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How to Get That Creative Painterly Look

This week I decided to give a few examples of how I am getting the beautiful painterly look on images. This is the part of Photoshop I love the most – the creative part. And this is where I can take advantage of some wonderful plug-ins and textures that are now available.

I did not start out creating this fantasy painterly looking image, but I like it more the more I look at it. This image used just a basic cloud texture and Topaz (for website link see my Tidbits Blog sidebar) Simplify 4 to get this dreamy effect. The image uses 5-shots taken along the road to Flagler Beach, Florida. I have always loved this house – it just looks like a Florida beach house to me. The HDR tone-mapped image was created using Photomatix Merge to 32-bit HDR in Lightroom and the resulting Tiff file was then processed. Once opened in Photoshop, Topaz Detail 3 was selected where the Lighten preset was first applied, and then the Overall Medium Detail II preset with the sky painted out to keep it smooth looking. Shadowhouse Creations beautiful free Puff Clouds texture was added in Normal blend mode at 100% opacity. I added a layer mask and painted out the clouds and started getting this really dreamy look by only removing the clouds from the house. Next Painted Textures 2 for Friday Seafoam texture was added and set to Overlay blend mode at 50% opacity. The last step involved creating a Composite layer of all the layers (CTRL+ALT+SHIFT+E) and applying Topaz Simplify 4 Painting V preset to it. On a New Layer above, a Mixer Brush was used to blend in the rough edges of the clouds and give an overall painterly look. A Curves Adjustment Layer was added and the Blue Channel Curve was moved to get the color of blue in the image. That was it! Not real hard but definitely a very abstract artsy look. This was a lot of fun to create!

Tips for Getting the Painterly Look:

  • If you like to get a quick painterly feel, Topaz Simplify 4 cannot be beat! The nice thing is that once you apply the filter, even though it may look somewhat canned, you can always use Photoshop’s Mixer Brushes, layer masks, and various textures to make the image your own look – that is exactly what I did on the image above. Topaz Adjust also has several presets that can also give a very nice base painting look. See my blog Digital Lady Syd Reviews Topaz Simplify 4 for more information on this blog.
  • I cannot say enough about using the right texture. Most of the sites I listed have either free or fairly inexpensive small sets to try out to see if you like what they do. Try different textures, and when you find a few you really like, put them together in a special file so you can get to them quickly when needed. (Click on Categories Textures for several links on this topic.) If you like what the color is doing to an image at a particular blend mode, leave it in place. With a layer mask you can paint in localized areas of texture.
  • Photoshop’s Mixer Brushes just cannot be beat for getting some really nice artistic results. They are great for hiding that very contrasty background, or for smoothing out edges, or blending colors that have too sharp a transition. The pink flowers below have the whole background smoothed to get rid of a very contrasty green garden behind them. On a separate layer, a larger sized Mixer Blending Brush was used to fill in the dark contrasty areas, then a smaller size was used to smooth edges. You can always erase areas where you make a mistake since the Mixer Brush strokes are on a separate layer. A couple things to remember when using the Mixer Brushes is that (1) in the Options Bar be sure you are set to Sample All Layers and turn off the layer eyeball if you do not want to pick up color from some of the layers; (2) the Blender Brush is probably the type to be used the most and should be set to a higher Wet field in the Options Bar to work easily – at least 20% and up to 100% give really nice results; and (3) the larger the brush, the longer it takes to lay down a stroke so keep it under 75 pixels if you can. Also take History Snapshots every now and then (or add a Padlock to your base image so you cannot paint on it) so if you get on the wrong layer, which is easy to do, you can go back to a previous step without losing all your previous painting. If you want to add color with a Mixer Brush, just click on the “Load the Brush After Each Stroke” icon (5th one over) in Options Bar. Make corrections with layer masks and apply them (right click and choose Apply Mask) as you go along. Create clone and paint on layers above and merge down (CTRL_E) – then use a Mixer Brush to blend. See my blog Adobe Photoshop CS5′s Mixer Brushes for lots more info on how to use them.
  • There are a couple other ways to get a really nice painterly effect. The brilliant Russell Brown has developed two scripts panels to use  inside Photoshop that guides you along as you paint. The oldest is called the Adobe Painting Assistant which has different download links for CS6 and CS5 versions – just keep scrolling. The newest panel is the Adobe Watercolor Assistant Panel that can only be used with CS6.  These are all free downloads at this link. The Watercolor Painting Assistant takes some practice to get a really nice result, but it will give a beautiful result. See my blog Dr. Brown’s Painting Assistant Panel for CS6 and CS5! and Think Pink! Rally for the Cure Pink Rose for more information on the older and more user-friendly Painting Assistant Panel.
  • The last effect that has proven to be a real hit the last couple of years is the new Oil Paint filter in Photoshop CS6, although it can be added to CS5 by using the Pixel Bender Panel. See my blog Photoshop’s CS6 (and Pixel Bender’s) Oil Paint Filter for more information on how to use this filter. It is a lot of fun and easy to do!

