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More Painting with Photoshop's Mixer Brushes: Creating and Using Custom Brushes

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Photoshop is well known as a retouching software, and the application is also an art studio with 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 use Photoshop to create a still life painting without getting your studio messy.
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With Photoshop's Mixer Brush tool and its brush presets, you can apply realistic dry or wet paint to the canvas, mix paint on your artwork, and more. My earlier article “Photoshop's Mixer Brushes: Realistic Wet and Dry Paint Effects for Creating Luminous Images” focused on wet and dry media. In this project, you'll learn more about the Mixer brushes and how they interact with the Wacom tablet and its Grip Pen. We'll make a custom brush and use it with a still life painting, for a painted look reminiscent of oil paint. My painting Tulip Study is shown in Figure 1.

Figure 1

Figure 1 Tulip Study was painted using my Wacom tablet and pen, as well as special Mixer brushes in Photoshop CC.

To achieve the richest expression with the Mixer brushes, a tablet and stylus are recommended. I use a Wacom Intuos Pro Medium tablet and a Grip Pen or an Art Pen. The Art Pen recognizes rotation of the artist's hand, in addition to pressure, tilt, and bearing (which the Grip Pen recognizes). In this lesson, we'll use the Grip Pen that's included with the Wacom Intuos Pro tablet.

Step 1: Setting Up and Exploring a Mixer Brush with the Tablet and Pen

Open a new file by choosing File > New, and set up a small file to practice with the brushes. My file is 600 × 600 pixels.

Begin by opening the Brush panel and the Brush Presets panel. To open the Brush panel, choose Window > Brush or press F5. Open the Brush Presets panel by clicking the Brush Presets button on the Brush panel. The Brush Presets panel default view shows 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 chosen in the Brush Presets panel illustration shown in Figure 2.

Figure 2

Figure 2 The Flat Blunt Short Stiff preset is selected in the Brush Presets panel.

Next, if the Color panel is not in view, open it by choosing Window > Color. Click on a color to paint with (I chose an earthy green, as shown in Figure 3). Make sure the Flat Blunt Short Stiff preset is selected. In the Options bar, check to make sure that Dry is selected in the Useful Mixer Brush Combinations menu.

Figure 3

Figure 3 Choosing a color in the Color panel.

Next, let's have a look at the Live Brush Preview, which shows important information about the brush orientation and how it interacts with the canvas. In the Brush panel, click the eye and brush icon to display the Live Brush Preview. (The Live Brush Preview icon is circled in Figure 4.) With your stylus in hand, move the pen, and watch the orientation of the brush change in the preview. The dotted line at the bottom of the preview is the canvas. Figure 5 shows the orientation of the brush and its interaction with the canvas. The brush preview is an important tool in understanding the brushes.

Figure 4

Figure 4 Near the bottom of the Brush panel, the Live Brush Preview icon is circled in red. It is also active (darkened).

Figure 5

Figure 5 The Live Brush Preview with the brush poised above the canvas (the dotted line in the preview).

Use your Wacom Grip Pen and the Flat Blunt Short Stiff preset to paint a vertical brushstroke. Hold the pen upright and pull down the canvas with medium pressure. Notice the bristle marks of the brush. Figure 6 shows the Live Preview and resulting stroke. Next, hold the pen in a natural tilt; using medium pressure, pull a second vertical stroke down the canvas. With the pen at a natural angle, the bristles are laid over and more paint is applied. Figure 7 shows the second Live Preview and the resulting stroke. When you have finished exploring the Live Brush Preview, turn it off by clicking the Live Brush Preview icon on the Brush panel.

Figure 6

Figure 6 Holding the pen erect and pulling a vertical brushstroke. Notice the matching position of the pen in the corresponding Live Brush Preview.

Figure 7

Figure 7 Holding the pen at a natural tilt, and using medium pressure, pull a new vertical stroke down the canvas.

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