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Create soft oil pastel effects by applying a layer blending mode

Added on Thursday 14th of April 2011 08:22 am EST


Adobe Photoshop CS2/CS3/CS4/CS5

Operating Systems:

Macintosh, Microsoft Windows


Fancy fine art Photoshop effects are fun to create but sometimes tricky. Here’s an easy way to turn a favorite photo into a soft oil pastel masterpiece.


To create an oil pastel effect in Photoshop, we’ll:

  Tell you what types of images lend themselves best to this technique.

  Apply a blur and a layer style to soften the image.

  Stroke portions of the image to add contrast.



Oil pastels have long been a favorite medium for creating soft, warm-feeling illustrations. They work especially well for subjects such as portraits, flowers, and animals. But oil pastels can be a tricky medium to master because mistakes are difficult to fix. But it is possible to use Photoshop to produce great-looking pastels like the one shown in Figure A. By using the Layer Blending Mode in Photoshop, pastels are easy to create and control.




Open an image

Although you may use any subject for a pastel, certain subjects—such as flowers—lend themselves better than others because of their color and natural form. Let’s begin with a photo of a gladiola. Launch Photoshop, navigate to the pastel.jpg file that we supplied, and then click Open. We’ll create the soft look of an oil pastel by gently blending the pastel colors as they’re applied. We can accomplish the look with the Blur command.


Duplicate and blur a new layer

If we were to simply blur an image, we’d certainly soften it, but we’d also lose much of its form. However, by duplicating, blurring, and changing the layer style, we can not only soften our subject, but also maintain its essential shape.


To duplicate and blur the layer:

1.  Double-click on the Background layer, and when the New Layer dialog box opens, enter Original in the Name text box, as show in Figure B; then click OK.

2.  Drag the Original layer to the Create A New Layer button at the base of the Layers panel to create a new layer.

3.  Double-click on the New Layer, and when the New Layer dialog box opens, enter Blur 1 in the Name text box. Then, click OK.

4.  Choose Filter > Blur > Gaussian Blur to display the Gaussian Blur dialog box shown in Figure C.

5.  Enter a value of about 50 pixels in the Radius text box and click OK to blur the layer, as shown in Figure D.








Apply a layer blending mode

The blending mode of a layer determines how it is visually combined with the underlying layer. Let’s select a mode that partially reveals the Original layer. Open the Blending Mode pop-up menu and then, starting with the Normal option, select and review the effect of each option. The Darken option, as shown in Figure E, produces the effect we’re after.

While we could stop here, let’s experiment a little. Oil pastels, though soft in texture, very often are high-contrast and vivid in appearance, which is an easy thing to accomplish using a duplicate layer. 




Duplicate and adjust th...


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