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Creating painterly portraits in Photoshop

Looking for some creative projects? How about creating painterly portraits in Photoshop? People, animals and landscapes can be transformed into works of art by using the Mixer Brush.

What is the Mixer Brush?

The Mixer Brush is an underused and misunderstood tool in Adobe Photoshop. It can be used to over-paint on the top of photos to create a beautiful, unique and painterly look.

Once mastered, it can also be used to create paintings from a blank canvas, using a variety of brushes from oil to watercolors and pastels. To find the Mixer Brush, simply click on the Brush in the Tools panel and press the triangle in the corner. This will show you all the brush selections you can choose from.

What settings to try

Open your chosen photo in Photoshop. Start with a new blank layer, and grab the Mixer Brush. Now paint all over the skin, start with the darker areas and then move into the lighter areas. Then from light back to dark, blending it all in. Don’t panic if it gets a little muddy here. We are just getting in our base paint.

Start off with the following settings:

  • Brush: 48 Oil Heavy flow edges dry (size 80)
  • Mixer Brush Combination: Very Wet, Heavy Mix
  • Wet: 100
  • Load: 50
  • Mix: 100
  • Flow: 5
  • Sample All Layers: On

Make a new layer and with the same settings, but adjust Flow up to 10 and paint in hair, start at the back with darker and then the lighter areas. Paint in the direction the hair grows. Play around with brush mixes and flows and get creative.

Paint with the Mixer brush in Photoshop

Paint in layers

Just as you would on canvas, paint in layers. Start out rough and then gradually refine your brush strokes layer by layer. You can always reduce the opacity of a layer to blend it in more. By having the original image on the bottom background layer you can quickly and easily use it as a reference.

Finish with fine details

Finish it off

I often finish it off with a texture and perhaps a gradient map just to blend everything in and make it look more painterly.

Finishing touches

The Mixer Brush mini projects

Want some more in-depth tutorials? I have four great Mixer Brush mini projects. Each offers slightly different techniques for using the Mixer Brush in Photoshop. These projects are aimed at the intermediate to advanced Photoshop user, as layering, masks and adjustments are used.

In these tutorials, you will be given all class materials, including a PDF eBook with all class notes and screen captures. Plus, you’ll get extensive videos that can be downloaded and kept or watched offline, as well as step-by-step videos on HOW to achieve each piece. Most projects can be completed in an afternoon or weekend. All in the comfort of your own home. From portraits to pets, birds and landscapes, try one or try them all.

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Rafael Jones

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