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Image I painted of some reeds on a textured backgroundThis week I wanted to go over a couple little painting tricks I have learned in the past few weeks from Aaron Blaise’s brush videos that are pretty darn cool. The image above contains a technique for adding depth to the individual stroke(s) and therefore an image. By locking down the transparent pixels and painting with brushes using different blend modes, you can get a natural looking effect on just part of the stroke. This technique has a bit of the Dodge and Burn Tools feel to it, but I am finding it is much more controllable and realistic looking using this method.

For starters, this image was painted in Photoshop mainly using these free Frostbo Grass Set 2 brushes. On several separate layers, the two brushes created last week are in this image along with Frostbo’s Grass 008 brush for the small colorful grass in front. All I did was make sure that Scattering was turned off in the Brush Engine as I did not want grass strokes everywhere. (See my How to Create a Magical Feel in Photoshop blog.) Next in Corel Painter on a New Layer placed just above the Canvas (know as the  Background layer in Photoshop) an Impasto texture was painted with an Impasto Brush and using the soft orange analogous color that blended nicely with my other colors. (Note: I could have placed any texture above the background layer while still in Photoshop.) Then back into Photoshop to do the final tweaking.

The Painter layers were placed in a group together so they could be found quickly if needed later. The different brush strokes on their own layers can now locked so just the transparent pixels are locked. This way only the strokes already laid down are affected by the new brush strokes being painted on top. Now any other brush can be set to a different blend mode to get different tones and color effects on the objects.  And this can be done using several times on the same stroke using different colors, brushes, and brush modes. In the case of the large reeds in front, a duplicate layer was created (and the original turned off so if you make a mistake you can turn it copy it again) and locked. A Soft Round Airbrush (150 pixels) was set to Multiply mode in the Options Bar and 71% Layer Opacity. By painting over the reeds in different colors, you can make them slightly darker getting parts of the stroke to recede or blend giving the impression of shadows and blending back into the image. This is such a subtle but very effective technique to really soften areas you do not want so emphasized.

Multiply, Overlay, and Color Dodge Brushes

It took me a while to get the actual workflow down as it varies slightly each time you do it. But here is what I figured out:

1. Always duplicate the layer you are going to work on in case you make a mistake and want to start over – and turn off the eyeball of the original layer you are working on.

2. Near the top in the Layers Panel click on the first icon next to the word Lock – it is called Lock Transparent Pixels.

3. Decide what you want to do – Darken part of the strokes, lighten part of the strokes, or really brighten up an area. The settings will change depending upon what you want to do. Aaron started with selecting one of Photoshop’s soft edges Airbrushes and setting it to around 150 pixels and a brush opacity between 50 and 100%. Turn on the Pressure for Opacity icon (next to the brush opacity field).

— To darken parts of your strokes to make them recede into the image and appear more like a shadow, start with these settings:  Multiply blend mode and select a mid-gray to a darker color for the foreground color. Also use this brush if strokes are too light in your object. Can increase brush opacity to make the effect more obvious.

— To brighten up anything underneath the stroke layer, set the brush to Overlay mode and use a bright color. Can also work by setting to a darker color to darken a little. Try experimenting with the grayish tones for this brush.

— To really brighten up an area, set the brush mode to Color Dodge and use a low brush opacity like 6%, although I am finding I use sometimes as much as 60% for a really sunny look. Select a light color for the foreground color like a white or light color tone. Paint over grass to lighten it up for example. If using on water and want a more reflective look, set the brush opacity to 35%.

The above settings are not static, just a beginning point so adjust to increase or decrease the effects. Note that you do not have to use an Airbrush if you want to add a texture feel to an object. Just switch to a brush you like. You may also want to turn off the Pressure for Opacity icon if not using the Airbrush. Aaron used one of his twig brushes for paint and smudging several times. This can give some very different looks with different colors being used.
Image I created called My Countryside WorldHere is another example using all the techniques above. You should be able to see the Color Dodge Airbrush in the top of the bush and on the edges of the tree, and the Multiply Airbrush in the shadow of the bush and the lower part of the bush. Mainly used Aaron Blaise Foliage Brush Set (his video on this technique is at bottom of link) and Kyle T. Websters Real Watercolor Brushes. I am loving both of these sets of brushes – really surprised at how much I like them. The birds were included as a png vector Crow 003 file from Zememz Crow Brush 003 for PaintShop Pro at DeviantArt. After practicing this technique a few times, I am finding it is helpful to apply the Color Dodge and Multiply brushes on your objects first, then come back and smudge them at a low brush opacity. This really softens the lines and makes them look more natural.

Smudge Brush

So what Smudge Brush did I use on this image. One that came with Kyle’s Watercolor brushes called Kyle’s Real Watercolor Soft Edger 2 set to 20% Strength. This brush was used to paint over the bush to soften the hard lines that looked unnatural. I also used a scattered Smudge Brush on the tree to add a little variation in the branches. On the mountain, Aaron’s twig brush was used to smooth it over a little and add some tone variation. As you can, the Smudge Tool is a pretty handy brush to have around. It seems that not just one will always do the trick. You can use a lot of the Photoshop brushes as Smudge brushes, so experiment and see what you get. To finish up this photo, Topaz ReStyle was applied and it just slightly popped the color. (The settings used were:  Selected Peach Puff – ReStyle section set to Overlay. In Basic Section Tone Black Level 0.34, Midtones -0.19, and White Level 0.16; and Detail Structure -0.58 and Sharpness 0.48.)

