Each iteration of Photoshop seems to upgrade the painting facilities and yet it still can’t do the one basic function that would make it as accomplished as Corel’s Painter. I’m referring to blending paint of course. To some extent, it’s easier to create watercolour style paintings, because by reducing the brush opacity, colours can be overlaid, and while not actually mixing, the right combination of colours, in small parts, next to each other, do a good job of convincing otherwise. Dry medium also work quite well, but the one format that’s most difficult to pull off is oil painting. Oils are thick, and while they don’t mix like watercolours, they do have another aspect that, up until now, hasn’t been available. That is, impasto, or the digital rendition of depth of paint. The new Oil Paint filter in CS6 adds brushwork and an impasto effect, but on its own, isn’t convincing. The tutorial here then, is to use brushwork, sample colours from an original photo, and combine with the Oil Paint filter for a better effect.
The first thing to do is to clean up the original photo to remove any large blemishes because while smaller ones will be painted over, you may pick up the colour from larger ones. Also, adjust Curves and Levels and the brightness and contrast if required. So, duplicate the Background layer and make those adjustments.
Create a new, blank layer and call it Canvas. Click on the Paint Bucket tool and select Pattern. On the pattern types, click on the down arrow, then the down arrow next to the cog wheel. Select Artists Surfaces and load these. In this collection click on the Canvas option. Click on the layer to fill it.
Set the Blend mode of the Canvas layer to Multiply. Check to see it hasn’t changed the overall brightness of the Working layer. If necessary reduce the Opacity slightly or try the Soft Light blend mode. Then, create a new blank layer and call it Paint layer. If you haven’t already, change the workspace to Painting.
Select the Brush tool and in the Brush Preset list click on the down arrow to select a set. Click on the Wet Media Brushes to load them. Select the Oil Medium Brush Wet Edges. Zoom in then reduce the brush size to 36px, though you may need to change this depending on the resolution of the photo.
Reduce the Brush Opacity to 75%. Start on the forehead by making brushstrokes that follow the contours of the features. The trick is to hold down the Alt key to change the brush to the dropper, and sample a new colour every few brushstrokes or when you move onto a different coloured or shaded area. Overlay the brushstrokes.
Increase the Brush Opacity to 100% and paint in the hair. Then increase the brush size to 74px to paint in some background around the figure. You should do all around the outside at this point, but leave some areas for the canvas to show through, especially on the outside edges.
It’s worth toggling the visibility of the Working layer and Background layer off when you think you’ve finished the outside, so you can see the holes. This makes it easier to fill them in. Toggle the layer visibility back on when finished then reduce the Brush size to 18px.
With the smaller brush it’s time to tackle the eyebrows. Make sure there’s plenty of variation in the colour or they just look like a couple of slugs. When painting the eyes, ensure plenty of the white is selected and painted in. Then overlay strokes in the eyes and ensure any catch-lights are removed. For the eyelashes, reduce the brush size to 6px to get some fine strokes.
Increase the Brush size to 35px again and reduce the Opacity to 75%. Now paint over all the rest of the skin on the face, just short of the defining edges of the jawline and the nose and mouth. The lower Opacity helps to blend the strokes together so complete the rest of the skin on the face here.
For the nose you need to reduce the brush size by half again and firstly sample from the dark shades to create the nostrils. Then use the light shades to surround them. You need to ensure that the outline is clear. For the left side of the nostril and the side of the face, open the Brush parameters box. Rotate the brush to make it easier to paint with.
For this area use an 18px brush and rotate it so that it is around a 15 degree angle. Sample and paint the gap between the lips, then go back again and work from the edge of the gap upwards a small way. Then go back again, increase the brush to 35px, resample and brush all the way from the middle up to the top and down to the bottom.
The next stage is quite laborious. By now you should have finished the face. Use the 18px brush at 75% Opacity and rotate the brush as necessary. Go around the edge of the skin on the arms and chest and over the edges of the dress. This is on both the outside and inside. Paint in the dress straps as well.
The final painting element is to use a bigger brush – up to 62px at 75% Opacity to fill in the areas of the skin. Go to 100% for the dress. Unlike the face, this doesn’t require as much detail so larger brush strokes are fine. Remember to keep sampling as you paint, especially from shadow areas and where different tonal areas join.
Create a duplicate layer of the Canvas layer and move it between the Working layer and the Background. Set the Blend mode to Normal. Then select the Canvas layer and press Cmd-E to Merge Down. Select the Paint layer and press Cmd-E to merge that with the Working layer. Now duplicate the Working layer. Go to Filter> Oil Paint. See the box out for the choice of settings to use.
You can now change the blend mode of the Working layer copy to suit the overall effect. When happy, press Cmd-E to merge it into the Working layer. Now add a layer mask to the Working Layer. Select the Brush tool and black at 100% Opacity as the Foreground colour. Zoom out and paint around the edges of the mask to reveal canvas. Then swap to White and dab paint back in patches.
Bonus Tip: Inside the settings
The Oil Paint filter has a number of parameters which can be used to give considerably different results. Here’s what they do. Starting with the Brush category, the Stylization affects what the brush strokes look like. At the low end, the strokes are indistinct, giving an old paint effect, with lumps and decay. At the high end, there are distinct strokes and no debris. The Cleanliness rating varies between adding extra shadow and a dirt-like appearance from random bristles, to a super-clean version with no random elements. The Scale setting changes the appearance from small brushstrokes to large impasto effects. The Bristle Detail is a minor tweak, adding more or less detail to the brush effect. The Lighting is relatively flat at 180 degrees and has more shadows and is more distinct in the depth at either 0 or 360 degrees. Finally, the Shine element adds specular highlights but it doesn’t tak much for it to be unrealistic.