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Custom Brushes in Photoshop are very powerful tools for creating images and effects. In this tutorial, we will show you how to use custom brushes and Transformation tools to create a ghostly and demonic-looking being in Photoshop. Let's get started!

Tutorial Assets

The following assets were used during the production of this tutorial.

  • Black Ascension - Brushes (In download file)
  • Black Ascension - Gradients (In download file)

Step 1

First, create a new test brush, this is just for experimentation. Because for the artwork, I'll be using the other two asset brushes provided. I use a document size of 1000 x 1000 pixels in RGB mode, 72 dpi, white background, I then add a new layer.

Now, when creating this brush, many things have to be kept mind; the final effect will totally depend on brush size, spacing, hardness/softness, even the way you paint (especially when using the wacom) because any sort of breaks/gaps in the strokes will yield different results, which is good in a way.

Select the 'Brush tool' (B) and chose a brush size of 2 px; 0% hardness; paint a stroke on a new layer, then go to Edit > define brush preset.

Step 2

Now open the brush panel by going to Window > brush (F5). You will see a new brush listed, with the default settings. Now adjust it a bit, for spacing, I set the value to 1%, switch on 'shape dynamics'; but make sure that size, angle and roundness jitter is set to 0%, flip x and y jitter is unchecked. Next, under angle jitter > control drop down menu > select 'Initial Direction'

This will do for the settings. Add this as a new brush preset.

Step 3

Here is a test with the new brush. Notice all the ridges, thick and thin lines and other subtle details. Imagine creating this on a larger document, you'll be able to see the details more clearly.

Step 4

Another test, but this time, I reduced 'brush flow' to 25%

Step 5

I had a little fun by filling the background color with black and changing the stroke to a nice red tone, I also used the "Warp Tool" (Edit > transform > warp) to alter the stroke's appearance.

Step 6

The following steps are meant to explain the techniques used in achieving the desired effect / result. All in all, a good deal of patience is required, so, what I felt looked appropriate (after a lot of experimentation) I just went ahead and used it right away.

I created a new document 6667 x 3333 px, 300 dpi , Color Mode : RGB Color, 8 bit, I also made sure that the Color Profile was set to "sRGB IEC61966-2.1" (you will see why I've done this toward the end)

Step 7

Next, I clicked on the Gradient Tool (G), selected radial gradient, headed over to the gradient editor dialog and created a new preset.

Step 8

With the Gradient Tool still selected, I click drag from the center, extending a little out of the document, then release.

Step 9

I clicked the "Brush Tool" (B). Using a soft round brush and a black color, I painted a small blob on a new layer.

Step 10

I then clicked the "Smudge Tool," did a quick test, this is for checking the strength values to see how much it affects the shape when smudging.

Step 11

Since I chose a large document, I used a brush size of 150 px, hardness is set to 100% and Strength 50%, next, I started smudging/pulling weird tendril like shapes from in to out. Varying the strength e.g. 50% - 80% and brush size wherever necessary, I'm not worried about how bad it looks. Things will be better later on.

Step 12

I added a new layer, painted another blob, then smudge away, but this time, there were some areas that I wasn't too happy about, so instead of erasing those parts, I decided to use a layer mask to hide those regions.

Step 13

Proceeded with another blob layer, with more smudging and masking.

Step 14

Same task is being repeated with another layer.

Step 15

Next, I used the first asset brush, have a look at the brush shape and settings, followed by a stroke and warp test.

Step 16

After a lot of experimentation, I tweaked the shape with the warp tool. I was really satisfied with this particular flow, I also duplicated the layer and masked certain areas. I added a mask for the layer group as well, this gave me more control over the image plus I didn't want to alter the previous layer mask.

Step 17

Similar technique was used for the same brush followed by masking. In between, I had to play around with the brush flow settings for a little variance.

Step 18

More layers were added, building up the image with strong flowing shapes. There are no rules applied. If a stroke didn't look good, I sought to work on it to make it look better rather than deleting it. This keeps my mind free and helps me move forward. In other words, I had to learn to trust my mistakes.

Step 19

Next, I added soft subtle blotches of color in certain areas. But, somehow they looked quite dull so I added more layers hoping to build up some mood. You can see them properly against the black background.