I thought this was a good time to present this technique since it is somewhat similar to the one using the Mixer Brush recently. (See How to Create a Color Palette for the Mixer Brush.) I am always looking for ways to get a unique or natural feel to my images. I am still learning how to do this more graphic expression with my art, but it is a lot of fun trying out all the different ways the experts do this. Hope you get a chance to try this – use those Frostbo brushes and try this technique out. I think you will really like it!…..Digital Lady Syd


Image of a field of flowers and a butterflyRecently I have been enjoying taking images and creating something a little different with them – I like to think of it as giving the image a “little magical” feel. This is probably because of the various new brushes recently bought or downloaded. Last week’s blog was on some new brushes I discovered and a new technique for adding some variable color to those brushes. Since the brushes seem to be a major factor to getting this magical feel, I thought I would explore some other techniques using Photoshop brushes. The image above is just a quick phone snap of some beautiful pink agapanthus (Tulbaghia violacea) growing in my neighborhood. I have to be honest and say I added the Monarch butterfly to the image to add interest – I do not believe Monarch likes this particular flower. To start my workflow, below is the original image from Lightroom and the image before adding Topaz Impression filter at the end.
Original and Image Before Topaz Impression Filter appliedAs you can see, the original image is not exactly a beautiful shot, but for some reason it just had a look that I liked. I worked with this image a long time in both Lightroom and Photoshop, and almost gave up on it – just did not work as a realistic photographic image. For the final result not much was done in Lightroom, just a little Basic slider adjusting and a little sharpening with the Adjustment Brush. In Photoshop Topaz (see sidebar at my Tidbits Blog for website link) Clarity was applied and then on a duplicated layer, Topaz Glow was applied and the layer set to Overlay blend mode. (See Image 1 below for settings of the these filters.) Remember these are great filters, but similar results can always be obtained in other ways like using Photoshop sharpening techniques and adjustment layers. Now a few New Layers were added on top and some different brushes were selected to fill in and add color. The image on the right shows what results were obtained by adding in different brushes in different colors and using a Topaz Glow layer. I still really like Aaron Blaise’s Foliage Brushes so several layers used his weed and reed brushes to fill in the front brown areas. Several soft strokes were also added in the mid ground and background just to add some color that was sorely missing. With his brushes, not many changes were made in the brush engine as he has done a wonderful job of setting them up to give good results.

Also used several of Deviant Art’s Frostbo Grass Set 2 brushes. (Be sure to read his usage rules for use.) Frostbo is one of my very favorite brush people and his brushes are all free – check out his other brush sets too. These 11 grass brushes were very basic and  created in an older version of Photoshop, but that makes them very easy to manipulate with the Brush Engine. Two of his brushes were manipulated and added to this image. Brush 010 was selected, and in the Brush Engine, changes were made to Frostbo’s settings: Brush Tip Shape Spacing from 25 to 1000, Size 137 to 800; Shape Dynamics Size Jitter from 51 to 0, Control Pressure Off, Min Diameter 0, Angle Jitter 2, Roundness 0, Min Roundness 0, checked Brush Projection; Scatter not used; Color Dynamics Control changed from Pen Pressure to none, Hue Jitter from 19 to 4, and Saturation Jitter from 20 to 8; and checked Wet Edges. These changes created a slightly different brush that worked better for this image. A similar change was done to Frostbo’s Brush 004. There are no additional settings applied his original brush other than the Brush Tip Shape settings of Size 154 pixels and Spacing 25%. The changes I made to this brush are: Brush Tip Shape Size 700 pixels and Spacing 331%; Shape Dynamics just Angle 4 and Check Brush Projection; Texture Scale 78% with a really obvious light and dark watercolor pattern selected, Brightness 9, Contrast 5, check Texture Each Tip, Mode Color Dodge, Depth 100%, and Depth Jitter 0; Color Dynamics check Apply Per Tip; Foreground/Background Jitter 100, no Control on, Hue Jitter 3 and all the rest o; Transfer Opacity Jitter 8% and Flow Jitter 71%; Wet Edges check on, Build-up checked on, and Smoothing checked on. This created a very different effect. Below are what the brushes looked like before changes and after changes.
Example of Frostbo brushes used in photoThe After brushes look different – not a lot different, but different. One reason is that the Brush Projection is checked in my variants so the brush stroke can be stretched or squished depending upon how you tilt and move your stylus. The bottom row shows several variations of the same brush stroke with it turned on. It can add that additional variety needed to give the random look to the brush. Just uncheck it in the Shape Dynamics section if you do not like the effect.

The Monarch butterfly (an object I had cut out of another image) was added and a layer using Kyles Real Watercolor Salt Medium brush was used to add some of the little dots throughout the middle part of the image. Any splatter brush can do this, I just liked his. A stamped layer was created (CTRL+ALT+SHIFT+E) and Nik Viveza 2 was used to bring in the butterfly as the focal point. Next more Frostbo brush strokes were added on a New Layer and set to 56% layer opacity. On another New Layer above, the feel of small blooming flowers was achieved by using Kyle’s Real Watercolor Spatter Spread Brush set to 22% layer opacity and a Bevel & Emboss Layer Style added to give a little depth to the back area. A New Layer with Kyle’s Real Watercolor Spatter Mixed brush was used to add in the circles that I just liked and set to 80% layer opacity. This is where I was at in the right image above. Not a bad look, but it still needed something. That is when Topaz Impression was added – again using one of my own presets. These settings are also listed below if you would like them. Finally a Curves Adjustment Layer was added to correct overall contrast and another one to light the middle of the image a bit more. By filling the second Curves Adjustment Layer mask to black (CTRL+I in mask), then painting back the areas to brighten with a 30% brush opacity, the effect could be localized. That was it. The image was transformed into a magical colorful field of color.

