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Oil Painting with the Art-History Brush

Last update:  12-31-1969

Submitted by byRo

Many people (including me) try out the Art-History Brush and give up. Sometimes it’s too wild or just seems to ruin everything it touches, other times it seems that it doesn’t do anything. Thanks to some guidelines posted by jaykita, Janet Petty and Justchecking, I finally tamed this little beast and I would like to share some experience....

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Overall Recommendation





Expertise     5.9
Utility     4
Clarity     3.4
Relevance   4.4

Last things first – here’s the result.

And here's how I got there.....

Note (*) Brushes are attached in the discussion thread.

1) Start with a good image. As trimoon posted some time ago, a good image for painting isn't always a good photograph. For this style a strong centralized subject with not to many small details works well. Also you may need more pixels than normal, if you are using RP's posted images (600-800 pixels) you may need to double the size. I fixed and doubled the original using the 10 minute tool box.


Flatten any layers and/or duplicate merged to make sure that we have only one layer. If this isn't a freshly opened image, go to the history palette and make a new snapshot. Click to the side of  the new snapshot to fix this as the history brush source.

2) Set up the layers for working. This is the set-up that I have found easiest to work with:

The outline layer is a copy of the background with the high-pass filter applied at radius 2 and mode set to overlay. Fill 1 and Fill 2 are just solid-colour empty canvases. As I am using an overlay to show some guidlines then the canvas can not be white. I like to use green because it is easy to see what has been painted and what has not. Here's a close-up of an eye so you can get an idea of how it looks on screen:

3) (Just for the record) If you were an extremely organized/methodical person you would now do some masks. But as you are probably like me, we'll do the fun stuff first.
4) Painting - Background. Select the Art-History Brush (shortcut "Y"). If you don't see this

 at the top left then press <Shift><Y> and you should now.  Along the top line you'll see some settings. For this style we will use;
* Mode: Normal;
* Area: 1 px;
* Tolerance: 0%
We will start with the background (but you could start anywhere). Select the background brush (*) at size 40, opacity 80% and style tight long and paint in a "scrubbing" style over the background. Note that there is no need at all to release the mouse button, you just move around until you're satisfied. I got this:

5) Painting - Area. Turn off the layer you just painted and make a new empty painting layer. Change the brush to Oil (*) with size 40 and opacity 80% and scrub / paint in the face. Better not to get too close to the eyes and mouth because the dark / coloured parts will leak out too much. Again, remember, you don't have to stop for anything, if it doesn't look right just paint over again.

6) Painting - Details. Turn off the Area layer and make a new one. With the oil brush change size to 10. and paint the details. The speed that you move around is very important here you may find yourself just nudging around on the same spot until the brush "decides" to paint the way you want it. (Cute, ain't he)

7) Turn back on the area layer (but still painting in details), lower the opacity to 40%, set style to tight medium and cover up any distracting streaks to merge in the two layers.

8) Make another new layer, between area and details. Increasing the brush back to size 40, but lowering the opacity to 20% (style is tight medium). We are going to tone down the strokes on the face. If this was an old sea-bearing fisherman we might leave it this way, but as this is a young baby we'll tone it all the way down. Note that as this is a separate layer we can change the opacity to control the tone.

9) No way to escape the boring part now. Need some masking to get the blanket edges right. Also some tidying up if there's still some green poking through. Backed off  the toning layer to 80%.

10) Looks good, just need that 'something special'. Copy merge everything to a new layer (quick way <ctrl><alt><shift><N> then <ctrl><alt><shift><E>). Put this layer on top and run Filter>Render>Lighting Effects. This is what I used here. Note the texture channel - if you want a heavier painted look you could use more than 10.

11) Now finish off with some tweaking. Back of the lighting layer (I used 50%), tweak Levels, Contrast, Brightness to taste. Palette ends up like this: