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Photoshop's Mixer Brushes: Realistic Wet and Dry Paint Effects for Creating Luminous Images

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Many people think of Photoshop as a utilitarian retouching software for thinning thighs and whitening dull smiles. But Photoshop isn't just a makeup box for glamorizing photos; it's also an art studio with built-in brushes and paint. Cher Threinen-Pendarvis, author of The Photoshop and Painter Artist Tablet Book: Creative Techniques in Digital Painting Using Wacom and the iPad, Second Edition, shows how to harness the power of Photoshop to create a finished 'canvas' that delights the eye, without getting a single splotch of paint on your apron.
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Several years ago, my husband and I visited Étretat on the French coast and stayed in the small village. We loved the way the light-colored cliffs picked up the light at different times of the day. I sat on the beach and drew in my sketchbook, using graphite and colored pencils. Those drawings became the basis for several paintings of the area, including The Porte d'Aval from Across the Bay 2 (see Figure 1), which I painted in Photoshop, using the Mixer Brush tool and its brush presets.

The completed study for The Porte d'Aval from Across the Bay 2.

In this project, you'll use a sketch as the starting point for an expressively painted study completed in Photoshop, reminiscent of traditional painting techniques.

Exploring Dry and Wet Paint

With the Mixer Brush tool and its brush presets, you can apply realistic dry or wet paint to the canvas, mix paint on the canvas, and more.

Begin by opening the Brush panel and the Brush Presets panel. To open the Brush panel, choose Window > Brush or press F5. To open the Brush Presets panel, click the Brush Presets button on the Brush panel. In the Brush Presets panel's default view are previews of brushstrokes. To make it easier to choose a brush preset by its name, open the pop-up menu in the upper-right corner of the Brush Presets panel and choose Small List. One of my favorite presets, the Flat Blunt Short Stiff preset, is selected in Figure 2.

Figure 2

Figure 2

The Brush Presets panel in Small List view. The Flat Blunt Short Stiff preset is selected.

When the Mixer Brush tool is chosen, choices in the Options bar allow you to choose Useful Mixer Brush Combinations from the pop-up menu; for instance, specifying Dry, Moist, Wet, and Very Wet. The Dry setting allows the application of more opaque color, and the Moist and Wet settings offer variations of wetness and blending when new paint is applied. To load your brush with paint as I did in this project, choose Load Brush from the Current Brush Load pop-up menu (next to the color swatch) in the Options bar (see Figure 3).

The Dry setting is chosen in the Useful Mixer Brush Combinations pop-up menu.

Next, if the Swatches panel is not in view, open it by choosing Window > Color > Swatches. Click a color to paint with it (I chose dark cyan). Open a new file by choosing File > New, and set up a small file to practice with the brushes. My file is 800 × 600 pixels.

Choose the Flat Blunt Short Stiff preset, and then increase its size to about 30 pixels by using the Size slider on the Brush Presets panel. In the Options bar, make sure that Dry is chosen in the Useful Mixer Brush Combinations menu. Using the cyan color and the Flat Blunt Short Stiff preset, paint a wavy horizontal brushstroke along the top of your image. After you've painted the cyan stroke, choose a new color in the Swatches panel (I chose pastel magenta). Using the Dry setting, paint a vertical patch of color that overlaps the cyan stroke.

Next, choose Moist in the Useful Mixer Brush Combinations menu, and paint a second vertical patch of magenta color over the cyan. With the Moist setting, the brush applies less color and blends like moist paint.

Now choose Very Wet from the menu. Using the same magenta color, paint a new vertical patch of magenta that overlaps the cyan paint. With the Very Wet setting, less pigment is applied, with more blending. Working on your practice file, enjoy exploring brushwork with the different Useful Mixer Brush Combinations settings. Figure 4 shows the result of my experiments.

Exploring dry and wet paint with the Flat Blunt Short Stiff preset for the Mixer Brush tool.

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