Image of Tinkerbell and a composite magical imageHere is another example that actually is very similar to the first image. This time three images were composited to get this magical effect. They are all of weeds on my back porch (no comments please) and the base image is of the center weed in front of a step up. The pretty wild flowers and the front right green were masked from their backgrounds and Refine Edge was used to clean them up. It did an amazing job as it was difficult getting all the stems in the flower looking nice. They were then arranged in the original image and just a lot of exactly the same brushes used above were used to fill in the area. Tinkerbell brush was from Camilak3 on Deviant Art and on a layer below, her skin and clothes were painted in using a watercolor brush. To get the final feel, three four filters were applied as I just could not get it looking the way I wanted. They were Topaz Glow, Nik Viveza 2, Topaz photoFXlab and Alien Skin’s Snap Art 4. I will give the preset settings below under Image 2.

One of the things I am starting to understand is that you can take any brush and basically “own it” by going into the Brush Engine and start playing. Once you like a brush, be sure to save it down as either a Brush Preset by clicking at the bottom of the Brush Panel or Brush Preset Panel, or as a Tool Preset by going to the top left of the options bar and clicking on the tiny arrow to open-click on the Tool Preset icon on right. That way your own version is ready to use over and over. There is no limitation on what you can do with a good basic brush. I have always loved my basic Chalk 60 brush – it just works for me. But now I have been experimenting with more object type brushes and they are turning out to be quite flexible when settings are changed also.

This week I just wanted to let you see how this can be done – it did take several hours to do each image, but they were a lot of fun to do. Since that is what I like to do, it was just perfect. Hope you enjoyed some of the tips and try out a little “magical look” to your images. Have a great week!…..Digital Lady Syd

Image 1:  The Topaz Clarity preset is one I created called SJ White Tulip and here are the settings:  Clarity Dynamics-Micro Contrast -1.00, Low Contrast 0.05, Medium Contrast -1.00, and High Contrast 0; No Tone Levels or Hue/Sat/; and Lum Red 0.09, Yellow 0.42, Green -0.08, Blue 0.38 and all others 0.00; and Tone Level Black Level 0.11, Midtones 0.22, and White Level -0.33; and Sat Yellow 0.22, Green 0.08, Purple 1.00, and Magenta 1.00. Topaz Glow setting is also one I call SJ Mysterious II Water and here are the settings used for it: Primary Glow:  Glow Type Dark, Glow Strength 0.30, Effect Sharpness 0.63, Electrify 0.14, Simplify Details 0.17, Edge Color 0.28, Detail Strength -0.06, Detail Size 0.20, Brightness -0.56, Contrast 0.44, Saturation 0.00, Line Rotation 0.00, and Glow Spread 0.00; Secondary Glow:  Glow Type Light, Glow Strength 0.00, Effect Sharpness 0.22, Electrify 0.03, Simplify Details 0.00, Brightness 0.45, and Contrast 0.64; Color Overall – all set to 0; Red Sat 0.34; Orange Sat 0.33; Yellow Sat 0.03 and Lightness -0.29; Blue Sat 0.42 and Lightness -0.43; and Magenta Sat 0.75 and Lightness -0.35.  Topaz Impression preset is one I call SJ WC like effect on bldgs – here are the settings: started with Watercolor II preset and these were the final settings: Stroke Type 04, Brush Size 0.91, Paint Volume 0.42, Paint Opacity 0.87, Stroke Width 0.33, Stroke Length 0.89, Spill 0.23, Smudge 26, Coverage 1.00, Color Overall Hue 0.15, Saturation -0.20 and Lightness 0.06; Red Sat 0.47 and 0.14; Orange Sat 0.60 and Lightness -0.42; Yellow Sat -0.33 and Lightness 0.13; Green Sat 0.20 and Lightness -0.32; and Blue Sat 0.36; Lighting Brightness -0.04, Contrast 0.39, Vignette 0, and Light Direction X0.33 and Y0.06; and Texture Strength 0.78, Size 0.30, Canvas IV, Background Type solid white, and Background color used #d38967 – all other settings not listed at 0.) Adjust your color swatches to get other color tones.

Image 2: Topaz Glow preset used is called Room Glow by Blake Rudis. (See my blog How To Get the Soft Glow in Topaz Glow for info on creating this setting.) Topaz photoFXlabs is a plug-in that does not support Photoshop CC2014, but can still be used with Photoshop CC which is what I usually use. I love the InstaTone setting in it and it was used for this image. Here are the steps and settings used just in case you own it:  First set Dyanmics slider on duplicate layer to -30; In Brushes, painted in burning around Tinkerbell and then used Detail brush to sharpen her and the line behind her; then set to Smooth to soften the lines in foreground.  Instatone Photo Library using
last image top row to get a nice tone to the image.  Then Adjustments Temp -9, and Dynamics 64. This time Alien Skin’s Snap Art 4 was used to apply just a gentle painterly feel to the final image. Here are the settings used to get the final result of the image: Oil Paint Detail preset modified:  Background Brush Size 14, Photorealism 62, Piant Thickness 84, Stroke Length 11, Color Variation 18 and Brush Style Default Brush, and Random Seed 7556; Detail Masking Effect on Mask 1 – Brush Size -30, Photorealism 80, Paint Thickness -40, Stroke Length 0, Color Variatino -29, and Brush Style -29 painted over Tinkerbell and some of the splatters and the front two flowers; Mask 2 – Brush Size 23, Photorealism 43, Paint Thickness -40, Stroke Length 0, Color Variation -29, and Brush Style Default Brush and painted in some of the center weed; and Mask 3 – same settings as Mask 2 and painted over the line at top; the Mask Tool was set to Size 11, Feather 50 and Amuont 85. Color Brightness 10, Contrast 12, Saturation 14 and Temp 0; Lighting Highlight Brightness 30, Highlight Size 35, Direction 280 and Angle 66, Highlight Color White, Vignette None; and Canvas No Texture.


Painted image of an underwater sceneThis week I got totally into being creative with some new Photoshop brushes recently purchased. By trying out a unique Mixer Brush technique, I ended up with this Underwater Party Scene and learning how to create a Color Palette to use for sampling with the Mixer Brush Tool. I will now try to share what I have learned.