Step 20

Proceed with another blotch layer, only this time; it was for the black mask that had to be painted later on. I've once again used the 'smudge tool' with a smaller brush size and a strength value of 90 - 97% for longer strands.

Step 21

Using the Pen Tool (P), I created the mask shape, changed the color to black, then painted highlights using a hard brush and a soft brush.

Step 22

On a new layer, once again using the pen tool, I created thin strips to decorate the mask, followed by rasterizing the shape layer and then using the Dodge Tool (O) with an exposure value of 85%, I dabbed few areas on the strips for a little bit of highlight.
As you can see, I proceeded with more strips and used the dodge tool wherever necessary.

Step 23

This is the second asset brush with limited settings, but as you can see, the test sample has good amount of details, especially when there's a size variation and the brush flow (which is 25%) remains the same. Once again, I had to experiment extensively to get the most out of these brushes.

Step 24

On a new layer, the second asset brush has now been put to use. I even duplicated the layer three times and masked certain areas.

Step 25

I switch back to the previous brush and proceed with more wispy shapes. I also reused the same shape, but shifted it's position just a bit.

Step 26

In this stage, I wanted the shape to move in a different way, so using the same brush once again, I painted a random stroke, made a selection, then headed over to Filter > Distort > Polar Coordinates > select 'Rectangular to Polar'
finally, I used the "Smudge Tool" to pull out additional strands.

Step 27

I proceeded with more layers, repeating the same operation as explained earlier.

Step 28

This stage is pretty complex. Please go through the steps and the screenshot carefully.

I created many light orbs using a gradient object combined with a layer blending mode for the glow effect, followed by a layer mask and a group mask. Obviously, this sounds confusing but once you understand the concept behind it, you'll know for sure how and when to use it.

Using the Layer blending mode requires a great deal of experimentation. Only then you'll realize when to use which blending mode. In short, it's more like preparing your favorite dish. When do you have to use sugar or salt. In this case, the "color dodge" blending mode works just right.

First, let’s test. On a new layer, using the "Elliptical Marquee Tool" (M) I made a small selection, next, I selected the "Gradient Tool" (G) > Selected a black and white preset from the gradient editor > I then set the gradient type to "Radial" > Click-drag from centre, release.

I set the layer blending mode to "Color Dodge," I've specifically chosen this area just to show you how ingeniously this mode works on brighter backgrounds as compared to darker backgrounds. The effect does behave in a different way (if it's a completely black background, there will be no effect at all)

If I just move it around the area, it really behaves like a torchlight! Revealing the texture underneath. I've not even colorized it as well. If experimented properly, this can work just as good for flares, fireballs, flames. The possibilities are endless.

Step 29

So, using the technique explained earlier, I created many layers of the gradient objects and arranged them accordingly. You can also see their placements when the blend mode is set to normal.

Step 30

Masking - Part 1

Since I created many layers, the resulting glow was quiet strong, more in terms of a distraction. So, to tweak each layer's "Fill" value was going to be a daunting task. That is why I had to collect all the layers in two groups, then nestle them again in another group and finally transfer all of them in one master group. Further more, different masks were added to the four groups.
I know this sounds very confusing; but doing this gave me a greater level of control. Plus, I didn't have to edit any of the layers individually.
Going through the screenshot, all the layers are contained in Group 7 and Group 5.

Step 31

As shown in the screenshot, the entire document was selected > then "Copy merged" (Shift + Command/Ctrl + C) this is a neat way of copying the entire image just the way it is without actually merging the layers > next, for the master group, I added a layer mask > Keeping the "ALT" key pressed, I clicked the layer mask thumbnail, this is the mask editing mode, wherein I can paint my own mask > But, in this case, since I've copy merged the image, it will be used/pasted as the mask itself > finally, I used "Levels" (Command/Ctrl + L) , the burn tool and dodge tool to further tweak the mask as desired. To get out mask editing mode, I just had to click the layer thumbnail. I've also simplified the process (I hope) with a small test.

Step 32

The crucial, complicated part is done. To bring in the mood and further add a hint of mystery, I'm now going to take this to another level, by using a LOT of adjustment layers, plus, layer masks will be used whenever necessary. So, buckle up!

