There are actually a much wider range of tools and techniques for turning photos into paintings using Adobe software than can be dealt with in this short article. That being the case I’m going to focus on just one. Using Photoshop and then Illustrator this is a fairly simple yet very effective technique for you to try.
The original photo
Open the image in Photoshop and from the Filter menu choose Stylize > Find Edges.
Save the image as a JPEG.
Open Illustrator and choose File > Open or press Command-O. Find the JPEG you created in Photoshop and Click OK.
Select the JPEG on the Artboard and click on the Live Trace button in the Control Panel.
The outlined JPEG is turned into a vector. It may well be the case that the Default preset for Live Trace does the job well enough.
For this image I found setting the Live Trace preset option to Color 6.
In this case it makes for a great set of Paths outlining the image (TIP: It’s always worth trying other Live Trace preset options for different results)
There are now two options available to you. You could expand the traced image to create lots of individual paths. This would make the paths malleable if the shape wasn’t quite what you wanted, however the image would become much more complex.
Instead use a Live Paint group, which enables the filling of Paths while keeping the image less complex.
With the traced image still selected, click on the Live Paint button to convert the image to a Live Paint group.
Tracing images into Vector paths is a quick and easy workflow, however it is rarely as accurate as drawing paths yourself. Gaps are always a possibility, and they will allow color to flood out to fill other paths.
Open the Gap Options dialogue box and check the Gap Detection box. Then set the Paint Stops at option to Small Gaps. This will effectively Dam gaps that might have been left in the Traced paths.
Select the Live Paint Bucket tool or press K. Select a fill color and use the tool to select each path in turn and fill it.
This may take some time but keep going until your image starts to fill with the colors you need.
The Traced image will still have paths making up the background. To remove them, first Expand the traced image to create a group of individual paths.
Select the unwanted paths using the Direct Selection tool or press A and press Delete. This might take some time, but keep going until they are all gone.
To ensure that the background doesn’t interfere with the illustration, create a new layer and place it beneath the original layer.
Use the Brush Library to select appropriate brush styles for your image and begin painting. Here I varied the Brush, Size and Color and built up a sea like image.
Add a further layer, again placed under the original layer. This is where I created the sky.
For this image I drew a large rectangle to fill the sky and created a Radial effect using a triangular path Rotated and Duplicated, and filled with another color. (TIP: A gradient might be just as effective here).
The edges of the illustration look a little rough. Last step then. Create a large solid rectangle that covers the parts of the image you intend to see.
Select all the paths on all the layers (Select > All or press Command-A) then choose Object > Clipping Mask > Make.
And there you have it, the transformation is complete. As I said, there are other options to explore, but for now see how you go using this one.