Started this image with an 8″ X 8″ at 240 ppi new document. Initially I was just practicing a technique learned from a short You Tube video called Cool Mixer Brush Techniques for Photoshop Painting by Deviant Rahll. After taking a few notes I started playing with my new brushes and their settings, and ended up getting some pretty nice strokes from the Mixer Brush Tool. This technique created the nice background layers  needed to add my objects onto.

Regular Brush Tool Layer and Mixer Brush Tool Layer

So what is the technique? The concept was to lay down some colored strokes on a layer and then sample parts of it to paint on a New Layer above using the Mixer Brush. The colors and patterns in the sampled layer below will be reproduced in the Mixer Brush strokes above. This is different from just sampling a solid color – by sampling blended colors and/or several colors at once, it creates a bit of a clone effect within the Mixer Brush and gives a very different result.

You can see this effect in the side-by-side layers below. They were placed on a blue background so you can see that the layers are transparent except for where the paint strokes are applied. The left layer shows the strokes that were just painted down using the Regular Brush Tool with several different Regular brushes using different sizes and colors. Next, by switching to the Mixer Brush Tool and sampling (ALT+click) in the painted stroke of this layer, and then adding a New Layer above and painting, some very interesting color variations within each brush stroke occur. Each time you lift your pen or mouse, the same color pattern repeats in the next mixer stroke until you sample again in the bottom regular strokes layer. As you can see, the weed Mixer brush strokes on the right side layer picked up the colors from the left side Regular brush stroke layer. By selecting a very different brush, in this case a weed brush from Aaron Blaise, to use as a Mixer Brush was used for painting, the beautiful and color effect can be achieved in your strokes. In this case, several different areas on the left were sampled to get different color combinations in the weed brush.

Layers as they looked using the Mixer Brush

Steps to do this:

1. Paint on a New Layer with the Regular Brush (or you could use a Mixer Brush or Smudge Tool) something with the colors and blends you want to use – it already looks like a painter’s color palette once you do this

2. Then switch to the Mixer Brush Tool.

3. Create a New Layer above. In the Options Bar use these settings:

a) Turn on the icons for Load Paint After Every Stroke and Clean the Brush After Every Stroke

b) Set the Drop Down to Dry, Light Load. If any Wet is used, you get much more of a blender brush effect and either little or no color being added.

c) Set Flow to 100% to start. This is a sticky field so no matter what Brush or Tool Preset is chosen, this amount will stay the same. With some brushes if it gets too low, no strokes will show up. Do adjust the Flow some if you want a little lighter opacity to the stroke.

d) Check Sample All Layers to turn on.

4.  Go to the Brush Picker and select a brush to use as your Mixer Brush and paint on the new layer. Note that each time you lift your brush, the color and design pattern starts over until you sample in a different area. Since Sample All Layers is on, you do not need to highlight the regular layer when sampling. If turned off (because the Mixer brush is slowing down your computer), then you must switch to the regular layer to sample.

You do not have to keep the Regular Brush layer after you have used it for sampling, if it is not needed for the image – in fact you can be sampling from another document as in Example 3 below. In my image above, the Regular Brush layer was used to form the bottom of the ocean. Select a Mixer Brush – it can be any of your Regular or Mixer Brushes that are listed in the Brush Presets Panel or Mixer Tool Preset.

Example 2 below shows the same thing as Example 1 above, but this time you are seeing the two layers stacked as it would appear in Photoshop:
Another Example of the Mixer Brush useThe two layers are the original watercolors painted on the first layer (the strokes shown in lower left behind the smaller fish), and then on the next layer the fish and a shoreline were all painted in as Mixer Brushes using sampled colors from the Regular Brush layer below. It can create some really nice effects. You can see how the fish picked up the different colors in the areas sampled.

This is a pretty cool technique. I think it will be useful to me from a creative aspect. Definitely need to experiment with different types of brushes in both layers, and change their settings in the Brush Panel, to see some new results. If you watch the video linked above, you will get a better idea of this. These are the brushes were in the top image and examples: Grut NM Brash Mass brush (this was a free download-each week he offers different ones) and Aaron Blaise’s Foliage SB46-4 (size 502) was used to create the left layer in Example 1. They were selected to get some interesting edges to use for sampling. In Example 2 the watercolor area used for sampling was created with Kyle’s Real Watercolor-Big Rough Wash Small Grain, Soft Irregular Wash 150, and Soft Edge Brush were used. Mindful Pixels Watercolor Fancy Fish set was used (the fish were from a free download from years ago, but I could not find a recent link – they would not be hard to create), and for the shoreline Aaron Blaise Wet Media brush SB47-19 was used (liked how the green showed up in the upper part of the stroke). All brushes are very inexpensive but wonderful Photoshop brushes. A set of free brushes from Brusheezy called Fishing created by Hawkmont is where the hook and several of the creature strokes were found – there are some really nice free brushes for watercolor textures and all kinds of things at this site.

Remember that using a Mixer Brush at a large size can really slow down your system! I usually try to stay under 45 pixels, but try larger if you are just using it on a few strokes. If you must, try unchecking Sample All Layers to paint – that means you must highlight the layer with your sampling colors on it and then highlight the Mixer Layer to paint with the colors. As a last resort, try resizing your document in half – this will really speed up the Mixer Brush.

If you want to use a Regular or Mixer Brush located in the Tool Presets area and it is not in your list of brushes in the Brush Preset Panel, you will need to save it as a brush by clicking the Create New Brush icon at bottom of the Brush Panel or Brush Preset Panel. The brush will be listed at the bottom of your brush list. For example, I had to do this with the  Grut NM Brash Mass brush and Kyle’s Watercolor Brushes as both are downloaded as Tool Presets for the Regular Brush Tool. Since you need to paint with the Mixer Brush Tool to pick up the color and patterns, the Tool Preset Regular Brushes need to be saved as brushes in the Brush Preset so they can be converted to a Mixer Tool.