To create this painterly effect, the pink Belarusian flowers were brought into Photoshop and cleaned up. A New Layer was created and Fay’s Signature Watercolor Smooth Blender Brush was used to smooth out the whole contrasty background.  I have looked at lots of painting tutorials and Fay Sirkis tutorials make the most sense to me. If you are a member of NAPP (National Association of Photoshop Professionals), and you should be if you love Photoshop – best value and site for Photoshop nuts, Fay has several great webinars on line there and you can download all her brushes. Here is a link to a great article on her unique technique where she shows how she made one of her Monet Blender brushes – if you want to give it a try – Fay Sirkis: Painting Magic, Adobe Photoshop CS5. Next Kim Klassen’s Cloth & Paper magicfilm3 texture, which is a black scratched up texture, set to Linear Dodge blend mode at 56% opacity was added – it gives just a touch of texture without losing all the strokes from the Mixer Brushes. The Sharpen Tool was applied to the center of the two main flowers to draw the eye and a Darken Layer was added and set to 56% to emphasize edges. (See my The Best Dodging and Burning Technique! blog for more info on this.)
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The painterly effect in the Flagler Fishing Pier image was created using a solarized preset and some soft painting with the Mixer Brush. Just had to get out and do a little shooting even though it was major chilly and windy at the beach. The original image was created from 5 images put together using Photomatix 32-bit Merge to HDR for Lightroom. Once in Photoshop I added two New Layers and added my Cloud Brushes SJ Clouds 1 brush (layer set to 60% opacity) and SJ Clouds 11 brush (layer set to 35% opacity) at 5000 pixels. A New Layer was added on top and filled with black, set to Soft Light, and the opacity set to 23% to increase the overall contrast of the image. (Check out Mark S. Johnson’s  Photography Site Photoshop Workbench 374: Creating Dramatic Lighting with Blend Modes on how to do this.) A Curves Adjustment Layer was added and Auto button pressed to get a nice contrasty image. Next Topaz (for website see sidebar) Adjust 5′s Solarized Dreams III preset was applied with Detail Strength set to 0.82 and Detail Boost set to 0. A New Layer was created and Fay Signature Watercolor Smooth Blend Mixer Brush was used to smooth out details in the foreground sand. A Selective Color Adjustment Layer was used and the Blues Cyan was set to +17 and Yellow to +24 – the layer mask was converted to black (CTLR+I inside the mask to invert) and the sky was painted back with a soft white brush. Another Selective Color Adjustment Layer as added to make the sand look the right color in the foreground – Yellows Cyan was set to +100, Magenta -14, and Yellow +1, and Greens Magenta +19. Next French Kiss Artiste Fauve Rainbow texture was set to Hard Light blend mode at 28% opacity. A Hue/Saturation Adjustment Layer was clipped (CTRL+click between the layers) and Saturation was set to -100 to remove the color from the texture but leave the canvas look. This is one of my favorite textures to give a real painted appearance to my images. A Levels Adjustment Layer was added and the center tab set to .85 to add just a little more contrast to the midtones. I really was surprised how painted this image turned out.
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This image uses Topaz Simplify 4 again and textures to get the painterly look. I decided to show this image as it is a favorite technique of mine to use the power of good textures to give that painterly effect. The basic image was very nice with to begin with and probably would have been fine with just the Lightroom tweaks, but I thought it would make a beautiful painterly piece. Topaz DeNoise was run on this image since it had a 2000 ISO setting. On a duplicate layer Topaz Simplify 4 was applied using the Watercolor II preset – in the Localized Adjustments section, the pink and white flowers were lightly painted back to bring back some detail but leaving the background with a very soft look. Once back in Photoshop the detail was still not strong enough so the DeNoise layer was duplicated and placed on top of the Simplify layer. A black layer mask was added and the flowers were softly painted back using a white low opacity brush to add a bit more localized detail to the image. Two beautiful textures from Melissa Gallo at Painted Textures were added on top: 2 for Friday Set 2 Creamsicle at Hard Light blend mode at 74% opacity, and Cyber Monday Set 1 Winter Wheat set to Linear Light blend mode at 78% opacity. On the top texture a Layer Style was opened and on the Blending Options page, the B channel was turned off. One of my new favorite textures is by French Kiss – Studio 3 White Wash – it was added using the Overlay blend mode at 65%. All of these textures are really great for getting the painterly effect. Once all these textures are added, you really have to try different blend combinations and opacities. It is not at all unusual to have to add a layer mask and paint out areas that are not working right. In this image I added a layer mask to the white wash texture and painted out just a little bit around the edges of the flowers to get them to stand out a little. In fact I had actually added a different top texture and decided I did not like it and started looking for a different texture when I came up with the white wash texture. I had to back and add a Mixer Brush layer to get rid of some distractions in the original image once the textures had been added and it looked bad. If you do not like the way the painterly effect is flowing, it probably is not quite right and you need to walk away and come back again later – it really is a work of art you are working on.

