Blending in Photoshop (Oil Painting)

In Tony’s class today, we spent some quality time with Photoshop, learning about new tools we can use to recreate the look of paintings. Through the use of layer blocks of colours, highlights, and the blending tool, we could create our own take on painting a portrait of a person.

This is actually an odd concept to run with in Photoshop, if only because in traditional painting when you put a layer down on your canvas, it’s there. You don’t have any undo buttons, clipping layers, or opacity sliders. I’ve never painted a picture before, so I suppose I didn’t approach this with an preconceived notions on the do’s and don’ts of painting properly. Combined with the fact that I have very little artistic skill, I actually think this exercise was tailored for someone like me.

We were asked to find a photograph of a person on the internet that we could use as the basis for this task. The only stipulation was that it had to be in full colour. With this in mind, I chose the following portrait because of the bright colours and it reminded me of Little Red Riding Hood.


When we did the greyscale portraits (my blog post about it was here), we learned a lot about blocking, highlighting, and shading. Most of what we were shown then was used in this task as well. Starting with the colour of the skin, hair, any bold parts we could colour-block, we would end up with some basic shapes. We needed to use a brush (it could be any size) at 100% opacity for this: it truly would be solid/blocky in that sense.


I used the eyedropper and the original picture on a layer underneath to choose the same colours (which made sense, since I chose the picture for the bold colours in the first place). From there, Tony let us have free reign with the knowledge we’ve learned in the past, adding details, shadows, highlights, etc. I tried to follow the guidelines of the original photograph to add in the details, but I did find this rather hard. I may have taken some of the detailing too literally, instead of having a “messier” approach to it.




While I’ve used Photoshop for a variety of reasons, I’ve never really delved further into the brush options than the basics. It’s amazing how many options there are in there, so it was nice to be able to try some experimentation in this task.





I tried to use a variety of brushes while doing this, rather than just a circle-shaped brush. You can see the differences in the strokes of the eyebrows and the eyelashes, which were brushes 48 and 112 respectively (shown above). I also tried to use different sized brushes, to make the strokes more random; I think there was a clear emphasis on this from Tony, to make the picture less look like the photograph and more like a painting.

mixerbrushtoolFrom there, we were introduced to the mixer brush. In my mind, this is sort of like a smudge brush the way I know it. The best way I can describe how I think this works is it would be the real-world equivalent of adding water to the canvas to merge colours, soften edges, and give it all an “oil painting”-like quality.


Tony told us we could create a blank layer and use the “Sample All Layers” tick-box near our brush options to blend all the colours of the layers below. While I’m still new at this, it took a lot of tries to undo/redo brush strokes and try to blend without smearing all the colours together. I found cleaning my brush or sampling the colours I wanted to use as a base for my mixing (both found in a drop-down menu in the brush options toolbar) helped a lot. I always had to remember to do one or the other before moving on to s new section of the picture that contained different colours – otherwise, I could end up ruining the red hood with browns from the hair, etc.


For someone who doesn’t do art, I didn’t think it ended up looking terrible. I think as I continue to learn new techniques, the combination of shading/highlighting and mixing will get better. The overall quality of this end result compared to the greyscale task as (in my opinion) improved. What I also found interesting was just how few layers you really needed to work with to get this sort of effect, but how important layer ordering actually is in all of the projects we’re doing.

layersI kept the basic photo in the background at the beginning, locked and used for reference during the blocking period. Once that was done, I added in a grey layer set to about 40% opacity so I could work on the shading/details without getting distracted by the overall picture – I found this helped a lot, since you could still see the strokes you were doing, as well as use the photo for reference at any given time.

Finally, I had the blending layer at the top, so I could sample from all the colours below. I added some of the highlights on the lips and eyes to blend on this layer, too. At that point, I also had the original photo as an overlay layer so I could turn it on/off to use for referencing throughout the final stages.

Art, like any other talent, can be improved with practice and time. Of course, it helps having an innate talent, but in cases like mine there is only one way to get better: keep trying. I think the effort involved in these sorts of exercises is very small, so over the Christmas period (once our bigger projects are out of the way) I’d like to revisit this task and try my hand a painting a few more photos. Overall, while I like the end result, I always think it could be better with more practice!




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