How the Rest of the Image was Put Together

Once I had the two layers above in place, the rest was easy. Kyle’s Big Rough Wash Small Grain watercolor brush was used in a light beige-orange color on a layer just above the Background to add some painter effect behind the stroke layers. This is a really wonderful set of inexpensive watercolor brushes that I have been having a lot of fun using in different way. On several different layer Mindful Pixels Fish brushes were used – in fact all 5 of the watercolor brushes provided in this set are in this image. To get the texture in the objects and plants, different settings in the Photoshop Layer Styles were applied. Even the bubbles has a little bevel and emboss on them. To get the pretty texture in the fish, the Pattern Overlay effect was used in its Layer Style of each fisher layer and watercolor patterns from Design Cuts were used. (If you have a watercolor texture that you like, open it up in Photoshop and go to Edit -> Define Pattern – it will show up at the bottom of your patterns list and can be used in the Pattern Overlay or the Bevel & Emboss Texture section in the Layer Style. Try the different blend modes and change the Scale for different effects. You can drag the pattern around to fit the layer if it is larger than the object to get fine tune the texture location. (I will blog on how to use Layer Styles very soon.)

Mixer Brush Color Palette

Screenshot of Color Palette for Mixer Brushes

Here is an example of a Color Palette I created by just using a Watercolor Brush and painting color at 100% brush opacity and 50% brush opacity and then using some color variations on top. The file was saved as a PNG document and it can be used over for use on other images. These are not pure colors, just some that resemble the basic colors. A small heart brush was created with these settings in the Brush Panel: Brush Tip Shape -Size 200 pixels and Spacing 25%: Shape Dynamics Size Jitter 93% with Control set to Pen Pressure and Angle Jitter 12%; Scattering Scatter Both Axes at 1000%, Control Pen Tilt, and Count; Color Dynamics check Apply Per Tip, Foreground/Background Jitter 8%, Hue Jitter 7%, Saturation 2%, Brightness Jitter 7%, and Purity -36%; and Transfer Opacity Jitter 20% and Flower Jitter 32%. Select this brush as a Mixer Brush using the default Dry, Heavy Load – you can see the Options Bar in the image. By going to Windows -> Tile Vertically, it is easy to go between the Color Palette file and sample the colors by ALT+clicking and going to the Heart file and painting on a layer above the the Background layer. You can see very clearly that the colors stay in the same portion of the heart strokes, even though the strokes vary in size and rotation. Pretty cool effect!

I hope you get a chance to try out this technique. It is really not that hard to do once you try it. I can see all kinds of creative possibilities – I think sampling from your favorite images to use as the Regular Brush layer might be a good way to experiment with this technique. Will be back soon!…..Digital Lady Syd

Digital Lady Syd Related Blogs:
How To Paint An Image Using Regular and Mixer Brushes in Photoshop
Adobe Photoshop CS5’s Mixer Brushes
What Does the Flow Slider in the Options Bar Do?


Image of a Native American Doll in a papooseJust a simple blog this on Content-Aware Fill and and Nik Viveza 2, that I consider as the best Photoshop plug-in around and how I use it. Once again the Native American Festival displayed their beautiful doll collection. This year they were all shown in a tee-pee type structure, and this little doll was swinging around rather aggressively as it was pretty windy! The doll looks totally scared which I found rather comical! And the papoose was a very interesting object so I had to take some pictures.

For this image, nothing was done in Lightroom except to check Enable Profile Corrections and Remove Chromatic Aberration. Below is how the RAW image before taking it into Photoshop – not that great!
Lightroom Screen shot showing original image as shot in RAW Normally I would do a straighten and/or Crop in Lightroom and adjust the Basic sliders, but in this case, Content-Aware Fill in Photoshop was going to be needed to fill out areas due to the straightening and then cropping in Photoshop. Lightroom will not let you crop outside the image area, but Photoshop will. See below how the image looked after this step.

Image shown after crop and straighten in Photoshop

You can see the pink areas that have no picture info in them – these areas need to be filled in using Content-Aware Fill. I have created an action using the following steps which usually gives a decent fill-in result.

1. If possible use the Magic Wand Tool, which was done in this case, to select the areas to be filled in. In the above, the process was repeated twice, but you could select both areas by clicking the SHIFT button and clicking with the Magic Wand into the second area. I find that if too much area is chosen at once, the results might not be as good. Also, any way of selecting is fine and do use the Quick Mask Tool (Q) to clean up a selection if it needs it before proceeding.

2. This step is where I begin my action. Go to Select -> Modify -> Expand and put in 4 pixels. This is enough information for the Content-Aware command to work pretty well.

3. Go to Edit -> Fill (SHIFT+F5 or SHIFT+BACKSPACE) and select Content-Aware in drop down list, Mode Normal and Opacity 100% in the Fill dialog box, then OK.

4. Press CTRL+D to deselect the selection.

At this point some clean up on a New Layer is required using the Clone Stamp Tool or the Brush Tool. Below you can now see how the image looked as I took it into Nik Viveza 2 – just ignore the control points icons. You can see that it added in the upper right area perfectly, but top and left side had to corrected a bit after running content aware. In fact the doll on the left had been cut off in the original image, but Photoshop picked up some brown, so I just painted in an arm and smoothed out the brown edging. Since it was not a focal point in the image, it really is unnoticeable.

Image as shown in Nik Viveza 2 with no filter changes applied.

Next the image is shown with all the Control Points turned on.

