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 Bamboo. 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 life is cheap.
In my experiance, the tablet becomes a lot easier to use if a few settings are changed in its prefferences. The default way that the movement of the pen is mapped across the screen can feel strange and mght benifit from being edited. Howvere, they are called prefferences for a reason... it is up to you.
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. However, do NOT be tempted to carry on using it. The functionality that comes without appropriate driver support is limited at best.
In the driver the default mapping setting for the pen will be ‘Pen’ mode.
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 brush 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 it is common for the brush stroke to ‘sit on top’ of the image. 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 tools 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).
Constraining a line limits it to painting straight lines. To do this: click once where you want the brush mark to begin, then click where you want it to end whilst holding down the Shift key. This method, paradoxically, is useful for getting reasonably accurate curves (which can be built up from many small, straight lines).
Flow rate vs transparency
Flow Rate controls the ‘speed’ with which the paint comes from the brush and for shadows and suchlike it can sometimes be set as low as three or four. But sometimes even a setting of one isn't low enough. To deal with this you can increase the Spacing setting (in the Brush Pallet). This gives the impression of an even lower flow rate.
Why didn't you instead play with the Transparency settings of the Brush? Here’s why:
The scribble on the right was made with a brush set to a very low flow rate (2 in this case). The scribble on the left was made with a brush set to a Transparency of 20 (Transparency and Flow are not equitable). No matter how much I scribbled I could not build up an opacity.
The only way I can get any change is to stop the brush stroke and start a new one. Here you can see five separate brush strokes on top of each other. Notice how they accumulate an opacity. Moral: be careful how (and if) you use transparency with a brush.
The Brush Pallet
This can be a bit confusing to navigate. It has three faces:
Brush: Brush tip shape edit
This changes the Hardness and Softness of the brush (also available through the Contextual Menu). Also the spacing. Most importantly the 'stamp shape' of the brush. For most purposes the default round stamp is fine. Some painters make a big deal out of specialist stamp shapes but most painters can get by without them quite happily.
- This offers the ability to change the way that your Brush behaves: making it change it’s shape, flow, transparency etc according to how hard you are pressing the stylus, how far the brush has traveled etc. It is not as important as you might think and, personally, seem to be able to get by without using it much. The only settings that I would use on it are those found in:
- Shape Dynamics
- The settings here are useful for getting the brush mark to get fatter if you press the stylus harder, just like in a real brush. If you want to make realistic hairs this is the place to go.
- A brush mark is not made from a solid line of (digital) paint. It is made from lots of separate instances of the brush tip shape. Spacing places these instances further apart. Scattering does what you would expect it to. I have used this on a number of occasions when I want to make things like entrails and stalactites (and stalagmites).
- Useful for getting organic edges to your brush, though not hugely useful. Pretty good results can be had just by choosing one of the default Spatter brushes from the Brush Menu or from playing with the scattering settings.
- Color Dynamics
- varies the color properties of the brush. These are tied to the Foreground and Background colors that are set in the Toolbox.
- This is where they hide the Opacity and Flow settings. Good for getting a brush mark to fade away. These setting should be changed if you are trying to paint a fade out line such as those that are needed for painting hair.
These three brush marks were achieved by playing around with Scattering, Shape Dynamics and Other Dynamics. All of them use basic style, round brushes.
This brush was made using a combination of the settings above and a shaped brush (in this case one that is shaped like a hair). The big difference between shaped brushes and ordinary brushes (apart from that they are funny shapes) is that the hardness is not adjustable on shaped brushes.
Here is where edited sets of brush shape and brush parameter can be stored. Not as wildly useful as you might think.