Mixer Brush Tutorial: Converting an image into a digital painting


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I’ll be using this picture of a parrot I took when I was at the zoo. You’re definitely more than welcome to use this picture yourself, or any photo/stock photo/image.

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First, I open the image, change the layer name to something clever like ‘Parrot’ and create a new layer. Note how I didn’t say copy and paste a picture in. If you need to resize an image first for some reason, do it and save, close and reopen. This is important because we’ll this affects whether we can use the History Brush at the end or not.

Create a new layer on top of our base image. I’ll be calling this layer Coarse, as in rough (you’ll see why in a bit).

Before we can actually start, we need to pick a brush and adjust some settings. I’m going to go ahead and grab the Round Angle brush, and open up it’s brush settings by clicking the icon next to our brushes. Turn on Transfer and Smoothing by clicking it, or ticking the checkbox.

Go to the Transfer setting, and for Flow, Wetness, and Mix, change the Control option of each one to Pen Pressure. I’m using a wacom tablet for this, so unless you’re using a fancy tablet which has a pen tilt feature to it, you may opt to choose that one. If you’re using a mouse, you can leave this option off. There’s no wrong answer here though, whatever floats your boat.

Now back to our image. Go to the top where we have our Mixer Brush settings and select ‘Sample All Layers’. This will let us essentially mix colors on this Coarse Layer without damaging our base image. I’m going to be using a Moist, Light Mix setting (available on the dropdown menu on the mixer brush settings toolbar).

This is how my settings look like right now-

You want to use a fairly large brush. The size I’m using is about 60, just keep it fairly large. I actually vary things and go bigger/smaller depending on the area. You don’t want a small tiny brush though, as the goal is to fill in broad areas and eliminate all the finer details.

Just like you’re coloring a picture in, draw on the picture as seen. Try to keep the colors in the general area- For example, I wouldn’t want the blue to reach out all the way to his head. Be reasonable.

As you see, I’m just making broad strokes and filling in areas.

For areas like the background, I switch up my brush. I use a flat fan, but you’re more than welcome to use any one of the brushes at any time. I actually go back to the parrot and use the flat fan to fill it in more. Also, I get a bit sloppy in areas. Even though you want to be broadly filling things in, try not to get too sloppy with it.

Video recap here

By now you have an image like this above (preferably with more of the picture filled in, I didn’t get enough screencaps so that’s my fault). We can either continue what we were doing to patch in those holes if they’re big, or blend the areas with what we have. I’m going to use the Wet, Heavy Mix, and with our base layer turned off, I’m going to bridge our gaps together.

By now, you should have something like this. It’s fine if you have small little gaps, turning on our base picture makes those gaps go away. There’s no need to strain over 5×5 pixels now.

Video explaining filling in gaps here

Now we’re essentially going to go back and do this whole process all over again. Well, not exactly- this time we’re going to use a smaller brush size (preferably around the 30-40 range, or even smaller than that). This time, try to focus on painting the edges of the image. In this case, the edges of the feathers as there’s plenty of detail in those areas. I’m using a round fan brush with a Moist, Heavy Mix setting, although I alternate between that and the flat fan. There’s no right or wrong answer here.

Video explaining the detail process here

After all this is done, I create a new layer called History Brush. I’m going to use the History Brush to bring back some even finer details. Select the history brush, and lower the opacity and flow to around 50 percent each. Select any brush (I’m using a bristle brush, and go to areas where you want to bring back some detail. I focused on the eye, as well as some edges of feathers here.

You don’t want to go overboard, as painting aren’t 100% crisp. Just go in a few areas and leave it at that. If the History Brush isn’t working at all, chances are you either resized your image, or you didn’t listen to me when I said to open your image. That, or you closed your project to work on it at a different time. Either way, you’re either going to either need to learn more on how the history brush works, or you can just move on to the next step.

Alternatively/Additionally, I make one final new layer called Sharpen, and use the Sharpen tool with a bristle brush to sharpen a few parts. I don’t sharpen the whole thing, only areas that it would benefit from. Just make sure you tick the Sample All Layers box.

Video showing the history brush/sharpen tool here

Final thoughts and words

This is what I got out in the end:


One Response to “Mixer Brush Tutorial: Converting an image into a digital painting”

  1. I tried this out on a picture of a cat, pretty cool effect, and great tutorial. :tup:

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