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Lesson 7 - Playing With Paint

Adobe Photoshop 6 Basics

All Brushes Big and Small

In this lesson, we'll learn a bit about Photoshop's many paint brushes and the many ways you can customize them for just the right art effect. You'll also return to our old friend the Toolbox for a tour of the program's painting tools.

Where would Picasso have been without his brushes? Probably doomed to a life of finger-painting. Luckily we don't have to worry about digging around to find the right brush, because Photoshop comes stocked with a whole gamut of brushes (Figure 7-1).

Figure 7-1: The Brushes palette.

Most of the brushes you see will appear on the canvas exactly as they appear in the palette. The only exceptions are the brushes with numbers underneath that indicate the diameter of the brush displayed in pixels. The biggest ones are more than a foot in diameter!

When you double-click on a brush, a Brush Options dialog box appears (Figure 7-2).

Figure 7-2: The Brush Options Dialog box.

In addition to the large number of brushes on the palette, you have a number of options for further customizing the brush. To locate options for a brush, right-click (Windows) or Ctrl-click (Mac) on the brush and choose Brush Options. You can manipulate the way your brush looks in the following ways:

  • Diameter: Choose the diameter in pixels of your brush.
  • Hardness: This option allows you to choose how well defined the edges of your brushstroke will be. The higher the value you enter, the harder the edge of the stroke.
  • Spacing: You have two choices here. You can use the default, or check this box and choose how to space the paint you apply. Any value below 25% will give you a consistent line of paint. Higher values will result in individual circles of paint with spaces between them. If you leave this box unchecked, the flow of paint is determined by the speed you move your mouse across the canvas: slow mouse movement equals continuous flow; fast mouse movement equals individual dots of paint.
  • Angle: You can change the angle at which the brush touches the canvas. (Think of how a painter holds a brush -- is it upright or at an angle?)
  • Roundness: You can also change the actual shape of the brush on the canvas.

It's worth playing around with these settings on a blank canvas to get an idea of how changing these values can radically alter the way your painting looks. It will take some time, but you will be glad you did.

Once you've experimented with these brushes and brush options, you'll probably want to save some of these brushes for future use. To do this, just go to the Brushes palette, click and hold down your mouse over the Brushes tab until a menu opens with a Save Brushes option.

  • Did You Know? Brushstrokes are also known as footprints. So when you're laying down paint, you're also making a footprint. Also, the brush you choose in the Brushes palette doesn't select a tool for you. You have to do that. After all, it's your image. All you do in this palette is choose the way whatever tool you select will appear.

Art Tools Unlimited

Now we've seen how to setup the way the tools look, let's take a look at the tools themselves one by one:

The Swatch Palette

Brushes without paint won't get you very far. Although Photoshop includes several ways of choosing color for work on your image, by far the easiest is the Swatch palette (Figure 7-3). Think of it as having a box of watercolors right there on your desktop. All you have to do is pick a brush and "dip" it in the color of your choice. You can pick a foreground or background color from this selection, too. There are a number of different Swatch palettes you can choose from, but for now it's best to stick with the default or System palette. It'll pretty much cover all your needs.

To get to the Swatch palette, choose Window > Show Swatches, or click the Swatches tab in the palette window that contains the Brushes palette.

Figure 7-3: The Swatch palette.

The Paintbrush

The Paintbrush probably doesn't need much of an introduction. Once you open the Paintbrush, you can draw lines wherever you need to on the canvas. Unlike the real canvas, if you make a mistake, you can simply hit undo and try again. If you want to draw a straight line and don't have the surest of hands, just hold down the Shift key while you draw.

Here's another tip that you might find even more helpful: if you need to draw a line between two points, just click once on the canvas to set your start point and then mark your end point by clicking the mouse while holding down the Shift key.

The Paintbrush Options palette (Figure 7-4) comes with some neat features. See how a simple experiment with the Options palette (Figure 7-5) can give you a good idea of how the various options work. Here, I took a small soft-edged brush and chose a blue color from the swatch tab. Then I chose a reddish-brown for the background and made the following choices: the first line is done with Wet Edges;the second and third fade to the brown background in 25 and then 50 steps. The last two fade to Transparent in 25 and 50 steps.

Figure 7-4: The Paintbrush Options palette.

Figure 7-5: Playing with Paintbrush options.

The Wet Edges option gives you the opportunity of emulating a traditional watercolor effect: the center of the stroke tends to be semitransparent while the edges display the strongest color.

The Airbrush

The Airbrush gives you the ability to spray paint over the canvas in a stream that you can control in the Options palette (Figure 7-6). Keep in mind that -- just like with real paint -- the longer you spray the Airbrush, the darker and more saturated the color will become.

Figure 7-6: The Airbrush Options palette.

As you can see in Figure 7-6, the Airbrush has a Pressure setting. Unlike the Opacity setting in many Photoshop tools, which controls the opacity of the entire brushstroke, the pressure setting regulates the amount of paint that is applied in a given time.

