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Photoshop CS5 Review - The New Painter Tools

By Patricia Meisels

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Detail photo before and after


For artists looking to expand their creative possibilities in the digital arena Adobe Photoshop CS5 is the ideal software for this.  With the new painting tools including the new Mixer Brush anyone can turn a normal photograph into a painting with a little help from the  Lynda.com tutorials created by John Derry, the pioneer of digital painting and one of the authors of Corel Painter.  I had the pleasure of asking him some questions about this new feature of Photoshop CS5 and how it can work for any artist from novice to professional.  The Wacom tablet is the ultimate tool used in conjunction with the computer as it has a pressure sensitive stylus that can feel the strength of the touch.  I have also included some creations of my own to see what results are possible.  Here is the interview below.

Orange created from scratch with mixer brushes


Patricia:
As an artist working in a variety of media from pastel drawings to oil paintings I was very impressed with the possibilities that the new Photoshop CS5 Mixer Brush in Photoshop hold for an artist like myself.  If you could describe in a couple of sentences what your Lynda tutorial would offer for painters working in traditional media, what are the most creative possibilities that you see that the Photoshop CS5 Mixer Brush functions offer for these painters?

John Derry:
The Lynda.com title, Photoshop CS5: Painting with the Mixer Brush, is primarily designed to acquaint Photoshop users with the controls associated with the Mixer Brush and Bristle Tips features new in CS5. Traditional media-based users can utilize the title to learn how techniques like brush loading, cleaning, and color mixing are performed with the Mixer Brush, as well as discover how one can craft a custom brush that matches a personal expressive style.

Self-created palette with brush stroke samples


Patricia:
I was intrigued by the possibilities of the Bevel feature allowing for a raised textural effect on the individual paint stokes.  Are there other effects that one could use as effectively (i.e. drop shadow,emboss etc.) ?

John Derry:
Traditionally-painted imagery has what I refer to as an "aura". This aura partially consists of the physical attributes of the object: scale, frame, canvas texture, paint impasto, the color space of physical paint. These all contribute to the object being viewed as unique. This uniqueness, in turn, contributes to the object's perceived value.

One of the visual qualities missing from most digital painting is surface texture. Many digital artists are overcoming this deficit by inkjet printing their art on canvas with archival pigment-based inks. Some artists go a step further and embellish the print with actual painted brushwork that complements the digitally painted art. The result is a melding of traditional and digital painting techniques that imbues the artwork with some of the aura described above. As a result, the object begins to have a higher perceived value—a definite plus for the artist intent on selling his art.

My use of Photoshop's Bevel and Emboss Layer Styles is a technique for viewing digitally-created paintings on a display, which is how most digital art is seen (on the web, for example). I utilize the Layer Styles' surface effects in concert with a digital canvas texture (visible in the brushstrokes) to provide a digitally-painted image with a sense of physicality. Similar to the above-described inkjet & embellishment techniques, these digitally-created surface effects borrow from the vocabulary of traditional painting to grace the overall image with the aura of the unique object.

The Drop Shadow layer style can be used to create an Abstract Illusionism look to a painting. Abstract Illusionism was popular in the late '70's ( Jack Lembeck and James Havard were major proponents). It is pretty interesting to paint on a layer with the Drop Shadow layer style enabled—it feels like painting in the air.

Painted photo with bevel and emboss layer style added to paint strokes


Patricia:
The art pen you use in the tutorial seems to have a distinct advantage over the standard brushes which come with the lower end Wacom tablets.  As painful as it is to spend the extra money, do you feel the extra axes of motion it offers make it a worthwhile purchase and do you see other advantages for this particular Wacom Art Pen coming down the road.

John Derry:
Stylus movement can be described by six axes of motion: X, Y, Depth, Tilt, Bearing, and Barrel Rotation. It is a combination of these motions that correspond to an artist's expressive hand, wrist, and arm movement. The more of these dimensions that can be captured by a digital painting system, the higher the fidelity of the artist's resulting expression. Wacom's Art Pen—when used with the Intuos and Cintiq tablets—captures all six of the axes of motion (the Grip Pen, which is the stylus that comes with a Wacom tablet, does not capture Barrel Rotation).

For the maximum expressive input, the Art Pen is well worth the extra expense. This pen additionally has a greater pressure sensitivity range, which translates into enhanced expressivity. On the other hand, if a Wacom tablet is going to be primarily used for retouching work, the Grip Pen is sufficient.

Wacom tablet and pen pressure


Patricia:
What is a possible workflow i.e. settings etc. to create a pointillistic painting such as in the style of George Seurat while having a realistic photograph to work from as the background layer?

John Derry:
An interesting attribute of Seurat's pointillism is the use of small clustered painted multiple-related colors to create visual blending of the colors in the viewer's eye. The result is a richness of color that would not be present had the color groups been actually painted as an individual color.

It is an easy feat for a digital paint application to "jitter" color supplied to a brush. This jittering widens a dimension of a color's individual components, for example, Hue/Saturation/Brightness. By adding jitter to only a color's Hue—let's use blue-green as an example—the color supplied to the brush will vary.

In the case of blue-green, some dabs of color will skew towards blue; others towards green. The jitter can be increased to widen the color skew so that farther afield color—purples and oranges—will randomly appear in the procession of color dabs supplied to the brush. Likewise, jitter can be applied to Saturation and/or Value. This "seasoning to taste" by the artist enables a highly controllable introduction of pointillistic color coming from the brush. This supplies one ingredient of the pointillism "recipe" to a digital brush.

The second key ingredient is the originating color source, In this case, it is a photograph. The photograph is assigned to be the brush color source by selecting the photo and capturing it as a Pattern. The Pattern Stamp Tool is then used to deposit the image color. This tool has an optional Impressionist mode that jitters the applied dabs, thereby "fracturing" the image. The Brush panel's Color Dynamics dialog can be used to jitter the applied color. Put it all together and you've got an elementary digital pointillism brush.

Of course, this automated approach will not offer the same level of unique expression that Seurat accomplished in his paintings, but it does demonstrate how digital paint tools can be seasoned to suit the artist's tastes.


Patricia:
I would like to thank you for time and the  Lynda tutorials.  I never imagined there could be so many possibilities and intricacies working with the new Mixer Brushes. It will definitely take some time to master.  What I found most interesting was that these tools can be used in a way to suit the individual rather than in a lock step codified way of working.  Is this central to your philosophy of how knowledge is  passed on from one artist to another?

John Derry:
It is my belief that a successful expressive tool—whether it is for mark-making, musical creation, or writing—must be capable of allowing the creator to express himself without imprinting the final result with a "brand name". It must be the artistic expression that is central to the work. However the result is achieved, it is personal creative expression that endures and it is this that represents the transmission of the human condition to others.

Published on Aug 19, 2010

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