Pet portraits are are great way to add a creative flair to a snapshot of your beloved fur-covered companion. Crafting a hand-painted portrait may seem intimidating and the type of project only an accomplished artist should attempt. But Photoshop's smudge brush makes the process so easy that even a beginner can achieve stunning results. In this tutorial I will walk you through the process of touching up a photo to be fit for a pet portrait, and then show you how to use transform it into a hand-painted masterpiece. It's easy and it's fun!
This tutorial is one part of a larger set of instructions for the course: Creative Photo Effects in Adobe Photoshop.
1. Prepare the Photo
Just transforming any photo into a painted portrait will often produce merely mediocre results. This is because photos frequently contain the natural chaos of the real world, whereas painted imagery usually depicts an idealized version of reality.
This separation between realism and idealism is subtle but important. Paintings are intentional—each stroke of paint is placed for a reason. Photos capture how the world truly appears, whether it is picturesque or not.
The best results from any photo to painting process must take this into account. Then the starting photo almost always requires a bit of editing before beginning the painting process.
Begin by using the Download Attachment link to retrieve the starter image, animals-3.jpg. Open the file in Photoshop and notice that there are a number of things about it that don't fit an idealized, painted version of this puppy. The straps hanging down into frame, and even the chair leg draw attention away from the focus.
Use the Polygonal Lasso Tool (L) to create a rough selection around the chair leg. Then go to Edit > Fill and set the Contents to Content-Aware.
Hit OK and Photoshop fills in the selected pixels with new pixels derived from the background to remove the chair from the image!
Use the same process to remove the straps from the top of the photo as well. When finished, be sure to cancel any selection with Select > Deselect (Control -D).
Use the Spot Healing Brush Tool (J) to remove smaller blemishes and spots that could be distracting if smudged. In the case of our photo, there are a few spots on the nose that can be cleaned up.
Add a new layer called Eye Black and use the Brush Tool (B) to softly darken the outsides of the eyeballs. It may appear disconcerting now, but the final result will be worth it.
Use the Pen Tool (P) to draw out a crescent shape for one iris. Use a soft brown color for the fill (
#c07c3e). The shape ultimately will be softened in the smudging process, so don't be overly worried about getting the shape perfectly correct.
We will use a combination of Layer Styles to give the iris shape a more natural appearance. Double-click the Eye Shape layer and add the following style settings.
Add a Inner Shadow style with these settings:
- Use Global Light is unchecked
- Angle: -79
Size: 10 pixels
Add an Inner Glow style with these settings:
- Opacity: 53%
- Source: Center
- Choke: 15%
Size: 8 pixels
Add a Pattern Overlay style with these settings:
- Blend Mode: Luminosity
- Opacity: 48%
- Pattern: Streaks
Then finally add a Drop Shadow layer style with these settings:
- Blend Mode: Screen
- Uncheck Use Global Light
- Angle: -119
- Distance: 4 pixels
Size: 4 pixels
The final result should be an iris that looks considerably more lifelike.
Use the Move Tool (V) and hold down the Alt key to drag a copy of the iris shape to other eye.
Paintings usually contain more saturated colors than photos. Go to Layer > New Adjustment Layer > Vibrance. Set the Vibrance to +88 to give the photo deeper color saturation.
The nose could use some additional pink hue. Go to Layer > New Adjustment Layer > Hue/Saturation. Check the Colorize box and use these settings:
- Hue: 359
- Saturation: 33
Click on the mask thumbnail for the Hue/Saturation adjustment layer to target it. Then go to Edit > Fill and choose Black for the Content to fill the mask with black and hide the colorization effect.
Grab the Brush Tool (B) and double-click the Foreground Color Chip. Set the color to White. Right-click to get the Context Brush Panel. Select the Soft Round brush preset, and set the brush Size to 40 px and the Hardness to 50%.
