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A FEW PHOTOSHOP DIGITAL PAINTING TIPS YOU MAY NOT KNOW

Digital portrait image of a sad young lady

Recently I have been working hard at drawing and painting different types of images so a lot of what I will be blogging about in the next few months will be about this. As I have been learning (and this definitely has been a several year evolution), I found some “little known Photoshop tips” to me so I thought I would share them. Maybe there are a few new things for you to try out too!

But first a little about my image above. I felt compelled to try drawing something using Amedeo Modigliani’s basic style after viewing The Daily Art Magazine blog showing several of his images. The really elongated necks were not that appealing to me, but the facial expressions and slightly cartoon-looking lines in his portraits were very interesting. Which brings me to an Aaron Blaise class on Clear Expression where he teaches how to draw cartoonish facial emotions like happiness, sadness, anger, etc. (Most of his classes are very inexpensive, especially during his sales and he is a great teacher.) Aaron’s class was an excellent way to learn how to achieve some of the expressions used in Modigliani’s art. La Femme en blouse marine (Girl in a sailor collar) was used as the main example for my image.

For those of you who do not know or remember, the ~ or TILDE key (just above the left TAB key) can now be used as an Eraser using the same stroke as the brush being used when held down while stroking. PS added this a couple years ago and it is very handy – a great time-saver! If your brush is set to 30% Opacity or Flow, it will erase at this lower amount to blend back. Use the regular Eraser at 100% Opacity and Flow to make major changes. Below are listed the rest of the tips:

1. USE THE EDIT-> FADE TO REDUCE THE OPACITY OF A STROKE WITH THE MIXER BRUSH

I have always felt that the Mixer had a shortcoming since there was no way to control the actual Stroke Opacity, especially if the stroke looked correct, but maybe a little over the top when working in detailed areas. Using the Fade Command can really help with this – just remember it must be executed right after the stroke is made or it cannot be used. For the Mixer brush PS does not let you change the Mode but at least you can reduce the effect! I have the Fade Command set up on F4 as a shortcut key.

2. INCREASE THE BRUSH TIP APPEARANCE FOR PAINTING

A small but new feature in Photoshop 2023 and it seems to be very helpful to me. The brush dab icon is often hard to see when painting with a small size brush so often the SHIFT key is set to see where the brush is painting. PS now lets you change the boldness of the brush tip by going to Edit -> Preferences -> Cursors -> and changing the Brush Tip Outline to Extra Bold. It really makes a difference!

3. ALT + DRAGGING WITH THE SMUDGE TOOL TO SMUDGE USING THE FOREGROUND COLOR

This is one that never occurred to me, but when smudging in an image and more color needs to be added into an area, you do not have to switch to the Brush Tool to do this. Just press the ALT key while painting and the Foreground Color will show up – by dabbing, more color is added. Do take note that: 1) Everything depends on which Smudge Brush is being used. Kyle T. Webster’s free All Purpose Blend Smudge Brush in his Concept set will work quite well. Just make sure that the Foreground Color is the one to needed to add in and the Sample All Layers box is checked On if using a New Layer. If the color does not show up, try a different Smudge Brush; and 2) The Strength of the brush in the Options Bar usually needs to be adjusted – it seems the stronger the amount, the better the color. What I like is that just a touch of a different color from another part of the image can be added quickly to tie it into another object on your layer, and it also makes some really nice cloud colors. What is causing this to happen? The PS keyboard shortcut for the Finger Painting option is the ALT key so actually this is being turned on. The Finger Painting option simulates the effect that happens when you drag a finger through wet paint, and it uses the Foreground Color at the beginning of each stroke. When not On, the Smudge Tool uses the color under the brush at the beginning of each stroke, and this is why dabbing adds more color. (This info was from the great PS Guru Deke McClelland.) See next tip to make this work great!