If you just want a nice painterly brush texture on top of the whole image, check out my Getting a Nice Painterly Landscape Effect with Topaz Simplify and Texture for a short workflow – this gives a nice finishing look to an image if there is not enough of a painterly effect already.

I hope you got some new ideas for creating that artsy look. Check out some of my related blogs for more examples and resource links that might help you along. This was a lot of fun to put together this week and I hope you enjoyed it!…..Digital Lady Syd

Digital Lady Syd Related Blogs:
Digital Lady Syd’s Rule No. 6: Try Something New!
Photo Art Compositing For Fun
Digital Lady Syd’s Photo Art Workflow
Using Topaz Simplify for That Artistic Feel!
Using a Couple of My Textures
Simplifier and Simplify Filters
Topaz Adjust Using Painting Venice Preset – Beautiful Effect!
Topaz Simplify and Lens Effects Saves an Image!


My 100th Post! – My Favorite Things About Photoshop

Since I have reached this major milestone, I decided this week I would show a few examples of what I use the most in Photoshop and what is the most fun for me when using Photoshop. In some of these cases, I will be mentioning certain products or people but that is mainly because I really like what they do – they do not know me. Also, no external plug-ins will be discussed here.

Several things were done in Photoshop to process this image of a sailboat model of the USS Constitution located at The Casements in Ormond Beach, Florida. The most important is that a 32-bit tone-mapped image was created in Photoshop’s Merge to HDR, saved as a TIFF file, and then brought into Lightroom 4.1′s Develop module using the sliders to bring out all the details. This now makes Photoshop’s HDR processing on par with several of the other HDR software programs. The TIFF image goes back into Photoshop to finish up using another one of my favorite tools – Puppet Warp – to straighten out the extreme warping in the original image (it was actually applied twice). It was a difficult image to work on since it has a square glass encasement and the horizontal louvered blinds in the background. Just using the arrow keys is sometimes enough to push and pull the image pins the correct amount and Puppet Warp works much better than Lens Correction or the new Adaptive Wide Angle filters for me. Puppet Warp can be used in a Smart Object for readjusting later if needed.

I am slowly really getting into textures – they just do so much for a boring image. The texture above was created using one of the best panels you can apply to Photoshop and that is Dr. Brown’s (may be the top Photoshop guru of all time and works for Adobe) Paper Texture Panel – biggest time saver for anyone that likes to experiment with textures! This is one feature I use all the time and can’t believe I used to go through my textures individually to try them out. To really enhance this process, create a folder on your desktop that contains several sub-folders to place copies of your favorite textures. He recommends keeping these folders to around 20 textures as it takes a while to load if it is much bigger. I have sub-folder on textures I created, my favorite textures I use all the time, and a few on textures I have downloaded or bought. You can switch folders very quickly in the panel. This image used Paul Grand’s Scratches Texture and Gavin Hoey’s beautiful grunge frame 1. I am also putting a plug in here for my favorite texture guy, ShadowHouse Creations, who offers all kinds of beautiful textures for free, and I use them all the time. I reference his textures in many of my older blogs.


Those wonderful brushes in Photoshop! My very first blog featured the above image where I actually used a Photoshop Mixer Brush to paint in the petals of the flowers. This is still one of my favorite painted images – the Oleander flowers in the original were not near as pretty. The background was a Karen Sperling texture called 08Sperling (I believe this now has to be purchased – not sure how I got it) that added was a very delicate complement to the image. She is actually a Corel Painter Master and does some wonderful things in that program.

Totally indispensable! The last step I always do before I save an image. A few months ago I viewed a short video tutorial at Kelby Training called Mastering Curves: Adjusting Tonality by Ben Wilmore, another great Photoshop guru, who teaches how to use Curves correctly. (I have found the Kelby Training tutorials to be the best you can find on every aspect of photography and photoshop.) The basic thing to know about Curves is that by selecting the hand tool in the top left of the adjustment panel and dragging straight up in the image it lightens it up, and down darkens it. If you get two dots close and rather flat on a Curve line, you will lose detail.  A black layer mask can be created to target just the areas you want changed. It is a pretty simple technique but can improve an image quickly. Also you can save Curve settings if you want to apply them again. The image above of the beautiful birds in the Spring at the Rookery used several Curves Adjustment Layers to match the tones for the composite.

