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Paint authentic-looking watercolor paintings with Photoshop's tools

Added on Thursday 26th of November 2009 01:51 am EST
 

Application:

Adobe Photoshop CS/CS2/CS3/CS4

Operating Systems:

Macintosh, Microsoft Windows

 

                

Hero

 

 The Watercolor filter is somewhat of a letdown; while it creates interesting results, it never really produces the authentic look of a true watercolor painting. But there’s a not-so-obvious combination of tools that will help you create a realistic aqueous effect. By building layers of brush effects, and by using Photoshop’s drawing tools, you can create painterly effects reminiscent of watercolor paintings.

 

To achieve the look of watercolor paintings, we’ll:

     Discuss what the watercolor look is and how you can achieve it digitally.

     Create a new Brush Preset to best mimic the behavior of a watercolor brush.

     Paint in details to give a distinctive watercolor look and feel.

 

If you’re at all familiar with Photoshop, you’re no doubt aware of the Watercolor Artistic effect filter. But while the filter does a good job adding a watercolor look to an existing image, it doesn’t give you the control you can get when you create a watercolor painting from scratch. Sound intimidating? Don’t worry—follow our technique and you’ll be generating watercolors in no time.

 

Understand the watercolor look

The watercolor medium is simply a pigment you mix with water. It’s usually applied with a wet or dry brush on textured paper. Although there are several other factors that contribute to the watercolor look, shown in the image at the beginning of this article, paper, brush application, solubility, and transparency are the most important ones.

 

Open a new document

Now that you know what creates the look, let’s next learn how to achieve it. As mentioned earlier, we’ll start from scratch for maximum control.

 

To open a new document with a transparent background:

1.     Launch Photoshop, choose File > New, and in the New dialog box, set the Width and Height pop-up menus to inches.

2.     Enter 4 in the Width text box, 5 in the Height text box, and 300 pixels/inch in the Resolution text box.

3.     Select RGB Color from the Color Mode pop-up menu, White from the Background Contents pop-up menu.

4.     Enter Watercolor in the Name text box, and then click OK.

 

Add the texture

Watercolor paper comes in a variety of shades and textures. Next, we’ll add a separate layer on which we’ll apply our watercolor texture.

 

Note: To apply a texture to our example, we’ll use a scanned image of a textured piece of paper. To use our example, download the texture.jpg file from the URL listed at the beginning of this article and open it in Photoshop.

 

 

To add a layer that will serve as our watercolor paper:

1.       With the Texture.jpg file selected, press [command]A ([Ctrl]A in Windows) to select texture.jpg, press [command]C ([Ctrl]C in Windows) to copy it, and then press [command]W ([Ctrl]W in Windows), to close the file.

2.       Select the Watercolor document, open the Layers panel (Window > Layers), click the Create A New Layer button, and name the new layer Texture.

3.      Press [command]V, ([Ctrl]V in Windows) to paste texture.jpg into the Texture layer.

4.      Deselect the Texture layer’s visibility button. You’re now ready to begin painting your subject.

 

Paint the subject

For our example, we’ll paint a leaf backlit by the afternoon sun, as shown in Figure A. If you want to use a different subject, simply apply the principles we discuss in the steps that follow.

A

 

Work in order

An actual watercolor is painted in a certain order. While there are many different techniques, larger light-colored, soft-background areas are often wet-brushed and painted first. Medium-colored, soft-subject areas are also wet-brushed, and painted next. Finally, dark-colored, detailed subject areas are dry-brushed last. To achieve the watercolor look, we’ll follow the same order. But unlike an actual watercolor, we’ll paint each area on a different layer.

 

To paint the background area with shades of soft greens:

1.       Create a new layer and name it Background.

2.      Select the Brush tool from the Tools panel, choose the Brush Preset pop-up menu located in the tool Options bar, and then select the Soft Round 300 pixel Brush tip.

3.      Set the foreground color to a light green color, such as R: 223, G: 254, and B: 137.

4.      Paint the entire Background layer, taking care not to even out the color too much, as shown in Figure B.

5.      Continue to build up the background area, changing to various shades of greens, as well as changing brush tip sizes and the brush’s Opacity as you work. To add visual depth to the background, you may want to darken sections, as shown in Figure C. Now, you’re ready to paint the base of your subject.

B

C

 

To paint the leaf subject’s base area:

1.       Create a new layer and name it Leaf - base.

2.      Select the Pen tool from the Tools panel, select the Paths button on the tool Options bar, and draw a leaf-shaped path, as shown in Figure D. Don’t include the leaf veins or leaf stem, which you’ll later draw on separate layers.

3.      Open the Paths panel (Window > Paths), select Save Path from the Path’s pop-up menu to save the path, and name it Leaf.

4.      Select the Load Path As A Selection button, located at the bottom of the Paths panel.