4. REMOVE SPACING ON SMUDGE BRUSH TO GET A GREAT PAINTERLY LOOK

I have found the best way to find good brushes is find out what the artists who really are doing Digital Painting are using. Eric Elwell is one of these artists and has a set of brushes and a video that explained how he uses his Smudge Brushes. By turning off the Spacing in the Brush Settings panel, some very interesting results can be obtained. The slower the stroke, the closer the strokes are for a nice smudgy smooth transition; the faster the stroke, the brush uses the dab and stamps it along the brush path. Stroking an edge breaks up the edge. His theory is he can add soft and hard edges without having to change tools. To test it, the same Kyle’s All Purpose Blend Smudge Brush was selected, but this time the spacing was turned off – not much happened. By checking out Eric’s EE TEx Smudge brush settings, these changes were made to Kyle’s brush: Shape Dynamics (no Control for Size Jitter), Angle Jitter set to 3%, and Angle Jitter Control set to Direction; Transfer checked with 0 Strength and no Control; Noise checked, and in Options Bar Strength set to 92%. (Each of Eric’s Smudge brushes has different settings but all have Spacing unchecked.) What is really great is that if the ALT key is now pressed, the Foreground color comes out brilliantly when Strength is set to 92% and looks totally painterly! By varying the Smudge brush size and direction, some very nice stroke effects can be obtained, even with Kyle’s All Purpose Blend Smudge Brush. You can download Eric’s brushes that I have here, and I believe he has newer sets for sale up on Artstation. His digital artwork is very good! When several of Kyle’s other Smudge brush settings were opened, he has several where the spacing is unchecked and give some very interesting results.

5. HOW TO EASILY CREATE A FACE CIRCLE OR OVAL WITH EDIT -> STROKE

I have a horrible time getting the first circle or oval drawn on my canvas. Why didn’t I think of this before I don’t know! First create a New Layer, select the brush for your basic outline drawing, and choose a color, usually black. Select the Elliptical Marquee Tool and drag out your shape – use the Space Bar to reposition on the canvas. Then go to Edit -> Stroke and set 2 pixels (or however large you want the line to be) and press enter. Then deselect (CTRL+D) to see the line. Free Transform (CTRL + T) can be used to adjust it more if needed.

6. HOW TO ERASE A SPECIFIC COLOR WITH THE PAINT BUCKET TOOL

One again something I did not know. To remove a specific color from a layer (or All Layers box is checked), select the Bucket Tool or CTRL + G (located with the Gradient Tool in the Toolbar). Set the Mode to Clear and Tolerance (mine is set to 32 at the moment). Turn On the Contiguous box if you want only one area to be removed, otherwise all the selected color on the layer(s) will be removed. Just click in the image on the color to removed, and away it goes. If not enough is removed, change the Tolerance to a higher amount or click again on what was missed. This is so fast! Remember to set the Mode back to Normal when you finish.

7. QUICK TOOL TOGGLE KEYS THAT SAVE A LOT OF TIME

Sharpen and Blur Tools toggle with ALT key

Sponge Tool: ALT + SHIFT + D Desaturates and ALT + SHIFT + S Saturates

Dodge and Burn Tools toggle with ALT key: ALT + SHIFT + S targets Shadows, ALT + SHIFT + M targets Midtones, and ALT + SHIFT + H targets Highlights

I hope some of these tips are ones you did not know. I am using several of them often now. I plan to experiment more with the Smudge brushes to get better at the digital effects I want to create. Let me know if you know of any other tips I may have missed. It is amazing how much Photoshop can do! Have a great one!…..Digital Lady Syd

Digital Lady Syd Related Blogs:

Creative Photoshop Digital Art Tips

Working on Digital Painting in Photoshop

Waiting for Sunset


Palace Tower Art at Hilton Waikoloa Village


Today I decided to do something different. I have spent a lot of time processing photos from the Hilton Waikoloa Village, especially from the Palace Tower where the above mirror-reflected fountain was located in an open air atrium in the middle of the hotel complex. It has been a challenge to find out any information on the art. Apparently the hotel was developed by the Hyatt and opened on 9/9/88 as the Hyatt Regency Waikoloa before the Hilton bought it in 1993. The developer put over $7 million dollars into the 1600+ art objects that is literally scattered about the the huge 62 acre complex, and I am not sure Hilton has done anything to change what was already preset. A display states “The art collection consists of works from Asian, Western, and Oceanic cultures – the cultures that, through the years, have come to define Hawaii’s cultural heritage.” Pieces were bought on trips to China, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Japan, Thailand, Burma and Indonesia. That is all that is available on the art unless a description was placed near the object and very few objects have placards.