Image showing Nik Viveza 2 control points turned on

Before going into the filter, I always make a stamped layer (CTRL+ALT+SHIFT+E) on top and then right click on the layer and select Convert To a Smart Object. That way if the effect does not look good, I can go back into the filter and adjust the settings easily. There are 9 control points in this image. Usually I am looking at 4 or 5. The first control point is usually placed on the focal point of the image – in this case the doll’s face. The face was brightened up a little, Contrast added, and Structure pulled all the way out to show the detail of the face. The Control Point was adjusted so it only affected here face. Other control points lightened up the post on the right to make it almost disappear, the one shown above is for the middle of papoose to show a little more detail in that part of the object, and the bottom box was set with the Structure slider left to totally soften it instead of add detail. The Structure slider is very similar to Clarity in Camera Raw. In other words an image can be totally tweaked by adjusting the same sliders shown on the left for each control point. I really like the fact that a color can be sampled from an image and changed if it is not working in a certain place. Very easy to use.

Since the basic sliders – Brightness, Contrast, Saturation, and Structure – can all be adjusted in the Control Points, it is very easy to adjust the image to get the effect you need. I use the Shadow Adjustments and Warmth much less, but occasionally they really help. Also, by sampling a color you like, you can adjust a color very easily in a different part of the image.

Now that I have said all this about Viveza, you can do almost all of the same things in the Camera Raw filter in Photoshop – you just have to do it with Adjustment Brushes and Radial Filters, but it can very easily be done. I would recommend you try this if you do not have the Viveza filter as it is just about as good. I find Viveza is very quick and easy to use but I do use the Camera Filter a lot now that Photoshop CC and CC2015 have it. And you Photoshop CS6 users can get to it very easily on a layer by using Dr. Brown’s ACR Script (See my Edit Layers with ACR (Adobe Camera Raw) Script blog for download link.) The only thing it will not have the is Radial Filter, but it does have the adjustment brush capability.

Since it is usually at the end of my workflow I find that major flaw, Viveza has saved a lot of images. Also it can create a really nice subtle vignette by putting control points in each of the corners and just adjusting the Brightness slider down. A layer style was used to add the large brown stroke around the image.

Hope you get a chance to use this filter, you will not be disappointed with the results. Later…..Digital Lady Syd

Digital Lady Syd Related Blogs:
Nik’s Viveza 2 Plug-In – A Hidden Gem!


Image of a Totem Pole from the Native American Festival in Ormond Beach, FloridaThis image was taken at the 2015 Native American Festival in Ormond Beach, Florida. It is a very different type of totem pole and I wish I knew more about which group it was from and what it meant. In Lightroom Seim’s (see sidebar at my Tidbits Blog for website link) Classic Holga preset was applied. Once in Photoshop some clean up was done on a New Layer. On a stamped layer (CTRL+ALT+SHIFT+E) Topaz (see sidebar at my Tidbits Blog for website link) Impressions was used (see preset settings at end of blog). Painted Textures Sunrise Canvas texture (one provided in one of their workshops) was used – it has some very soft yellow/orange colors. The Layer Style of the texture was opened (just double-click out side the thumbnail on the layer to open dialog box) and the Blend If sliders were adjusted to bring back some of the greens in the grass. On the This Layer slider, the white tab was moved left and split (ALT+drag on tab to split) with settings of 186/204; and on the Underlying Layer slider the Black tab was moved right and split with settings of 49/93, and the without splitting the white tab was set to 221. The next thing done, which is a little unusual, was to turn off the G and B Channels so only the Red one is checked. The layer Blend Mode was set to Hard Light and the Layer Opacity to 52%. You need to experiment with these settings as they can make some dramatic color differences to the image. (See my How to Use Those Handy Blend-If Sliders! blog.) Another stamped layer was created on top and set to Multiply blend mode at  60% layer opacity, and then the layer was duplicated (CTRL+J) and this layer was set to Screen blend mode at 14%. This adjusts the contrast in a different way. The last step applied Nik Viveza 2 to direct focus to the face. Loved the colors that came from the image!

Painted Clouds using Aaron Blaise Cloud Set Brushes imageRecently I wrote about some Pen and Ink Photoshop brushes created by Aaron Blaise, a wonderful illustrator and former Disney movie artist (see How to Create a Watercolor/Ink Image in Photoshop blog). Since these were so fun (and inexpensive), I decided to try out his Cloud Brush Set and this was my first effort. I believe that Corel Painter makes the best cloud effects, so I was surprised how good Aaron’s Photoshop brushes are! By following his video and learning about all the 30 different brushes included in the set (see Painting Clouds – Custom Photoshop Painting Tutorial video), it was not really that difficult to do this. I did find that some of the edges were a bit rough, but by just switching from the regular brush to the Mixer brush, those edges could be smoothed away when used as a Blender. To use it as a blender type Mixer brush these Option Bar settings were used: Turn on Load the Brush After Each Stroke (there will not be much color coming in due to the low Load amount), Wet 100%, Load 1%, Mix 90% (high amount indicated more paint is being mixed from canvas), Flow 100%, and Sample All Layers checked. Adjust the brush size and use it to push the color slightly from one area to another. Aaron does not use the Mixer brush, but does like to use the Smudge brush – I found this worked fine with the brush set to Normal Mode, 50% Strength, and Sample All Layers.

That’s it – just wanted to share a few things I learned this week, mainly what turning off a Channel does in the Layer Styles dialog box as in Image 1 and how to paint some pretty nice clouds in Photoshop using Aaron Blaise’s brushes. Total fun. Hope you all have a good week!……Digital Lady Syd

Image 1: Topaz Impressions SJ WCII background preset settings: Stroke: Brush Type 09, Brush Size 0.50, Paint Volume 0.68, Paint Opacity 0.83, Stroke Rotation 0, Stroke Color Variation 0, Stroke Width 0.44, Stroke Length 0.38, Spill 0.09, Smudge 0, and Coverage 1.00; Color: Overall Hue 0, Saturation -0.02, and Lightness -0.04; Red only Sat 0.41; Orange only Sat 0.43; Yellow only Sat 0.43; and all the other color settings at 0; Lighting Brightness 0.17, Contrast -0.29; and Vignette 0; Light Direction x0.52/y1.00; and Texture Strength 0.16, Size -0.68, Canvas IV used, Background Type solid white, and Background white.