Now use the brush to paint the colorization effect back onto the dog's nose. Be sure you are still targeting the Hue/Saturation adjustment layer's Layer Mask. The reduce the Opacity of the adjustment layer to 68%.
Now let's enhance the blue color of the carpet. Add another Hue/Saturation adjustment layer. Change the Color Channel drop-down menu to Blues and make the following settings:
- Hue: -29
- Saturation: +60
Select all the layers by going to Select > All Layers (Alt-Control-A) and convert them all into a smart object by going to Layer > Smart Objects > Convert to Smart Objects. Rename the layer to Pet Portrait Retouch.
The smudging process works best if the finer details are removed from the image first. Go to Filter > Blur > Smart Blur and use these settings.
- Radius: 2.0
- Threshold: 50.0
Go to Filter > Liquify and use the Bloat Tool. Size the brush to be just slightly larger than the dog's eye and just click a few times to gently increase the size of the eyeball. Do this for both eyes.
The nose looks slightly lopsided at the moment. While still in the Liquify window, use the Forward Warp Tool (W) to adjust the nose shape and make the crease of the nose more vertical.
2. Smudge Basics
Now that photo is touched up and ready to be transformed into a painting, we need to setup the Smudge Tool to properly smudge the pixels. There's an interesting quirk about the smudge brush in that it tends to ignore low transparency settings on layers. Some see this as a bug, but we will exploit it as a feature to assist in creating the painting effect.
Reduce the photo layer Opacity to 15%. This should make it barely visible. Then add a new layer over the photo named Basic Smudge.
Select the Smudge Tool. If you don't see it, hold down the mouse button on the Blur Tool until you get the tool flyout, and select the Smudge Tool from there. In the Options Bar, open the Brush Selection flyout and click on the gear icon near the top right. Select the M Brushes from the list.
When prompted, choose to Append the brushes to your list or brush presets.
In the Brush Preset panel, scroll down to near the bottom of the list where the new brushes were added. Select the Soft Oil Pastel brush and set the Size to 36 px. Then in the Brush panel, engage the Shape Dynamics and make the following settings.
- Size Jitter Control: Pen Pressure (if you are using a pressure sensitive graphics tablet; otherwise ignore this setting)
Angle Jitter Control: Initial Direction
Engage the Transfer property and make the following settings.
Strength Jitter Control: Pen Pressure (if you are using a pressure sensitive graphics tablet; otherwise ignore this setting)
Here's the real magic of this technique. Using the Smudge Tool with the Sample All Layers option engaged means that the tool will pull the pixel information from the underlying layer, even though that layer is nearly invisible. The tool disregards the opacity setting and "sees" it as fully opaque.
So brushing along the image will produce smudge brush strokes that pull the pixel colors from the photo, without actually painting on the photo!
So follow along the natural flow of the fur to capture the main features of the dog. Be attentive to the natural contours and don't brush against them.
Add a new layer called Background Smudge just over the photo layer. This will be the layer for painting all the non-focal areas of the painting.
The only difference in painting the background area is the brush size. It should be considerably larger to produce paint strokes that contain less detail. I suggest a Size somewhere between 200 px and 250 px.
Continue the smudge painting for the background elements. Along the edges of the main brush strokes, be careful to brush in towards the edge, not away, or you can inadvertently smudge the original strokes out further.
3. Detailed Smudge Work
Now that the basic smudge painting is done, it's time to turn attention to the finer details. This is what really helps make the piece look like a painting and not a simple filter job. Some of the features, like the nose and eyes, could use quite a bit of attention to refine the details.
Hide the Basic Smudge and Background Smudge layers. Add a new layer above them called Smudge Details. Set the photo layer's Opacity up to 75%. Set the Smudge Tool's Strength to 75% and reduce the Size to around 20 pixels. Then carefully trace over the finer details of the nose to create a sharper smudged version of it.