Since I love art and had the opportunity to go stay at this complex recently, I thought I would show some of the art pieces in the Palace Tower area. Not all of the objects are the best art in the facility, but it is a good representation of their stated goal above and is rather magnificent in its own right. With that in mind, here we go. The image above is from the corner where the elevators are located – I tried to capture a feel for all the items located in such a small area – and there is some strange lady taking a picture of it all! The hard to see black object in the center is of two spaniel dogs. The two framed images are Luigi Rossini etchings from 1823 of Italy (see top image on website for the right one). There was one more in another part of the entryway.
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The fountain is quite a spectacular centerpiece and appears to be very old. The tired looking older men (or half fish/half men) are holding up what I believe are tired looking putti, who are holding up a woman that is releasing a dove – and then there are four offshoots from the fountain of slightly mythological-looking men and women, happy putti blowing trumpets (water was supposed to be coming out of the trumpets but most were not working), and fish and geese with interesting expressions that seem to be pets, all in sculpture. An 18-image 1:21 minute slideshow created in Adobe Lightroom is above. The sculptures  were not cleaned up and some were in better shape than others, in fact this fountain is not in the best shape and much of it is not in good working condition. Still, it is not something you walk right by without noticing when entering the hotel. And it is really striking at night (last slideshow image)!
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This simple wall art added a nice touch to the whole cultural flavor in the atrium area.
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There were four of these huge, roughly 10-foot tall wood Chinese cabinets all with large porcelain jars in the center; carved wood at the top and bottom; and painted flowers on the sides, bottoms, and front. Several different warrior-like dolls were placed in the glassed paned shelves. I have never seen anything quite like these. The cabinets were really difficult to photograph due to the shiny glass panes, the mirror reflections from the entryway that were shooting light everywhere, and no tripod. I hope you can at least get a feel for how incredible they looked.
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Another one of the beautiful colorful objects that was sitting around near the entrance to the Palace Tower. Very hard to ignore, especially if you like art.

I plan contacting the Hilton Waikoloa Village and see if there is more information on their art. It would be a shame if all the knowledge on the beautiful pieces becomes lost. I will be posting some more of the resort’s art as time goes on – this was just a starting point. In the meantime I hope you enjoyed this short blog…..Digital Lady Syd

How these images were processed (since this is a Photoshop blog after all!).

Palace Tower Image: Used Nik Color Efex Pro 4 using Detail Extractor, Pro Contrast, and Contrast Color Range filters to bring out all the great details (see My Go-To Recipe for Bringing Out Details with Ellen Anon). Nik’s Viveza 2 was also used to desaturate some of the distracting light in the background.

Slideshow images:  Most images were processed as three bracketed HDR photos in Nik HDR Efex Pro using the Realistic (Strong) preset and then adding control points unique to each image. Next Nik Color Efex Pro 4 was applied using this set of filters in a recipe: Darken/Lighten Center, Detail Extractor setting slider to no more than 19, and a slight Vignette Blur. They were then added into the Slideshow module in Adobe Lightroom 4.

Wall Art: Topaz Adjust Crisp preset was used and OnOne’s PhotoFrame acid burn controlled 4.

Chinese Cabinet: Each image was processed with Nik’s Viveza. I used my my Tidbits Blog “Five Image Template Creates Beautiful Collection!” to create the photo grouping. The actual cabinet image was slightly out of focus so Topaz InFocus plug-in was applied before Nik’s Color Efex Pro 4 and Viveza 2. Still not loving the result, but the image was salvaged somewhat. There was a lot of glare on several of the images which could not be completely removed with Viveza, but it did a fairly decent job. 

Elephant: Topaz Adjust crisp preset and that is all.


Trying Out the Minimalist Look?

I did not even realize there was a Minimalist Art Movement in the 1960’s – the actual art technique involves stripping away composition, detail and form. I came across this simple technique from Practical Photoshop Magazine (No. 3) and there is a 3 minute video, “Make Minimalist Art,” that goes over the simple steps to create this interesting look. Since I am not into just the plain lines, I tried to think of a few creative things to do with this technique.

To create the above image, I first opened up an image I had created using some really bright colors. This made for really interesting background colors – it reminded me of the beach so that is how I came up with the sailing theme. I found a catamaran picture I took on St. Augustine Bay with its beautiful spinnaker sail. Using the Quick Selection Tool, I cut out the boat and placed it twice in the image. On the front boat I used Topaz B&W Effects (for link to site on my Tidbits Blog) Stylized Collection Effect, Diffusion with Color preset, and adjusted the Brightness in Basic Exposure and Transparency (save this as a preset to keep track of your settings) to soften the sails edges and colors. That was basically it.

For this next image I was just fooling around to see if I could get a different pattern other than straight lines. The same background pattern was used as above, but the colors were changed in the the image to more brown and pink tones. I had a hard time finding a look I liked – I used the Warp Tool to make the lines wavy. The beautiful flower brushes are by Spring Flowers by Pink On Head. What really popped this image is that the blend mode for the wavy lines layer was set to Divide which resulted in this almost crayon like drawing effect. Very unexpected!