I clicked the "Adjustment Layer" button; selected "Curves" from the popup menu, this adjustment layer is added right above the master group that was created before, I continued to stack up more layers, in order to achieve a particular look and feel. Notice a hint of blue in the dark areas, there's also a nice dash of orange in the lower half of the image.

Step 33

The artwork is finally looking a lot different than before but, I still need to take it a little further.

I selected the entire document and use the "Copy merged" (Shift + Command/Ctrl + C) option, followed by pasting the image onto a new layer. Then with a soft brush, I used the burn tool and dodge tool to touch up a few areas.

Step 34

At this point, some sort of focusing was required, so I created a new layer, used a pale moss green tone R : 125 , G : 114 , B : 65 and painted all around, leaving the center empty. After which, I changed the layer blending mode to "Multiply" followed by a layer mask for a subtle effect, leaving the centre bright enough to catch the viewer's attention.

Step 35

This stage is pretty straightforward, as you can see in the screenshot, I relied on the "Curves Adjustment layer" for the look and feel followed by a layer mask.

Step 36

More specific effects were called for..

Once again, I selected the entire document, used the "Copy merged" (Shift + Command/Ctrl + C) option, pasted the image on a new layer, then headed over to Filter > Blur > Gaussian Blur Radius was set to 35 pixels > "Fill" value set to 25% > added a layer mask > Duplicated the same layer > used a different layer mask > changed "Fill" value to 75% > then selected both the layers and then added them to a group (Command/Ctrl + G) and finally assigned a layer mask to that group. The same blurred image was then used as the mask, but it had to be modified using the levels option, the burn tool and dodge tool.

The image now has a fuzzy look in some areas while still revealing a few sharp areas as well.

Step 37

Next, for the glowing eyes effect, I clicked the "Elliptical Marquee Tool" (M) > selected the face region > used the "Copy merged" (Shift + Command/Ctrl + C) option > pasted the image on a new layer > then, from the "Adjustments" menu, I selected "Hue/Saturation" (Command/Ctrl + U) , hue was set to -7 and saturation was set to + 100, for a nice orange tint > From the Filter menu > Blur > Gaussian Blur Radius was set to 7 pixels > followed by a layer mask for a soft falloff > Finally, the layer blending mode was set to "Linear Dodge (Add)" and "Fill" value set to 75%

Step 38

For quite sometime, I've relied on this technique during the last few stages of my projects.

Always keep in mind, that it's not only the adjustment layers, the blending modes or the filters that will determine the final look of your artwork.. In fact, that particuliar look or that small piece of the puzzle can be found in the most unlikeliest places..

Remember the "sRGB IEC61966-2.1" Color Profile? It is time to do a little switch. For this, I had to work on a new file, so I selected the entire document > used the "Copy merged" (Shift + Command/Ctrl + C) option > File > New (Command/Ctrl + N) > I just clicked "Ok" keeping all the settings as they are > Edit > Paste (Command/Ctrl + V) > once again, Edit > Assign Profile > a dialog box appears stating that the appearance of layers will be affected; I clicked "Ok" however, if I was using the previous document complete with all the layers, that would have been a big NO NO. Everything will look different, which obviously I didn't want.

Now that I'm using a new file, it's perfectly fine to go ahead with the new profile. Moving on, I click the third option "Profile" and select "Adobe RGB (1998) from the drop down list. You will notice a nice change in the artwork's color and shading. Taking a look at the comparison, blacks are quite deep, colors are well saturated.

Step 39

Seeing the new look, the previous image now felt pretty dull but still had those details that I liked so much, but of course, me being picky as usual, I wanted the best of both worlds!

I copied the image with the new profile and went back to the previous document, pasted onto a new layer, "Fill" value was set to 75% then
added a layer mask, followed by a "Curves Adjustment layer" which was set in a group with another layer mask added to it, this increased the contrast while the masks concentrated on the top, mid region of the artwork, leaving the rest unaffected by the adjustment layer. Finally, I added a "Levels Adjustment layer" with a layer mask to reveal some details on the lower half and a "Selective Color Adjustment layer" for a little bit of warmth.

The artwork is complete!

Final Image

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