Turn off the Sample All Layers option and engage the Finger Painting option. This feature deposits paint onto the canvas first, and then smudges that paint. Set the paint color to Black, reduce the brush Size to 10 pixels and tighten up the dark areas around the irises. Change the color to a light orange
#a86f2d and add a bright area to the iris shape near the bottom left.
Turn off the Finger Painting option and engage the Sample All Layers option. Reduce the brush Size down to 5 pixels and use short strokes radiating out from the pupil to create a bit of texture in the iris area.
Use the Finger Painting option again to add some white spots of specular reflection opposite the bright area of the iris. These small gleams give the impression that the eyes are wet and alive.
Be sure to complete both eyes using the same techniques. Be attentive to the light direction so the eyes appear to be lit by the same light source.
To give the fur a more realistic fur texture, let's create our own brush just for that purpose. Go to File > New and create a document that has a Width of 100 px and a Height of 100 px at 300 dpi.
Use the Soft Round brush preset with a Size of 5 pixels to create several small spots in a tight, but random pattern.
Go to Edit > Define Brush Preset and name the brush Fur Brush. This brush preset will now be available at the bottom of your Brush Preset library. The brush file can be closed without saving.
Go back to the main project file and the Smudge Tool. Use the newly created Fur Brush for the tip. Reduce the Size to around 25 pixels. Set the Strength to 75%. Engage the Sample All Layers check box. Turn Off the Finger Painting option. Add a new layer for Fur Smudge, and gently stroke out across the transition areas to create the impression of fine tufts of fur.
While smudging the fur, you will likely find that the brush tip needs to be rotated to get a better angle. The easiest way to do this is to right-click to open the Context Brush panel and use the Rotation Widget.
Next create a new layer for Single Strands. Use the Soft Round brush tip with a Size of 4 pixels, disable the Sample All Layers option, and engage the Finger Painting option. Set the Strength to 95% and the paint color to a light grey
#dfdbd8. With very swift, smooth strokes, draw out individual strands for the whiskers, eyebrow hair, and even a few pieces of ear hair.
4. Finishing Touches
The primary painting stage is complete at this point. You are almost done! The only thing left is a handful of finishing effects. These are not required, but they do add a final level of polish to an already great piece!
Add a new layer named White just over the photo layer. Use the Edit > Fill command to fill it with white.
Add another new layer to the top of the layer stack called Edge Smudge. Use the Soft Oil Paint brush tip again with Size set to 150 pixels, and the Sample All Layers option engaged. Be sure to turn off the Finger Painting option. Proceed to smudge around the transition between the painted area and the white background.
The result should be a surrounding edge that looks much softer and more painterly.
Create a merged layer by holding down the Alt key while going to Layer > Merge Visible. Rename the resulting layer Merge. Set the Blending Mode to Soft Light to pop the colors, and reduce the Opacity to 50% to pull the effect down a bit.
Add a new layer named Canvas above the Merged layer. Use the Edit > Fill command again, but select 50% Grey from the Content menu. Then change the layer's Blending Mode to Overlay and the grey fill becomes completely invisible.
Go to Filter > Filter Gallery and open the Texture folder. Select the Texturizer filter and use the following settings:
- Texture: Canvas
- Scaling: 132%
- Relief: 4
This provides a subtle canvas texture to the painting, which enhances the illusion of the piece being an actual painting, and not a filtered photo.
The canvas should have an off-white color to be more realistic. Double-click on the Canvas layer to open the Layer Style dialogue box. Add a Color Overlay style with the following settings.
- Blend Mode: Multiply
and here's the final effect!
Think this project was a lot of fun and eager to learn about other techniques for creative photo painting in Photoshop? This project is just one of several covered in the Creative Photo Effects course here at Tuts+. Check out the full course to learn about the Oil Paint filter, the Mixer Brush Tool, and even how to create your very own custom Painting panel!
As a final treat, here's a time lapse video of this Pet Portrait Project, for your enjoyment!
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