179. Make a Photograph Look Like an Oil Painting
Before You Start
91 About Layers and the Layers Palette
92 Create a New Image Layer
102 Merge or Flatten Layers into One
180 Turn a Photograph into a Watercolor
181 Make a Photograph Look Like It Was Drawn
Adobe Photoshop Elements offers several filters that purport to make a digital photo look like it was hand-rendered, including some that simulate painting with oil or acrylics. Although these filters do mechanically simulate brushstrokes on canvas, the challenge is to use them to make a photo look like a painted composition.
I know more than a little bit about painting composition. As an artist myself, I was taught by my mother, Maria DeLaJuen, who was a professional artist and instructor for 47 years. Throughout my life, I witnessed literally hundreds of masterworks in the act of creation, from inception through the final application of varnish. So, I know how a painting is composed. My challenge is, could I come up with a method for giving any photo the illusion of professional composition? The way I discovered this method was using an original DeLaJuen painting and the real digital photo on which that painting was based. Applying Adobe filters to the photo, could I modify it to reasonably resemble a professional composition?
Create Underpainting Layer One genuine method for producing a pointillistic oil painting is to start with applying what Maria would call a "soup" of slippery, wet, opaque paint in fat, general regions. Detail is something you apply last, which is why detail should look like it's painted on top. Underpainting is what the detail is on top of. I can mimic an underpainting layer by applying a filter to a duplicate of the Background layer; I'll add other layers to provide the detail I want in the final image.
Open the image in the Editor in Standard Edit mode and save it in Photoshop (*.psd) format. With the Background layer selected in the Layers palette, select Layer, Duplicate Layer. Name this new layer Underpainting and click OK.
With the Underpainting layer selected in the Layers palette, select Filter, Artistic, Underpainting from the menu bar. In the dialog box, set Brush Size to a low value, such as 7, and set Texture Coverage to a middle value, such as 20. From the Texture list, choose Canvas. The Relief setting affects how "soupy" your underpainting layer will appear. Experiment first with a low value for high "soupiness," such as 8, and check the sample area at the left side of the dialog box for effectiveness. You'll want some of the canvas texture to show through, so a higher Relief setting will reveal more canvas but will also look like you're using a drier brush. Click OK to continue.
The Underpainting filter creates spotty areas where lighter, chalkier colors appear flat, whereas clearer, more transparent colors are given a simulated canvas texture. It's a clever idea because whiter colors are almost always "piled on" a painting using a white blending medium, and midtones such as Terre Verde green are usually brushed on with paint mixed with copal or thinned by turpentine.
Among the other options for the Underpainting filter are settings that determine how the simulated underlying texture should appear. I happen to like the default Canvas texture, although there's also Brick, Burlap, and Sandstone. All four textures are simulated digitally, not just with overlapping patterns. The Scaling setting is a percentage that governs the size of your texture's grain, whereas Relief is a relative value that varies the darkness used to imply the graina higher number darkens the texture, but too high a number interferes with the content. You also have a choice of Light source, expressed as a general direction (such as Top); the Invert option, for what it's worth, applies the opposite of the basic texture pattern, so that pits become heaps and vice versa.
Create Fat-Brush Definition Layer
With a real oil painting, after your underpainting is complete, one genuine composition method has you using a fat, loaded brush to add some distinct, defined brush strokes. Unlike underpainting, where you're painting "zones," here you want your brushstrokes to look like strokes. I can do that with the Glass filter.
To create a defined brushstroke layer, duplicate the Background layer once again. Name this new layer Definition. In the Layers palette, drag Definition and drop it above the Underpainting layer you filtered earlier. For now, this will obscure the layer you just edited; later, blend modes will let portions of that filtered copy show through.
Make sure that the Definition layer is selected and choose Filter, Distort, Glass from the menu bar. The ostensible purpose of the Glass filter is to simulate the appearance of your scene as through a glass block, or through an antique, handmade glass pane. For our purposes, it simulates the watery shimmer of a slippery coat of wet paint. In the dialog box, set Distortion to 3, Smoothness to 3, and choose Canvas from the Texture drop-down list. Any higher settings would make the layer look too much like glass, and not enough like wet paint. Click OK.
The key here is blending the Definition layer with the Underpainting layer so that elements of both show through effectively. There are two ways of doing this that produce genuine results, but your choice of methods depends on your approach to the composition. Here is where artistic license starts to come into play. With the Definition layer still selected in the Layers palette, you can do either of the following:
Set the blend mode to Overlay. The result will be stark, bright contrasts, which can be lovely although they can also be startling. You could reduce the Opacity setting to 66% or more to soften the effect of the definition layer.
Well-composed oil paintings often include exaggerated bright tones, including very brightly colored brushstrokes whose impact on the viewer is softened when opposite colored strokes are placed next to one another.
Set the blend mode to Dissolve and the Opacity setting to between 66% and 75%. These settings let the original color of the underpainting layer show through the definition layer in places, without creating extra brightness. Use this blend mode if you want to retain more of your original image's natural color. With the Dissolve blend mode, you get a grittier texture, which is quite believable. If you prefer this grittier texture but also like brighter colors, select Enhance, Adjust Color, Adjust Hue/Saturation from the menu bar. In the dialog box, set Saturation to +40. You can also experiment with raising the Lightness value up to +26. Click OK.
Create Detail Layer
Once again, duplicate the Background layer, and name this new copy Detail. In the Layers palette, drag the Detail layer and drop it above the Definition layer.
