Sunday, August 10, 2008

The Problematic Brush

As I mentioned previously, Adobe has not really understood the needs of those of us used to working with real paints and brushes. In all of the brushes that Photoshop CS3 comes with, there is not one that will give you the effect of real paint being brushed onto a board. Sadly, all that's available in the default selections are hard brushes to give solid flat colour, soft brushes that have diffused edges like an airbrush, and an assortment of textures that work like moving rubber stamps, not serving artists so much as providing a novelty for the crafts enthusiasts. (Sorry for my blunt opinion, but that's the way I see it.)

And so, I was rather delighted to find a custom brush that caricaturist Court Jones uses extensively in his art (like the sample pictured below of The Beatles) that he describes how to make in a tutorial he posted on the NCN forums some time ago. I've recreated it here to show what a neat effect it can give you:

Step 1): Using the circle selection tool, fill a circle with a bunch of random, unevenly drawn horizontal lines drawn with a small hard round brush. Then, under "Edit", choose "Define Brush Preset". This will then add your new brush to the collection of existing Photoshop brushes. But it still needs some more work...

Step 2): In your brush settings, select "Brush Tip Shape". Then set the "Spacing" slider to between 15 and 20%.
Next, select "Shape Dynamics". Make sure that under "Size Jitter", the control is set to "Pen Pressure". Then, under "Angle Jitter", set the control to "Direction".
Finally, select "Other Dynamics" and make sure both controls are set to "Pen Pressure".

Don't forget to save it as a "New Brush Preset". Then, just for safety's sake, quit Photoshop and relaunch it. This will make sure that the brush is saved in the event of a crash.

Assuming you have made all these setting adjustments, the brushstroke thumbnail in the bottom of your brush settings should resemble the hairs of a round watercolour brush - soft horizontal lines that converge into tapered ends. Once you start making some marks with it, they should look like the samples here when at full 100% opacity and flow.

Step 3): When used at full strength, the brush strokes look a little harsh. But if you reduce the opacity to about 30% or less, you can start getting some nice creamy blends just like real paint. You also want to get in the habit of using the eyedropper tool to choose surrounding colours to further blend with, ending up with what looks like the sample I've sketched here.

Now, ideally, everything should be working well for you at this point and, with much experimenting and practise, you may be able to paint nearly as well Court Jones. Not an easy feat, I'll grant you :)

However, if you're using an iMac like me, you may run into a snag. I've found that this particular custom brush will sooner or later cause Photoshop to crash, leaving the message, "Photoshop has unexpectedly quit". Although, after it happens several times, it isn't so unexpected any more. The culprit, as I mentioned in the earlier post, is the "Direction" setting. I'm convinced that is what is problematic for the iMac, anyway. I've mentioned the problem to several Adobe tech support people but they all seem to play dumb, claiming that they've never heard of this happening before. Yeah, I'll bet.

And so, I continue to dislike virtual art media when compared to the real thing. Forever the traditionalist, that's me...


Bitter Animator said...

That's a nice brush and I tried it myself and it does work well. Doesn't seem to crash my PC (though just about everything else does). I guess the thing with Photoshop is that its name suggests it was designed more for touching up photos than creating a painted look, though it can be quite versatile in the right hands.

Have you tried Corel's Painter? It sets out to emulate artist's tools, though I haven't played with enough to know how successful it is.

alebrije said...

may you enjoy this magazine

it will help a lot wit your questions and frustations about painting in phothoshop
and there are a nice tutorial in about how the photoshop brushes engine works
saludos from mexico

Francis said...

Hi Pete! I see you're having trouble liking the digital world. I agree, traditional media feels so much better, and digital will never emulate the same feeling. But it still can be fun to paint with a tablet. You just have to get used to it. Haha, well have fun! its not so bad. And I hope your summer is going good. I'll see you in Sheridan!

Ryan G. said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Dipesh said...

Great Tutorial, i've been looking for a nice brush in photoshop. I've been told corel painter is also a really great program for more realistic brush strokes. thanks for the tip. Also you might want to invest in a cintiq, it'll make it feel that much more traditional...i'm saving up for mine :)

Ryan G. said...

Hey Pete. Ive had some problems with custom brushes too and I have a PC. Wierd. PS still has a ways to go. I have never used but I heard Painter is a great program for painting.

Here's some custom brushes you can download. Not really any realistic brushes, but some cool textured brushes..


Good luck!

Marc Hudgins said...

Hi Pete,

If it helps, I have few natural media brushes that will achieve the same (and maybe "better") results that don't rely on the direction setting (if that's the problem). Let me know and I'd be happy to send you a small smapler pack of brushes. Other wise try this:
instead of using an array fo thin lines, use a semi-random smattering of dots (maybe a dozen or so) in a more or less circular area. By using the dots, direction won't matter b/c they will smear out in whatever direction you go.