I have been using this Double Edge Frame layer style a lot on my images – gives a nice clean look with colors that can be sampled from the image. Also plain black borders can easily be created. To download this layer style for free or directions on how to create it, see my blog referenced above. There are many other uses for layer styles that I love, but I use the frames the most. Also a couple textures were added here with Dr. Brown’s Paper Texture Panel.


I love the way you can go back in and fix your settings if you do not like the way they look. Most of the plug-ins I use have Smart Object capability and this is why I use them. I can’t tell you how many times I have gone back into Nik’s Viveza 2 and adjusted my control points! Just another great Photoshop feature. The image above of the Hilton Time Share swimming pool on the Big Island in Hawaii used Smart Objects for both the Nik HDR Efex Pro using Granny’s Attic preset and Viveza 2. Also two Curves Adjustment Layers were used.

I could go on and on about all my favorite features I love. The above are some of the ones I use the most. I thought about writing on the new Defringe section in Lightroom 4.1 and Adobe Camera Raw that works wonders on this problem – better than any of the noiseware software available for controlling the ugly fringe problem. The new sliders in both are much improved and both now do a great job on reducing noise too. Also the Graduated Filter is much improved. Back in Photoshop I love being able to use LAB mode to sharpen some of my images selectively. Content-Aware tools cannot be beat but I still use the plain old Clone Tool the most. And the improved Sharpen Tool is fabulous for those little areas that need a detail boost. I even love the Color Replacement Tool that hardly no one uses! And all the blend modes just add so much to an image. Needless to say, there is a lot to like about Photoshop and so many ways to do things. I guess the real fun is learning new ways to use it and that is why I blog! Hope you have enjoyed some of what I have learned these past couple years!…..Digital Lady Syd


Adding a Texture for Flair!



This week I am going to discuss textures since I suggested using them in last week’s blog on “The Soft, Dreamy Look,” which created a free action to apply to your images. Textures are a very popular effect and can give a totally nice and different look to an image if applied correctly.

Basic Technique

The basic technique involves just adding a texture image (a jpg can be added to a raw, psd or tiff file at this stage) on top of your image. Do this by dragging the texture into your photo as a Smart Object from Photoshop Bridge or just open the texture file and copy and paste the layer onto the photo. At this point I usually rasterize the layer by right-clicking on the Smart Object in the Layers Palette and select Rasterize from the menu. A Smart Object is not necessary unless you are applying a filter to the texture and may want to adjust the settings at a later date. Most texture effects are achieved by changing the layer blend modes and varying layer opacities, then using layer masks to delete out areas where the texture is too obvious. The uniqueness can come from stacking several textures using different blend modes and opacities.  There are many resources available on textures and how to use them effectively. The linked article, called “Tips for Texturing Photographs,” has several great tips – some that I want to share.

  • How do you match your image subject to a texture?  Look for subjects with a soft quality like flowers, misty images, or of simple composition.
  • Figure out what you are trying to do with your picture – fill open spaces, get a painterly look, vintage feel, or grunge look?
  • If the texture does not work, try a different one. Usually match the texture strength with the subject – soft textures for flowers, stronger textures for structures.

If using textures over photos of people, please check out this short video, “Guide to Using Textures with Photos in Photoshop  (must be a member to access now),” to adjust the tone on the people and their skin. It uses the Average Filter in Photoshop instead of layer masks.

Textures can be bought or downloaded for free

There are many beautiful textures that can be bought. Florabella Collections has two very nice sets of textures. I like the Ash Textures that I purchased several years ago, but I just figured out he is no longer selling them. This is a shame since they are really nice textures. Flypaper Textures (blog linked above to Tips for Texturing Photographs) also has some very nice textures for sale. This site also has a lot of good information on textures so take a look.  Caleb Kimbrough has released several hundred textures, some of excellent quality and most are free, at his website Lost and Taken. He has also written a really nice blog entry called “How to Create Subtle Grunge Textures” that shows how to make your own interesting textures by combining several different ones.

The top image uses a very popular effect.  It is made simply by adding a worn-looking board texture at Hard Light blend mode over a flower photo (Curves Adjustment Layer on photo gives the blown out look). This particular texture is one from BittBox, another great free texture site – this particular texture can be downloaded from the Bittbox Flickr site here – just select the size you want, right click on image, and choose Save Image As to save on your hard drive.

This image was created using a brownish Ash texture layer set to Hard Light at 75% opacity and one of Caleb Kimbrough Summer textures, which I really like, set to Overlay at 73%.