The History and the Art History Brushes

The History brush, when used in conjunction with the History palette, is an extremely useful tool. You can use the History brush with a snapshot of your image from an earlier state as a reference source for color and detail. Perhaps the most creative use of this brush is when the Impressionist box is checked in the History Brush Options palette (Figure 7-7) -- it enables you to take a photograph and make it look as if it were painted by hand. When you drag this brush across your image, it recolors the original using an interpretation of the colors in the original image. Be careful not to make your stroke too long as you move across multiple colors. If you do, all of them will appear in the final stroke and will more than likely make a mess of your image.

Figure 7-7: The History Brush Options palette.

The Art History brush is a relatively new addition to the Photoshop family, making its debut in version 5.5. This is an advanced painting tool, but it's worth noting that it can lay down several brushstrokes with just one mouse click. And once you master its automated features, you'll be able to imitate the delicious brushwork of such masters as Monet, Renoir, and Van Gogh. The settings in its Art History Brush Options palette (Figure 7-8) include additional features such as:

Figure 7-8: The Art History Brush Options palette.

  • Fidelity: This option controls how much the color you use can vary from the color in the original image.
  • Area: This option allows you to choose how big the area to be filled with brushstrokes is.
  • Tolerance: This option provides you with a way to protect certain areas of your image from being painted over. A low tolerance setting means you can apply paint anywhere. A higher setting means you are limited to painting in parts of the image that differ significantly in color.

The Pencil

The Pencil tool works pretty much like the brushes we've talked about, with two exceptions:

The Pencil tool allows you to create hard-edge lines. (Please note there is no anti-aliased option check box in the Options palette as shown in Figure 7-9.) In the Options palette, there is an Auto Erase option that, when checked, allows you to erase any existing pencil lines just by dragging your mouse over those lines.

Figure 7-9: The Pencil Tool Options palette.

The Eraser, the Background Eraser, and the Magic Eraser

For those of you with the idea that the erasers are anything like their counterparts in the real world, prepare yourself to be blown away. Because the Eraser is as versatile as the brush, it is able to wipe away errors big and small. Just like the brushes, you get to select the size of the eraser, hardness, and other options. But you can also erase the density of an image to give a reverse airbrush effect, or you can erase with a soft edge to blend two objects together on a canvas. These are two techniques that you will find very helpful.

The Background Eraser

The Background Eraser allows you to erase on your canvas and gives you the ability to create areas of transparency. What areas get erased are up to you to determine in the Background Eraser Options palette.

This eraser comes with a bunch of choices that, as you continue learning to use Photoshop, will help you to manipulate your images with dexterity. Let's review some of the items in the Background Eraser Options palette (Figure 7-10):

Figure 7-10: The Background Eraser Options palette.

  • Tolerance: As with other Photoshop tools, tolerance refers to the range of colors you wish to erase. The higher the tolerance, the broader the range.
  • Sampling: This option contains three settings. If you choose Contiguous, then every color you drag the eraser over will be erased. Choosing Once will allow you to choose one specific color to erase by clicking on that color in the image with your mouse. Then as you drag your mouse over the image while holding down the button, only that color is erased. To choose another color, simply release the mouse button, choose another color on the image, and click the mouse button again. If you choose Background Swatch, then you can erase a color or a family of colors by choosing that color from the Color picker in the Swatch palette.
  • Eraser Type: There are three distinct types of eraser. Discontiguous will erase any occurrence of the color from the eraser's path as you move it across the canvas. Choosing Contiguous, on the other hand, will result in you erasing any pixels of a similar color as long as they occur uninterruptedby other colors. The third choice is Find Edges. This choice mirrors the Contiguous option, except that it also pays close attention to preserving any sharp edges it finds on the canvas.

The Magic Eraser

The Magic Eraser, like its close relative, the Magic Wand, allows you to select pixels of similar color and erase them to transparency. It's far and away the quickest way to erase selections. Chances are you'll have to use the regular eraser to clean up a little. Figure 7-11 presents a problem if you are looking to erase the background. The Magic Eraser would not be enough because of the different color hues in the foreground and background. Figure 7-12 shows the same image of the daffodil after several different types of erasers have been used to remove the background or to create a transparent background. Although I used the erasers to remove this background, there probably would've been better ways to remove the background or to remove the deer from the background. Think about that, and post your responses on the message board.

Figure 7-11: This photo of a daffodil presents problems if you're looking to erase the background. It would be difficult to use just the Magic Eraser.

Figure 7-12: I used a variety of erasers to create this transparent background, changing the tolerance as I went along.

Moving On

Now that's what I call a lot of information! And believe me when I tell you we're only scratching the surface. Photoshop is one of those tools that takes a while to learn but a lifetime to really master.

In this lesson, we took a good look at the painting tools, how they function, and some of the various options you can take advantage of to transform your artwork into works of art. We also discussed several different options to remove materials from your images and where the limitations are with each tool.

There's only a short quiz because the assignment is a serious one that will take you some time. But make sure you check in with the message board to see what's going on with your fellow Photoshoppers and to post any questions or comments you may have to your instructor.

In the next lesson, we'll be looking at layers and how they affect the work we do. We will talk about the Layers palette, working with multiple layers, and how to blend and merge layers. This lesson will help you to balance and structure your images.

Next Lesson: Adobe Photoshop 6 Basics Lesson 8: Learning About Layers

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