one, for instance, I “cut out” the horse and put it in a new layer so I could work more on the background. I painted some soft blue at about 45% opacity over the water, then used Liquify to shape the blue water on the background layer.

When using creative filters in Photoshop to create digital art, I think it helps a lot to put something like this away for a while, and go back to it with a fresh view. I worked on this image for this last year, and have just now revised it. It may not be done yet! 🙂

About the Author

All her life Cindy has had an abiding love for the natural world. Her early years were spent in mid-New York State and Vermont where she maintained a strong interest in music and art. Cindy graduated from the New England Conservatory of Music and worked as a performing flutist and music teacher in Boston Massachusetts for many years. A move back to Vermont, where Cindy now lives, led to her present combination of interests. Music took a few new turns, and she became more serious about painting- in watercolors, primarily. Photography began to emerge as a means to capture subjects for her paintings, and gradually became another central interest. Both Cindy's father and grandfather were photographers. She now integrates photography and art by creating what Cindy calls "photo-paintings". Cindy's art shows include paintings, photos, photo-paintings and recordings she has made of birds combined with her own harp improvisations. Cynthia has three websites including: Art website:, Photography website:, Blog:

Post a Comment

Logged in as Anonymous