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Create perfect pastel paintings from your digital images

Added on Sunday 27th of May 2007 01:44 am EST


Adobe Photoshop 7/CS/CS2

Operating Systems:

Macintosh, Microsoft Windows


Do you want the look of a pastel painting, but don’t have the time to dabble with the real stuff? Use our technique to turn any of your digital images into a pastel masterpiece in a snap.


To give your digital images a pastel-painted look, we’ll:

     Describe the traditional pastel medium to better target its nuances.

     Explain why layer preparation is crucial for this technique.

     Apply various filters to achieve the look of soft pastels.

     Add a Pattern Overlay to emulate the roughness of traditional pastel paper.


If you want to add an artistic flair to your next piece, a soft pastel effect may be just what you’re looking for. When you combine a loose sketchy stroke with colors that blend smoothly into each other, you have a technique that will make your client’s think you’re the next Degas. So toss out those chalk sticks and grab hold of your mouse. We’ll show you how you can turn any digital image into a pastel masterpiece, as shown in

Figure A.


A1: “Original

A2: “Pastel painting”



Get to know the medium


Traditional pastels come in two forms: dry and oil. Oil-based pastels create a waxy look, similar to that of an oil painting. Dry pastels create a softer chalkier appearance. Pastels are available in stick and pencil form, and are sometimes water-soluble. For the purpose of this article we’ll focus on the dry pastel look. For more information about dry pastels, see the info box titled “Painting with dry pastels” in this article.


Select a picture


To get started with this technique, you’ll need a digital image to work with. Any image will do. If you want to follow along with our example, download the file from the URL given at the beginning of this article. Then, extract the file melon.psd, launch Photoshop, and open the image, shown in Figure B.




Painting with dry pastels

Traditional pastel artists who use dry pastels have two forms of the medium to choose from: hard pastels and soft pastels. All dry pastels are made of pure pigment, which is ground and mixed with a gum base, and then rolled into sticks. The difference between the two varieties is the ratio of pigment to base, and the texture of the stick.

        Hard pastels. These pastels have more binder and less pigment, resulting in less vivid colors. They are firmer than soft pastels, making them ideal for sketching and adding crisp lines.

        Soft pastels. These pastels have less binder and more pigment, resulting in more vivid colors. They are softer than hard pastels, making them ideal for smudging and blending.

The artist applies pastels to a rough surface—often a textured paper, canvas, or sandboard—and the pigment burrows within the surface’s texture. When the surface is completely covered, the work is called a pastel painting. When it’s partially covered, it’s referred to as a pastel sketch or drawing. Because pastels have such a high pigment concentration, they reflect light brilliantly, which creates more saturated colors than other painting mediums.


Bring out the color


To mimic the brilliance created from the traditional pastel medium, we’ll bump up the saturation in our digital file. The amount you choose is preferential, as not every pastel painting has to be highly saturated. But light isn’t going to reflect off of your inkjet or offset print like it does pastels, so increasing the saturation will add more pop to the colors in your image.


To increase the image saturation:

1.       Choose Image > Adjustments > Hue/Saturation to display the Hue Saturation dialog box.

2.      Enter 40 in the Saturation text box and 10 in the Lightness text box as shown in Figure C.

3.      Click OK.




Set up the layers


Next we need to create a black and white copy of the image. This will be the layer we’ll use to apply the filters. We’ll do this with the help of the Channel Mixer.


Note: For more information on converting your images to black and white via the Channel Mixer, see the article titled “Create beautiful black and white images for low-budget print jobs” in this issue of Inside Photoshop.


To create a black and white copy:

1.       Double-click on the Background layer to open the New Layer dialog box.

2.      Enter Color in the name text box and click OK.

3.      [control]-click (Right-click in Windows) on the Color layer and choose Duplicate Layer from the pop-up menu, to display the Duplicate Layer dialog box.

4.      Enter Painting in the As text box and click OK.

5.      Choose Image > Adjustments > Channel Mixer.

6.  &nbs...


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