The daisy image started with my “SJ-Soft Dreamy Look Action” that I created in last weeks blog. The image can be cleaned up on a layer before applying the action since it does not require a labeled Background Layer to run. An Ash Texture was added using the Hard Light blend mode at 75% opacity, and an OnOne PhotoTools (now OnOne Perfect Effects 3.0 – website link at my Tidbits Blog sidebar) layer using the HDR Enhancer effect and HiKey Color – Cool Fade preset as a second effect layer (I am getting some nice results with its stacking capabilities). The OnOne PhotoTools effect was basically a darkening of the edges and brightening in the middle, a heavy vignetting feel. Finally an OnOne PhotoFrame was added.

Textures can be found in plug-ins

As shown in the daisies above using the OnOne PhotoTools 2.6, this plug-in has many texture options as does its sister application, OnOne’s PhotoFrame, which surprisingly has many textures that can be applied with various blend modes, just like in Photoshop’s Layers Panel.  Even plug-ins like Plugin Galaxy 2.0 have some interesting effects, such as Rain-Short Streaks, Snowflake effects, and  Color Effects section, which can add some interesting textures. You just need to play around with whatever filters or plug-ins you have and start trying different settings with them.

Once again my action was applied to the Scottish home picture which starts you off with a really nice soft look (create a composite layer or CTRL+ALT+SHIFT+E  layer on top of the action layers to apply the plug-in). An OnOne PhotoTools 2.6 Overlay Effect with the Antique Paper preset at Normal blend mode and 100% opacity was added. A similar look could probably be achieved by adding a final Color Fill Adjustment Layer using a golden tone or a Photo Filter Adjustment Layer using a warm color at a fairly high density, and a layer mask to reduce the color in the house area. That is all that was done to get this nice look.

This image does contain a brownish Ash texture, but any darkish brown texture would look good, set to Vivid Light at 38% but the painterly effect of the sky was achieved in Topaz Lens Effects – with the Graduated Color Blue1 preset applied. Then the layer was copied and set to 62% opacity to make the sky bolder.

Textures can be created within Photoshop itself

I want to show that a texture does not have to be some fancy texture that you have to buy or download – it can just be a really nice paintbrush effect on a layer that you create. Then just experiment with the blend modes, layer opacities, and layer masks to get the exact feel you want.

The above image of Scotland has a rather vintage feel to it. This was accomplished by running my SJ-Soft Dreamy Look Action and then creating a New Layer above and using Grungetract Brushes Sample #16 by alex16 at deviantArt at 2500 pixels with a light tan color. The brushed layer’s blend mode was set to Screen, the layer opacity to 66%, and a layer mask was added using a 50% opacity brush to mask out the texture in certain areas.

In the floral photo, a coral colored Mixer Brush layer was created above the other texture layer using a 300 pixel brush, and was set to Soft Light blend mode.  (See my blog “Adobe Photoshop CS5′s Mixer Brushes” for more information on the Mixer Brushes.) It can be quite addictive once you start playing around with the Mixer brushes and create some beautiful textures. I found that the by varying the size and the color of the same Mixer Brush, and actually painting with them by moving slightly, you can get really nice effects. I have included my favorite texture Mixer Brush that can be downloaded here (there area two brushes – same brush at different sizes) and added to your Tool Presets. (Put the file in the User Name -> AppData -> Roaming -> Adobe -> Adobe Photoshop CS5 -> Tools file. Restart Photoshop to add brushes to your Tool Presets – go to the top upper left corner icon under the Menu line and click on down arrow, click on right pointed arrow in upper corner to open fly out menu, and select Load SJ Mixer Brushes Presets. I usually Append the tools and they will appear at the bottom of the list. NOTE: You must have the Mixer Brush selected in the vertical Toolbar to get the Mixer Brush variations to appear in the Tool Preset drop-down.)

This is a very simple example of applying texture that can be done just using Photoshop. First two New Layers were created and the Mixer Brushes I created above were used, the small brush in beige on the bottom layer and the larger one with the same color on the top layer to create an interesting texture. A layer mask was added to the top layer to bring out the center part of the flower. Now here is the neat part, a New Layer was created and a gradient applied with the Gradient Tool . This image used Graphix1 Gradient Muted4 which is a white to yellow beige color, but try out different gradients to see what effect you like. In the Options Bar select the Radial Gradient icon and drag with your cursor from the center of the flower outward to create the gradient. Set the layer blend mode to Soft Light and add a Bevel and Emboss Layer Style (2nd icon from left at bottom of Layer Panel) and double click the Texture option.  This image used the Fractures Pattern Overlay, which is located in the Texture Fill set of patterns that come with Photoshop CS5, and set the Scale to 555% and the Depth to +34. Create a layer mask to darken the center again so the pattern is not as apparent over the center of the flower. That’s it – a texture applied that gives a really different look. Try other patterns – you can find lots of them on the internet.

