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Coming from a lifetime of using oil paint on canvas I feel strange to be talking about painting in PS. They are fundamentally different things.

Most traditional painters place value on the materiality of the paint, that is to say that they want their paint to look like paint as well as looking like the thing that it is being painted.

PS painting is a very different matter. It will never have a materiality other than pixels (and maybe as a print onto a sheet of paper), but that is it’s strength. With PS we have the ability to ability to get inside the skin of the photograph and to be as immaculate as the photograph itself.


Don’t even think about digital painting without first getting a Graphics Tablet. painting with a mouse is like trying to dance whilst wearing Wellington boots. Though there are a number of companies who manufacture them, but the only real contender in the field is Wacom. I would recommend a Wacom Graphire. They are the smaller ‘consumer’ versions, with a lesser pen sensitivity range than their bigger cousins. However, they are perfectly serviceable and hold down less desk space than the pro versions. I find all tablets a bit slippery to the feel. To counter this I usually tape an A4 sheet of cartridge paper over the drawing surface. I have been told that this lessens the life of the pen but replacement tips can be bought.

Tablet settings

In Mac OS the driver can be found in the System Preferences under the Apple menu. In Windows it can be found in Control Panel. There is a chance that the driver software is not there, yet the tablet appears to work. Do NOT be tempted to carry on using it. The functionality that comes without appropriate driver support is limited at best.

Painting 01.png

In the driver the default mapping setting for the pen will be ‘Pen’ mode.

Painting 02.png

Change it to ‘Mouse’ mode:

Whilst you are there tweak the ‘Acceleration’ and ’Speed’ settings until you are happy with them. These settings will depend upon the size and resolution settings of your monitor and on your personal taste. Now you are good to go. Using a pen mouse might seem strange at first but you will eventually get used to it.

Adjusting ∫rush marks as you go

Brushes, as you have figured out by now, are common to the Paint, Clone, Blur and a whole bunch of other tools. Familiarity with the brush is really important to PS use. When painting into photographs it is common for the brush stroke to ‘sit on top’ of the photo. This is usually because the edges of the brushstroke are too defined. To break up those edges try these methods:

  • Change the Size and Hardness of the Brush (I am constantly doing this).
  • Use the Dodge, Burn and Sponge tool to change the tones and color of the brushstroke (useful for small, local areas).
  • Use Levels, Curves or Hue/saturation to adjust tones and colors (useful if you want to change entire areas).

Use Edit / Fade Command. This command fades the last thing you did (usually). Blur using either Gaussian Blur (entire areas) or the Blur Tool (small, local areas). Use Quick Mask (Q) to temporarily paint on a selection just so you can adjust that bit. After painting your stroke, re-size it to become very small. Then re-size again to large. If you repeat this a few times the pixels of the brushstroke become ‘stressed’ and take on a natural looking unevenness. Selectively erase parts of it. Use a really low Flow Rate (below 10).