Aug 30, 2006

Using the Smudge Tool

The Smudge Tool: How to add a painted effect to an existing image

This article discusses how I've used Photoshop's smudge tool (the one that's an index finger pointing downward) to create a painted effect on several wallpapers. It does not discuss how to create a digital painting from scratch. There are many tutorials on that subject by as many artists as there are styles.

The smudge tool works really well in conjunction with an art tablet because you can utilize the tablet's pressure sensitivity to manipulate the strength of the smudging. Also, if you are comfortable using your tablet to draw, write or doodle on the screen, smudging will feel fairly intuitive. I haven't tried smudging with the mouse, but considering how labor-intensive smudge-painting a 1920x1200 image is, I can't imagine it would be good for your wrist.

Before you start smudging, you have to prepare your image. Smudging works best on an image that has some texture, half-tone dots, noise, dirt, dust or speckles, because it drags around the colors under the cursor. If you're working on a flat color, there's nothing to see when you start to smudge. This makes smudging another technique to consider for image cleanup and re-CG. Also, you should keep a copy of the original image on a locked layer. If you mess up, or want to redo a region, you can just copy it from that layer and rework it. Sometimes you can't go back enough steps in the history and even reverting won't bring you back to the state you want. Also, it helps you keep track of what areas you've worked on and where you need to go, and in the end it's fun to compare the original to the smudge-painted version.

The important thing to remember when smudging is that to get the painted effect, you need to smudge in the direction a paint brush would go. This may mean following the curves of a hand, or rolling in circles in the clouds. Use your judgement for which direction a brush's strokes would go, but there are also plenty of fine art galleries available online that you can use for reference.

Like many of Photoshop's tools, smudging makes use of Photoshop's brush engine. You can customize the brush in a large number of ways. However, for smuding you'll probably want a simple brush that changes size in response to pressure (if you have a tablet). The default round brushes with a soft edge work well, or you can use one of the media brushes if you want a slightly rougher effect.
Choose a brush size appropriate to the area you are working on. You'll want a small brush when working on the fine details on a face, but a large brush will make the job faster and smoother when working on a large area like a shirt. Remember, right-clicking will bring up the brush options box where you can change the size of the brush.
Make sure you're also at an appropriate zoom level. You want to see what you're doing up close if you're working on fine details. But be sure to pause every so often and look at the picture at 100% scale as well as looking at the entire image at once. That'll tell you if you're off in an area.
The other thing you can change with the smudge tool is its strength - how far is the color moved when you drag the cursor over it. This determines the "length" of the brush stroke, but I usually leave it around 50%. Too low (below 30%) and it takes forever to smudge, too high (aboe 70%) and it's hard to control.
If you need to smooth out a large area, try brushing first in the direction of the paint strokes, then perpendicular, then in the direction of the paint strokes again. That will help spread the colors around more quickly resulting in a smoother area. If you only smudge in one direction you'll see that you get lines - these are what create the brush stroke effect, but sometimes it's distracting.

Smudging will also create a picture that is slightly blurry. There are several ways to counter this issue. You can work on an image that is larger than what the final size will be (at least 50%-100% larger probably, but any larger may slow down your computer). You can softly overlay the original image over the smudged image - the outlines will usually come out the strongest, which is about the only part of the original you want to come through sharply anyway. A judicious use of sharpen filters may also help.

Enjoy experimenting with the smudge tool!

Aug 29, 2006

Vectorlicious + Painterlicious

My latest forays into Illustrator mavenry has been heavy utilization of the art brushes. I've use art brushes before, but mostly as accents to a greater picture; this brush-painted styled Mushishi wall uses a few art brush strokes, but mostly it's filled shapes with some tweak and roughen filters applied to them to give it the sketchy edging. There's also some calligraphic brushes in there because when you set the width to random it can mimic a varying stroke line without any work on your part - but it's unpredictable since it's the computer that decides how wide to make the outline.
However, after reading a tutorial on creating (and using) art brushes I've decided to give it more of a go. (Computer Arts magazine from the UK is really a wonderful resource. I only wish it didn't have to be shipped overseas because it makes it so expensive! Thankfully many of their articles and tutorials are reproduced on their website!) I've already done several tests and have been happy with the calligraphic style. Creating your own art brushes means you have total control over how the edges taper out or not, which is not something easily achievable with a calligraphic brush. I hope to use this technique to make several more Mushishi walls, since it's got such a rural, classic Japanese feel to it that a calligraphic brush-styled wall would complement. So far I have another Ginko wall (which will be very dark, so I may cheat on all the effects) as well as a Nui wall (which I'm thinking will be more brush-on-parchment styled, and should showcase this technique wonderfully.)
We'll see how it turns out. After all, vectorlicious and painterlicious shouldn't be mutually exclusive.

Aug 24, 2006

New Wallpaper (Mushishi - Drift)

1 new wallpaper:
Mushishi - Drift (Scenic)
I haven't done a non-vector wall in over two months! I've finally caught up with watching Mushishi and felt like this series deserved another wall (or five). Again with the odd perspectives, this time looking up from beneath Ginko's boat as it drifts by.... [more]

Aug 22, 2006

Vectorlicious vs Painterlicious

I haven't made a wallpaper without using Illustrator for some part of the wall in quite some time (since "Welcoming the Dragon" in June, to be precise.) No particular reason why except I really like playing around in Illustrator a lot more than playing around in Photoshop. Also, I've been into clean, crisp images with very few colors, and Illustrator pulls off that sort of wallpaper a lot more easily than Photoshop, and I've been choosing scans to that effect as well.
Looks like I'll finally be breaking that trend. The Mushishi scan I wanted to work with was in a very delicate watercolor style, and although I was initially tempted to try and use vectors to recreate the effect (and push Illustrator's natural brushes to their limit) I backed away from that idea because I think I've just been doing too many vectors lately. My other skills feel like they're getting rusty.
This wall will be done in a smudge-painterly style, with copious amounts of paper texture to maintain that watercolor feel. I don't do too many smudge-painterly styled walls, but it's rather relaxing to smooth out the details. In many ways it produces an image totally opposite from a vector's crisp outlines, but hey, variety is good.
I think this style will suit the Mushishi manga image much better as well.

Aug 16, 2006

New wallpapers

2 new wallpapers:
Cowboy Bebop - iBop (Vector/Scenic)
I was randomly browsing the Bebop scans and this scan of Spike was just too funny to pass up. But then I noticed this scan of the whole Bebop crew was also much too silly to not do something with. So I decided to use both of them in the same wallpaper - the crew smashed up against a window trying to get a glimpse of Spike dancing in the streets... [more]
Ipod Advertisement Spoofs - iBop (Vector/Minimalistic)
The matching iPod spoof of the Cowboy Bebop wall, iBop. [more]