And don’t forget the nice filters that come with Photoshop to create pleasing textures.  I really like the Texturizer Filter using the Canvas texture set to Relief 3 to add a painting touch to an image.

Conclusion

I have tried to show that adding texture to an image can be done in many different ways and the different techniques can be combined to get some unique looks. Once again, it is just another way the versatility of Photoshop makes it so much fun to use. It is so satisfying to create your own textures that can actually go towards creating your own artistic style. Have fun creating!…..Digital Lady Syd


Playing in Photoshop!

This week I am taking a break from my usual blog topics. Instead I am just going to post a few of the images I created while trying out some of my own blog techniques. I hope you get some new ideas from viewing them.


I added a couple of textures to this image to get the soft vintage look – one an Ash Texture (these textures are no longer available but see my more recent blog “Adding a Texture for Flair!” for other texture sites) and one from OnOne Software’s PhotoFrames. This beautiful egret was taken at the St. Augustine Alligator Farm Rookery in May, a really good place to visit in Spring if you like to take pictures of birds.

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Created this image by using Caleb Kimbrough’s beautiful Summer8 texture (he has a vast assortment of really nice textures and most are free – please check them out), the Tranquility Brushes by wyckedBrush, and my SJ-Cloud Brushes.
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I loved this building in Jackson, Mississippi. It was perfect for an HDR effect (used Image ->Adjustments -> HDR Toning in Photoshop CS5 on a single image) A wonderful action called “Vintage Effect – Ps Actions – by photoshop-stock” was applied afterwards to give this nice vintage feel. (This site has a number of nice actions and textures – great resource!)
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I wish I had a fisheye lens, but since I do not, I used Topaz Lens Effects selecting the Fisheye Lens effect with the Extreme Fisheye preset on this Palm Tree in Palm Beach Gardens in Florida. See my blog on “Topaz Lens Effects Plug-in” for more information on this fun plug-in.
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More fun with text – used gradient, cloud layers using cloud brushes (can download my SJ-Cloud Brushes set here) and my blog on “How to Add Images to Text” to do this.
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The image above was taken in Phoenix, Arizona at the Desert Botanical Gardens. I used mixer brushes (see my blog “Adobe Photoshop CS5′s Mixer Brushes” and followed a tutorial on Sandstorms in the book called “Digital Painting Techniques!,” which is loaded with tutorials from various designers making all kinds of special effects.
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Here is a composite of images I pulled from a video I took of the fireworks at Flagler Beach for the 4th of July celebration (video below). See my blog, “Faking Fireworks” for tips on how to create this look.
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I hope you liked some of my “Playing in Photoshop” creations – it is just so much fun to make these images. Take some time out and just explore something new – may give you a whole new perspective on what you can achieve! Enjoy…..Digital Lady Syd


Adobe Photoshop CS5′s Mixer Brushes

This week I decided to tackle a big one. I have been really confused about exactly what to do with this new category of brushes called Mixer Brushes. Information is not readily available and most of the Photoshop CS5 general books barely scratch the surface of what they can do. Therefore, I spent a lot of time figuring out just what I can do with them and trying to decide if I like them as well as Corel Painter results. To make a long story short, there is a place for this new tool but you have to know how to use it. That said, I will begin with a very basic image I did in Photoshop CS5 to show what you can do fairly easily.

The images are of some tulips bought at the grocery last week – an unusual variety that makes for beautiful photographs. The smaller second image was processed just a bit in Lightroom using Matt’s 70′s Look Preset (download Lightroom version here and Adobe Camera Raw here) and a little Vibrance. I liked the pleasing blue tones the preset added to the background. Please understand that I am not an artist but I felt that the Mixer Brush did a nice job on the top photo. The instructions used were from a tutorial posted by Russell Brown, a total Photoshop genius that works for Adobe and everything he does is brilliant! Needless to say, this tutorial called “Clone Painting Basics” does not let you down, is very entertaining, and is very easy to follow.

The above served as a great introduction to the brushes, but I wanted to learn more. Next Richard Harrington’s video blog posted last week called “Using the Mixer Brush – 211 UAP (Understanding Adobe Photoshop series)” was viewed. He gives information to create some brushes that are actually very good. Perhaps the most useful information comes from Geoff Priest in his two part series – “Photoshop CS5-Mixer Brush Tips and Tricks” and “More Photoshop CS5 Mixer Brush Tips.” This is a must read if you want to learn some important issues with the Mixer Brushes. There are many things you can do to get better and quicker results and his two blogs really put it in perspective. Below are two examples of a “Painted Lady Hibiscus” that were created in the same file using Layer Comps, a good way to see if the effect you are getting is what you want.  (The original image is published on Flickr here.) Several Hue/Saturation Adjustment Layers, a Topaz Simplify Sketch Hard Pencil adjusted preset (see below on how to use a black and white blown out preset to make a similar sketch), different texture layers and finally edges were used. The reason there is no background behind the images is that the Sketch Layer was reduced to just the sketch by selecting the free Adobe Pixel Bender filter and applying the free Kill White filter (it works better with Pixel Bender than just as a Photoshop plug-in) to delete the white areas the Topaz filter applied. It just left the lines. I love this filter and use it all the time. Next erase any of the background lines out and to get a clean sketch.

There are several other places that have good information on Mixer Brushes. Julieanne Kost (another Adobe guru) has an interesting video tutorial called “Painting in Photoshop CS5 – Part 2” on Adobe TV. Mark S. Johnson did a great overview in his series on What’s New in CS5 – Part 10 is called “Painting on a Photograph with the Mixer Brush” and he creates some easy brushes to try. Tim Shelbourne also has a good tutorial video called “Introducing Photoshop CS5 Mixer Brushes“. One of the best resources found was from John Derry – he sells Mixer Brushes for $20 with six very helpful video tutorials on how to use them. These brushes are by far the easiest way to get comfortable with the Mixer Brushes and I would highly recommend them if you really like the Mixer Brush effects. In his bundle he includes some textures for the brushes to help get a real painterly look on the image. Also, an action to set up for painting on an image is included and I am still trying this out. What may be the best part of this set is a restore brush that can bring part of the unpainted image back into the painted areas and is totally unique as far as my research indicates. Karen Sperling, considered one of Corel Painter‘s gurus, tackled the Mixer Brushes in her E-zine Art Tips Magazine of August 2010 which can be purchased here for $15. The main article is called “How do I paint flowers in Photoshop CS5?” but there is a follow up article on painting portraits. She gives lots of actual painting tips on how to use the brushes and colors to your advantage so your image does not still look like a photograph after painting. This is an excellent article.  I did track down two written tutorials on the internet that appear to be well written and here are  links to both:  “Use the Mixer Brush in CS5 to Turn a Photo into a Realistic Painting” by Wassim Ouartsi, and “Mixer Brush Tool Photoshop CS5” by Wendi E. M. Scarth.  Both use Photoshop filters to help with the artistic effect – the second one includes some good Mixer Brush painting tips.

Enough on the resources.  After all my research, below are some points I think are really important to know about the Mixer Brushes:

  • Put you image into 16 bit mode, even if you open your image in 8 bit first. (Go to Image – Mode – 16 bit)  This creates a totally different and better effect.  (Geoff Priest’s blog tip)
  • Reduce the opacity of your original image when working on a painting layer and be sure to LOCK the original image layer so you will not accidentally paint on it. It is easy to get on the wrong layer while painting and it can mess up your image real quickly.  (John Derry tip)
  • Important to understand there are TWO types of Mixer Brushes – brushes that lay down actual color and act like real paintbrushes and blender brushes that do not pick up color but blend colors already present in the image. To create a blender Mixer Brush, you need to deactivate the Load Brush icon (5th one over) in the Options bar and check “Sample All Layers” (otherwise you will not see paint on the layer as you stroke)  and do not paint on the original, use a layer above. To change brush over to a painting Mixer Brush that paints with color, just activate the “Load the brush after each stroke” and deselect the icon next to it called “Clean the brush after each stroke.” Select a color and paint away! Paint in areas generally, then come back and add details and colors to your image. Switch frequently between laying down paint and blending what is there by just turning on and off the the Load Brush icon (try setting this up as a keyboard shortcut).
  • I also learned a valuable lesson about Mixer Brushes – if the brush you created is saved to the Brush Panel, the Option Bar settings are not saved. You must save the Mixer Brushes as TOOL PRESETS which will save the Option Bar settings.
  • Be sure to mix up your brushes a little and use lots of shadow and highlights to add interest to the image. Also adding some texture to your brushes, by checking the Texture section in the Brush Preset panel, will add that painted look you want. Be sure to fiddle with the Amount and Height sliders and look at the previews. This will give you a sense of what the stroke will look like when applied. It is very important to use a tablet (I still use my large Intuos 3 so if you can get one cheap, it works fine) with these brushes – the stroke is much harder to control without one. Also, I recently purchased a barrel rotation pen which emulates a paintbrush to some extent and is very pressure sensitive.  It helps create much better results when using the Mixer Brushes.
  • Use the following guidelines to create your own Mixer Brushes: Wetness set to 0 behaves like a normal brush – the higher the number, the more streaking. Low load rates result in shorter brush strokes. A high Mix rate results in more color being picked up from the canvas. The higher the Flow rate, the more paint is applied as you paint.
  • One last major point is that the larger the size of the brush, the slower it works. Unlike the regular brushes, there can be a considerable lag time between laying down strokes and actually seeing them on the image, especially if the you do not have a state-of-the-art system (or even if you do in some cases). It has been suggested in these references to set your resolution of your image to 150 dpi (minimum size most ink jet printers use to get good prints), and do not use a brush size over 75 pixels – I found I was not using anything near that large for the detail painting, usually preferring 25-35 pixel brushes. I have a pretty fast system and am finding this tip to be a real time-saver, especially since most of my images are not going to be huge in size. May need to reconsider how to proceed if you really want a large image produced. (John Derry explains this clearly in one of his videos.) It is much easier to switch to round brushes or special effect brushes to cover the less detailed background areas and just use the Mixer Brushes to bring in the details.

Below is my final example of what you can do with the Mixer Brushes. I created this image using my own method of Mixer and Brush painting – I call it the “Desaturated Color Look.” Even though it does not look very painterly, the foreground and water were painted with a Mixer Brush and I have tried to give a little different technique than what I found in the listed resources.

The basic steps are:

1.  In Lightroom, use a black and white preset to blow out some of the details (will change depending on the image). In the Split Toning section, I made shadows (black color in image) a color by moving the Hue slider to a green color in this case and set the Saturation slider to 45.  I left the Highlights and Balance alone.
2.  Go into Photoshop CS5. Duplicate the image. Create a white layer between the bottom image and the duplicate image.
3. Highlight top layer and go to Filter – Pixel Bender – Pixel Bender Gallery and in drop down, select MikeYael KillWhite. Now you have a sketch of the image on top of a white layer underneath. It is important to lock this layer so you will not accidentally paint on the sketch. Name this layer Sketch.
4. Create a New Layer between the white layer and sketch layer. Paint with a Mixer Brush over one of the main areas from the image. Name this layer something appropriate, like Water. Using the Sketch layer as a guideline, paint color in the image – I used a blunt – round short dry brush at 25 pixels (John Derry provides this brush in his collection along with the Italian texture). The texture was set to 100% scale with a Height of 10% and Pen Pressure turned on in the Texture Section of the Brush Preset Panel for the above.
5. For each new paint color, create a New Layer and paint just that color on the layer and name it. You could have many different colors if needed. The nice thing about doing this is that each main area is on its own layer so blend modes can be changed, layers duplicated  several times, or the opacity changed to create many different effects. I used the same brush as above for the sand but this time I used two different colors set up as the foreground and background colors. Paint with one color and then switch to the background color and paint near the first color (press x to switch quickly).  Hold the ALT key over the combined colors and you will get a mixed color in the “Current Brush Load” icon (4th over) in the Options Bar that can now be used for painting.  This gives a really nice blended look. Note, this is not a blender brush, this is a brush that lays down color.  (Many of the cited resources use the actual Blender Brushes.)
6. For the sky, I used a regular brush called Cloud Brush by rubina119 – #8 at the largest setting to create the soft blue sky. Then used the same brush at a smaller size and very lightly to create the white clouds. This is a case where it would have taken too long to use the Mixer Brush to create this very lightly textures sky area.
7. In the image above, the sketch layer is duplicated two more times with the top layer set to Multiply and 77% opacity. The background sky layer was also duplicated twice. Finally an OnOne PhotoFrames (here is shortened free version) was added.

This is a long post as it is a very difficult topic to cover. I am still learning how to use them. The new Mixer Brushes are well worth pursuing if you feel like adding an artistic look to you images. I think it is important to give people the resources to try new things.  This may not be for everyone, but I believe it is fun to try things outside your “comfort zone” and Photoshop has given us an easy way to try something new. Have fun exploring these brushes!

UPDATE ON MIXER BRUSHES!

Since writing this blog, I have created a Mixer Brush for use with textures that you might be interested in trying.  I have included my favorite texture Mixer Brush that can be downloaded here (there are two brushes – same brush at different sizes) and added to your Tool Presets. (Put the file in the User Name -> AppData -> Roaming -> Adobe -> Adobe Photoshop CS5 -> Tools file. Restart Photoshop to add brushes to your Tool Presets – go to the top upper left corner icon under the Menu line and click on down arrow, click on right pointed arrow in upper corner to open fly out menu, and select Load SJ Mixer Brushes Presets. I usually Append the tools and they will appear at the bottom of the list. NOTE: You must have the Mixer Brush selected in the vertical Toolbar to get the Mixer Brush variations to appear in the Tool Preset drop-down.)…..Digital Lady Syd


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