In this final image, a blue sky and puffy white cloud image was used for the horizontal line background, and then it was placed behind the water tank and flowers to give the appearance of water. The same sailboat selection, as created above, was filled with black to make a silhouette to place in the  background. Some fog was added and the colors muted a little to give a more end-of-day feel. It is really hard to tell that the watery background was created from a bunch of lines from a sky scene.

That is about as minimalist as I get. It was a lot of fun experimenting with the different effects – a great chance to get creative. If you want to try a little different technique, but with similar results, see my Tidbits Blog “I Didn’t Know That! Randomizing Gradients.”

Have Fun Experimenting!…..Digital Lady Syd


Getting to the Art of the Matter

This week I decided to try something different. I am reading a book called “The Greater Journey – Americans in Paris” by David McCullough. It is a wonderful read – I am afraid I had never learned history like I should have when growing up. This book is about the various Americans who went to Paris in the 1800’s to learn about art, medicine, and other pursuits. In the first section of this book, a very intriguing discussion occurs about Samuel F. B. Morse, of Morse Code fame, whose actual love was painting. From 1831 to 1833 he created this large 9 foot x 6 foot painting called the “Gallery of the Louvre” where he copied 38 paintings from 25 masters. Since the photography era was in its infancy, he was trying to show Americans some of the art at the famous art gallery. I have read some criticism on this painting, but when you realize how small the copies of the paintings are in the image, and all the styles he was trying to reproduce, it seems like a pretty awesome result. His best friend, James Fennimore Cooper and family, is located in the left corner, and Morse painted himself center stage standing over a student.

Here is a small image of what the painting actually looks like.

The National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC is displaying the painting until July 2012. Here is a link to more information on the painting and for a download of a larger version. I am definitely going to see this next time I am in the DC area! It is nice that the book has brought this interesting painting to everyone’s attention again.

Now for the fun! I decided to create my own “Gallery of the Louvre” masterpiece by inserting my images where the master paintings resided. With the magic of Photoshop, the perspective was easy to get inside the painting frames.


This turned out to be a lot of fun to put together. If you would like to try this same thing, I uploaded the template I created and it is ready for download. Just drag your images into the template and place under each of the frame openings.  Then Free Transform to fit. Sometimes it was necessary to use the Distort function to do the side view images. I tried to add a little lighting to match the natural light appearing on the images and I used a texture at a low resolution on the images only to get a painterly effect.

I hope you have as much fun as I did with this. It creates a rather unusual way to look at your images – just like in the Louvre in the 1830’s. ……..Digital Lady Syd


The Natural Bridge

Today I was sitting around chatting with some good friends about a place Glenn and I visited in 2003 – the Natural Bridge. I started thinking about what a popular place it has been for a couple hundred years so I decided to post a few pictures here from my earlier trip. The link to Wikipedia does a pretty good job of giving the basic history involving George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and Calvin Coolidge, not to mention King George the III and Thomas Fairfax. I started looking at some of the images other people have made of the Natural Bridge and I came up with some interesting information. The image on the left below (click in image to enlarge) was done by Frederic Edwin Church and looks quite realistic and very much like the image I posted. He was an American landscape artist and painted this in 1852. He has painted more famous images but I really like this rendition which is at the University of Virginia. I personally like his art and want to see the several paintings listed in the galleries in Washington, DC with my son, Chris, who is also a great art fan and photographer. Follow this link to a couple old postcards of The Natural Bridge where they show no water flowing under it. I find that interesting as the creek seemed to be quite robust in 2003. I bought a print of the image on the right (click in image to enlarge) at the gift shop called “The Natural Bridge, Virginia – drawn by W. P. Snyder” which indicated it was published in Harper’s Weekly newspaper on September 8, 1888 where it was titled “Natural Bridge Virginia Food Wine Picnic 1888.” The people are sitting right in the middle of where the creek now flows. I could not find out much information on the artist although there seem to be various drawings for sale at different art sites. I believe many of his drawings were in this weekly newspaper. Water coloring was added to the image I bought at a later date by an unknown artist. It is still a very charming print.


There seem to be many old and original prints for sale on eBay for reasonable prices. I took a lot of images while visiting – in May there were all kinds of flowers blooming, especially roses, and the weather is nice enough to stroll around the grounds in the early evening. It is a wonderful place to relax for a weekend and get some terrific shots, history, and outdoor relaxation. Definitely worth the trip if you are in the area!…..Digital Lady Syd