Image of a Common Moorhen BirdThis week I thought I would just address a topic I consider when choosing pictures to post-process. That is, how do you get the most out of that not quite perfect image that you really like? Many times I end up taking a picture that does not look like much out of camera. I do not want to discard some of these pictures – after all, they are my memories, but it does seem to be a constant battle to figure out a way to pull out a good result with them.

One of the best starts is to try out different crops. Lots of times I have taken too much background and/or foreground in the shot, but the main subject does not look too bad close up. The image above is an example of this. This only works with my better camera where I have pixels to spare. Due to the lower resolution of my phone pix, they may not give a better result with a crop. That is one reason I like filters. So often a special effect turns a shot into something I totally love. With some pretty cool phone apps, you can get some very impressive results. But with my dSLR, I like to use the Photoshop plug-ins since I can often get some good results with marginal images. So let me walk you through the above example.

The image is of a male Common Moorhen – who knew – it was a really striking bird hiding in the grass. (To see the original RAW images, check out the end of the blog.) The patterns in the water were totally lost in the original image, but in Lightroom the image was cropped extensively and a totally different look appears. A good crop can make all the difference. Since cropping can create some rather soft edges in the image, Seim’s Super HDR X preset was applied to sharpen up the image overall. Then in Photoshop, Topaz Detail 3 was used to sharpen just the bird – a black mask was applied and the bird was painted back.  (See sidebar at my Tidbits Blog for Seim’s and Topaz website links.)

Now it was time to try out some different filters on this image. On a stamped layer (CTRL+ALT+SHIFT+E) Topaz Impression was applied. This is such a painterly look that I did not consider it one I would like, but it is still worth trying different effects to see what you get. One of my favorite Topaz filter guys, Blake Rudis, created a video called Atmospheric Backgrounds with Topaz Impression. Since this image had such a crazy zig-zag pattern in the background water, it seemed like a good time to try out the Ethereal Background preset he created in his video. All the settings are listed at the link and it really did calm down the color so the bird stands out. A Lookup Adjustment Layer using the Crisp Winter preset was added and set to 55% layer opacity to cool down the colors just a little bit. The last step was using Nik Viveza 2 to direct the focus to the bird a little more – this is almost always my last step, but it you do not have this filter, try using Photoshop’s Camera Raw filter and adjust some Radial filters in the image. It creates a very similar result and I use it a lot also. I now have a shot I really like!


Image of a Cattle Egret riding on the back of a cowThis beautiful little Cattle Egret was riding on the back of this gigantic cow. I was sitting in the backseat of a car and shot this through the opposite side window – I am still surprised it turned out at all! Now to be honest, this image was not really that great – lots of the background was very blurred. But the bird was not in too bad a shape. This image was turned into a black and white in Lightroom – it really made the bird show up nicely. (Used Seim’s Angels Kiss preset.) Otherwise its tiny size and all the colorful wild grass and reeds really made the bird hard to find. So definitely check out a black and white treatment just to see if it could enhance a rather tired looking color image. This is pretty easy to do in either Lightroom with the canned presets or Photoshop with the black and white adjustment layer.

In Photoshop the Shake Reduction filter was used, and it worked nicely on the bird, but way overdid the rest of the image. Therefore a black layer mask was used and just the bird and part of the palm tree in front were sharpened. The Shake Reduction filter can sometimes really straighten out a soft shot so check it out. Use the black layer mask if it is too much and paint back areas that needed the sharpening.

Use your brushes to paint in over the soft edges of focal objects. A New Layer was created on top and the bird edges were lightly painted in cleanly. Used a tiny soft round brush set to 7 pixels, 30% layer opacity, and sampled the bird color (ALT+click on object) – only painted his edges and a little bit in the beak area.  I still did not like the overall appearance. Topaz Clarity was opened and my SJ Artsy with highlights preset was applied, and all of the sudden it looked so much better! This is a preset I created for something totally different ages ago, but it worked on this image. In a layer mask only the bird was painted back to retain its detail as this preset really softened everything in it. (Here are the settings if you are interested: Clarity Dynamics Micro Contrast -0.86, Low Contrast -0.86, Medium Contrast 0.63, and High Contrast 0.94; Tone Level Black Level -0.19, Midtones -0.36, and White Level 0.19; HSL Filter Hue – no changes; Sat Orange 0.06, Yellow 0.63, Green 0.13, Blue 0.25 0.25, and Overall -0.45; and Lum Orange 0.36, Yellow -0.34, Green -0.42, Blue 0.61, Purple 0.11, Magenta 0.75, and Overall -0.27 – all other colors were 0.00. Adjust these settings around if they do not quite fit the effect you want.) The layer opacity was set to 84%. Since this filter was applied to a black and white image, it gave a different result than on color images. The post-processing could have been finished here as it looked pretty good. A blue toned Solid Color Adjustment Layer was placed on top and set to Color blend mode at 33% layer opacity to get a really pretty night feel to the picture. And once again, since the background was pretty busy, Topaz Impression was opened and the new Ethereal Preset by Blake Rudis was applied. The layer was set to 75% layer opacity and in a white mask, the bird and some of the areas I wanted the detail to show up was painted back. The last step was using Nik Viveza 2 to draw the eye to the bird.


