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Painting with Depth in Adobe Photoshop

Part 1: Basic use of contours in painting By Dave Nagel
One of the limitations of Photoshop's paint engine is that it doesn't allow you to paint with depth. In dedicated paint programs, like Synthetik Studio Artist and Corel Painter (among others), there are various options for creating impasto-like effects, adding chunkiness to a paint stroke, bump mapping, texture mapping and the like. Not so in Photoshop. But there are other ways to add depth to your brushes.

The answer is actually something that's been available in Photoshop for quite some time, though I've never really seen it exploited for its potential as a painting tool. It's the Layer Style called Bevel and Emboss, used in conjunction with the Contour option, that can help you achieve a wide variety of thick, creamy, chunky and wet paint styles. Here are some examples of this, all using the same brush, but different Layer Styles.

All of these examples use the brush called Nagel Series 32-Scales 3. For this tutorial, we'll be using brushes from that collection, which you can find by clicking here.http://www.creativemac.com/articles/viewarticle.jsp?id=33734 I should also note that I will be making these and other Layer Styles available for free download in the near future, so watch CreativeMac.com for those.

Canvas preparation
Now, in order to get this to work properly, you're going to need to do just a slight amount of canvas and brush preparation. The goal here is to paint with depth, not to apply depth as an afterthought to the painting. In this way, you can interact with the brush's characteristics as you're painting your stroke, just as you would when working with impasto brushes in Painter.

To do this, create a new image with two layers, and fill the bottom layer with black.

Now select the top layer in the Layers palette, and choose Layer > Layer Style > Bevel and Emboss. There, choose the "Inner Bevel" style with the "Smooth" technique. Set the depth to 1 and the size to 0. In the Shading section, deselect the Global Light option. Activate the Anti-aliased option, and select a gloss contour. (You can leave the gloss contour as-is and adjust it later. I'm using the contour called "Half Round.")

Now check the Contour box in the left-hand pane of the Layer Style dialog. Select it, and you'll see a new list of options. Once again, select a contour ("Ring Double" in my case), and set the Range to somewhere in the middle.

Click the OK button, and here's what your composition should look like at this point.

Brush preparation
Now, in order to work with depth effectively, you're going to want to choose a brush that's good for producing depth effects and also make a couple modifications. So what kinds of brushes work well with Layer Styles designed to produce depth in brush strokes? Generally, they're brushes that contain a lot of texture and that have been created at partial, rather than full, opacity. This applied to virtually every brush we've made available on this site over the years, including the latest series of animal and human skin textures. Again, you can find those (plus links to other collections) by clicking here.

In addition to selecting an appropriate, highly textured brush, in general, you'll want to make one significant modification to it before you begin working. So choose the brush in the Brushes palette. Then, up in the top Tool Options bar, switch the Flow setting down to something below 50 percent. (I'm using 31 percent in this example.)

The reason you want to do this is that you don't want your paint to "build up" too quickly. Otherwise, you'll hit the kind of plateau that happens in just about any 2D painting program that offers simulated depth effects. By adjusting the flow of the brush, you'll reach that plateau more slowly and give yourself a chance to create a large number of strokes before the image begins to flatten out.

The other thing you'll probably want to do is switch your Eraser tool to the same brush that you're using for painting. And, similarly, you'd want to adjust its flow downward as well. The purpose of this is to allow you to use the Eraser tool not as something to correct "mistakes" you make, but as a tool for tearing down what you've built up with the regular paint brush and bringing in more texture where it's needed.

Painting and experimenting with the style
Now you're image is prepared. Start painting on Layer 2 (the one with the Bevel and Emboss applied to it). This is what you should be experiencing if you're following along.

If this is to your liking, you should save this Layer Style for future use so that you can just apply it to a layer without having to rercreate it each time. To do this, double-click the layer in the Layers palette to call up the Layer Style dialog. Click on the Styles option on the top left of the dialog, and then click the "New Style" button on the top right. After you name the new style, as seen below, it will be added to the list of available styles.

If you're not satisfied with it, continue experimenting with your Bevel and Emboss settings until you find something you like. We'll get further into this next time around with an exploration of how lighting, contours and range can affect the appearance of depth in your brush strokes. In the meantime, if you have any further questions, be sure to visit me in DMN's Adobe Photoshop forum by clicking here.

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Related Keywords:adobe photoshop, layer styles, 3d brushes, painting


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