Be sure to set the spacing as tight as you can

Turn on Shape Dynamics: Size Jitter: 0
Control: Pen Pressure
Minimum Diameter: 0

Turn on Other Dynamics:
Opacity Jitter: 0
Control: Pen Pressure

Check Smoothing

Pete Emslie said...

Hi Marc,

Thanks so much for that tip! Funny thing is, I had created a custom brush similar to what you describe, that I'd learned from an online tutorial. I used it quite a bit on the cute girl cartoon that I'd shown in the July 5th post, and you can see the sort of dimpled texture on her skirt and in her hair a bit. However, you've now added the info about the spacing that I hadn't applied. I just made the adjustment to that brush and find that the resulting strokes are pretty close to what is achieved with the brush I've described in this post. I've been playing around with this new brush and it seems to be giving some great painterly results, so much thanks once again!

Steve said...

Pete, I will play around with the custom brushes over the next few days and let you know if it crashes on my iMac....

Carlo Lo Raso said...

Hey Pete.
I have tried both your brush and the one Marc had described and both seem to work very well on my PC, no crashes yet (knock on wood! Painting on the computer does take a bit of a different mindset and it can be a little daunting. I know you're not looking at it to replace traditional painting and it shouldn't. It's just another tool in your quiver of artist's arrows. I'm positive that when you become more comfortable with Photoshop or whatever software you choose and you're able to fully get your sensibilities into the pixels we'll see some pretty stunning results.
Personally I seem to keep staying with Photoshop as it is stable and I have a fair grasp on it. Painter is good and in the right hand I've seen some really impressive results but for me it can have almost too many options to choose from. I particularly like using it's digital water color brushes for color comps. You can get some nice quick results with it. There is still so much to learn though. Thanks again for sharing your experiences.


Pete Emslie said...

Hi Carlo,

Photoshop is a constant source of frustration for me, and I don't see the situation ever improving. For me, the bottom line is, can I create just a simple, smooth, completely controllable line with Photoshop? So far, the answer seems to be a resounding "NO!" This is why I find the situation so ludicrous, because the $1200.00 or more that I've put into buying Photoshop CS3 plus the new Bamboo medium size tablet, still doesn't give me the kind of line control I can get so easily with a $30.00 Winsor Newton sable brush and a $6.00 bottle of Pelikan ink! For all of the technical marvel of Photoshop and other programs, why can't any of them give me the very basic requirement of creating just a simple, smooth line? And please don't get me started on the damn "Pen" tool, with its sterile vector lines that you have to build piece by piece. I'm looking for total control using the stylus to draw a line freehand just like a real brush, and so far nothing measures up. Sorry, but I'm just not impressed with the technology, such as it is...

ArtbyAndy said...

Hey Pete,

I stumble across this site and thought of you and your Photoshop brush troubles. It may be helpful but at the least, very inspiring.

Zélie said...

Hi Pete,

I've no idea if this is actually a contributing factor to your difficulty with your lines... but might part of your issue lie with your tablet?

From my experience, different lines of tablets are quite different in their sensitivity and how well they work. I've never tried the Bamboo tablet, but having upgraded from Graphire to Intuos, I can say that there's definitely a sizable difference in performance and the Intuos is much, much better. I have few problems lining with a standard hard brush, except that I find it slow.

At any rate, if it's nothing to do with the tablet but rather something to do with Photoshop: As people have been suggesting, Painter is supposed to be pretty good and has much more "brush-like" brushes. Maybe it would mesh better with your current traditional sensibilities than Photoshop.

Pete Emslie said...

Hi Zélie,

It may in fact be the tablet. What irks me is that I just recently bought this Bamboo in order to replace the 10 year old Graphire I had been using that I had my doubts about. I'm wondering now if I should have forked over more money to buy the Intuos instead. Maybe once I get back to Sheridan in a couple weeks I can get a demo from one of you students who has an Intuos tablet, so that I can see whether there is a noticeable difference in the line control.

Bitter Animator said...

Mr.E, do you have to switch? I mean, it's not like you're not getting great results with your brush and ink. I guess it depends on working situations but, hey, if it ain't broke...

john skewes said...


Thanks so much for this post. I've been trying to find this type of information for a long time.

Your articulation of the problems with Photoshop brushes is exquisite.

Cindy said...

Hey, Pete
Your blog was recommended on my Google Reader, so I thought I'd stop by and check it out. Have you ever tried ArtRage? It's a very different feel than Photoshop, and very easy to use. They also have a free "starter version" you can try.

Best wishes,