Image of a Wood Stork and his reflectionHere is another example of an image a thousand people have taken and I wanted to get something a little different out of it. I have to say I have a soft spot for Wood Storks since they are all around where I live. In Lightroom the Crop was set, Seim’s Super Gentle X was applied, and the head was sharpened with an Adjustment Brush. The Clarity and Sharpness were set up fairly high. In Photoshop the first step was to extend the image size 50% so Flaming Pear’s Flood filter could be used. This is an oldie but goodie filter, but it is still one of my favorites and it gives major realistic results. (Flaming Pear Flood Settings: Horizon 56, Offset 0, Perspective 41, Altitude 29, Waviness 2, Complexity 43, Brilliance 39, Blur 27, Size 0, Height 24, and Undulation 38.)  Next Topaz Detail 3 was applied. (Here are the preset settings: Overall Small Details -0.51, Small Details Boost -0.40, Medium -0.39, Medium Details Boost -0.30, Large Details -0.51, and Large Details Boost -0.41; and Tone Exposure -0.40, Cyan-Red 0.48, Magenta-Green -0.29, and Yellow-Blue 0.31.) This looked really good as is when applied twice. (See my Tidbits A Reflecting Wood Stork blog.) But I decided to go after one application and use Topaz Glow on a stamped layer and my SJ Inter Web Variation preset. (Settings are: Primary Glow Type Dark, Glow Strength 1.00, Effect Sharpness 0.12, Electrify 1.00, Simplify Details 0.06, Edge Color 0, Detail Strength 1.00, Detail Size 0.42, Brightness 0.16, Contrast 0.18, Saturation 0.08, Line Rotation 0, and Glow Spread 0; Secondary Glow Glow Type Light, Glow Strength 0, Effect Sharpness 0.54, Electrify 0.11, Simplify Details 0, Brightness 0, and Contrast 0; Color Overall Saturation to 0.62, Red Sat to 0.44, Yellow Sat to 1.00 Yellow Lightness -0.36, Green Sat 1.00 and Lightness -0.51, Aqua Lightness -0.36, Purple Sat 1.00, and Magenta Sat 1.00 and Lightness 0.50. Set to Screen blend mode at 66% Strength; and no Finishing Touches.) This gave a very, artistic twist to the image. On another stamped layer Topaz ReStyle was applied to get the pretty pink and greens in the image. (Here are the settings: SJ Thistle Blush 2-Sr1 Sh1 preset – ReStyle Sat Fourth 0.78; Lum Fourth -0.52 and Fifth -1.00; and Texture Strength 0.05; Basic Blend Mode Soft Light at 62% opacity; Color Temperature 0.25, Tint 0.42, and Sat -0.06; Tone Black Level -0.33, Midtones -0.06, and White Level 0.64; and Detail Structure -0.09 and Sharpness 0.97.) The lower part of the image was darkened to try and copy the way a true reflection looks. And of course my last step was using Nik Viveza 2.

Original images for the above post-processed images

I am showing thumbnails of what the originals looked like or this whole blog would have little meaning. It really does not matter whose filters you apply or what colors, it is just experimenting until you get something that makes the image look good. I could have used other filters and gotten totally different results. And by using adjustment layers and blend modes, even better results can be achieved. I know I have covered this before, but it is something I consider for the post-processing of each image. I love to just play in Photoshop and have fun – and that is what this whole blog is about. Challenge yourself to get something nice out of a “maybe not so nice” image. Have a good week…..Digital Lady Syd


Pen and ink painting of some trees in winterI was not sure what I wanted to blog about this week until I ran into some wonderful Photoshop brushes that really got my attention. This image was created using some new Wet Media Photoshop Brushes by Aaron Blaise, a former Disney animator. I was pleasantly surprised how nice they are. He also teaches you how to make a very similar image as above in his video where he describes how each brush works and how to use them together. By the way, they are very inexpensive and contain 27 different brushes including several direction sensitive splatter brushes. This was so much fun to try. I have not done this type of creative art very often, and I believe I am now hooked. I also discovered Aaron does some very nice artwork himself.

A Pattern Fill Adjustment Layer was placed above the bottom layer and set to a Watercolor type paper. The technique uses the same brushes Aaron used in his video example. A little note here is that when he is switching to white from black paint brush color, he sometimes is using a slightly grayer version of white and a true white as the foreground/background colors – this kept the spatters lighter and gave the brushes a different effect. A Solid Color Adjustment Layer was added above the painting layers and set to a bluish color using Color blend mode at 39% layer opacity. A white to transparent Gradient Fill Adjustment Layer was next to keep the lower part of image whiter. A generic Mixer Blender brush was used on a separate layer on top to clean up some still showing rough spots. The last step placed a Levels Adjustment Layer on top to add a little more contrast to the image. No filters were used!
Painted image of a sunset landscapeSince I am still learning about these brushes, this was a lot of fun to try them out. By varying the sizes, colors and textures, a very different look can be achieved with Wet Media brushes. This time each different brush used was placed on its own layer so it could be adjusted easier. Topaz (see sidebar at my Tidbits Blog for website link) ReStyle was used to make the color palette a little more to my liking. It started out in yellows and greens. Next two of Jai Johnson’s free textures were used:  Cotton Candy Wall set to Darker Color blend mode at 77% layer opacity and Antique Brown Light Canvas set to Hard Light at 74% layer opacity. The Blend If sliders were used to really target the look I wanted. The text is Kaushan Script Regular.

If you like this type of creative artistry, these brushes are a very good value. Since I understand the Photoshop brushes, for me this is a refreshing change to have a set with this variety. Most Photoshop brushes do not have this range and are not created by actual artists to give the best results. Check out his video linked above if you would like to see them action. I will be working on my technique using these brushes – this is definitely a good start towards learning this technique. Have a good week everyone and try some painting!…..Digital Lady Syd

Digital Lady Syd Related Blogs:
How to Easily Create a Photoshop Brush for Painting
Sunny Desert Day
Just Painting!


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