For the full effect, you want to skew the color of this layer a little bit. Select Enhance, Adjust Color, Adjust Hue/Saturation. In the dialog box, set Hue to 8 (no more, no less), Saturation to a medium value such as +50, and Lightness up a few ticks, such as +10. Click OK.
In painting, "detail" is often the chalky whites that are piled on top of the definition layer to make edges more distinct and to help objects appear more distinguished from one another.
Next, select Filter, Brush Strokes, Sprayed Strokes from the menu bar. In the dialog box, set the Stroke Length to 16, Spray Radius to 7, and Stroke Direction to Right Diagonal (or Left Diagonal if you'd rather simulate the work of a left-handed artist). Notice in the sample that the definition of this layer is not radically disturbed. We're trying to simulate the tendency for oil brushstrokes to have some direction independent of their content. This layer will demonstrate that tendency too much; but the plan is to blend this layer with the other layers so that the direction shows through only in larger patches of similar color. To finalize these filter choices, click OK.
In the Layers palette, with the Detail layer still selected, set the blend mode to Dissolve and Opacity to between 50% and 66%.
If the Dissolve blend mode is leaving too many small dots for you to make out the image, here's an alternative that works with some compositionsnot all, but especially scenes with bold contrasts, such as sunlit tree trunks: Set the blend mode for the Detail layer to Soft Light and leave Opacity at 100%.
At this point, you might already have a very convincing simulated composition. You could stop here. But if you intend for your final product to look large, like a mural, rather than small and quaint, there are a few more steps you can take to achieve the room-size effect.
Flatten Visible Layers
From the menu bar, select Layer, Flatten Image. Your image might change slightly because you'll lose a small degree of the Dissolve effect, as the two dissolve blend modes are merged into one. Don't fret too much.
Apply Unsharp Mask
From the menu bar, select Filter, Sharpen, Unsharp Mask. This command removes some of the pixellation from the various Dissolve blend modes and also simulates the richer and more saturated colors of an oil painter, rather than the subtler and more photographic palette of the camera. In the Unsharp Mask dialog box, the setting you give the Amount value depends on whether you want to add or remove color contrast. To add contrasts and make the darks bolder and the lights more pastel, set Amount in the range between 100% and 200%. To reduce contrasts, letting the composition be quieter and gentler, set Amount between 50% and 100%.
Set the Radius option to a value between 4 and 10 pixels, the higher setting creating a "fatter pile." Experiment with Threshold settings between 10 and 30 pixels. Click OK.
Higher Threshold settings diminish the canvas effect and return the image to photorealismwhich you actually don't wantwhereas settings below 10 create too much contrast along the edges and introduce strange colors you might not want.
Create Pointillism Layer
With the Background layer selected in the Layers palette, select Layer, Duplicate Layer. No, we're not starting all over again. Name this new layer Pointillism. We need to add a touch of randomness to this composition.
From the menu bar, select Filter, Brush Strokes, Accented Edges. In the dialog box, set Edge Width to 2, Edge Brightness to 32, and Smoothness to 5. This particular window of settings for this filter creates regions of color with bright surrounding edges, almost like paint flecks that are fading and chipping off. Click OK.
Now, you have a choice of blend mode effects depending again on what elements of this composition you feel are most important:
With the Pointillism layer selected in the Layers palette, set the blend mode to Dissolve and Opacity to 25%. These settings enable one-fourth of the points in this accented layer to show through at full strength, looking very much like tiny points applied by palette knife at the end of the composition.
Set the blend mode to Soft Light and Opacity to 50%. These settings result in a smoother effect, as though no palette knife were applied, but with the brush strokes fatter and more boldly defined.
Set the blend mode to Multiply and Opacity to 50%. These settings bring back many of the dark tones that might have been eliminated earlier, and might reintroduce some realistic variegation among the brush strokes that, for some compositions, will be more balanced and pleasing.
View the Result
After you're satisfied with the result, make any other changes you want and save the PSD file. Resave the result in JPEG or TIFF format, leaving your PSD image with its layers intact so that you can return at a later time and make different adjustments if you want.
The objective of this method is not to produce oil paintings by "fudging" photographs. Instead, it's to easily enhance a photo and commemorate the beauty of its subject matter by recasting it in a light reminiscent of a real oil composition.
In discovering the methodology for simulating components of a real oil painting as best I could, I had the benefit of owning an original painting of Maria's whose composition is based on a real digital photo she took in her backyard. The figure shows the digital photograph Maria took, the painting she made using that photo as inspiration, and the simulated oil painting I made with Photoshop Elements.
In the Color Gallery, you'll notice the effects much more readily, such as how the simulated oil painting manages to mimic the painter's oversaturated palette. Bright blues appeared in the water rings right where Maria put them, and the juxtaposition of the bright blue rings with the gold flecks reflecting the rocks from under the surface of the water reflects a pointillistic palette style that is not representative of the photorealistic palette in the example markeed Digital Photograph. The water splashes from the bird's wings follow the direction of the splash, which is unexpected.
Portraits are the most difficult subjects to simulate as oil paintings. The randomization that Adobe's filters use to produce simulated brush strokes can be excused when the subject matter is leaves or water, but people are usually painted more deliberately. Your mind will treat random brushstrokes in facial details as errors. So, the best candidates for painting simulations are landscapes, where the peopleif anyare small, in the distance, and have their full bodies showing.
What's missing from the simulation are identifying details. It's hard to see, for instance, the birds' eyes. Maria would add the eyes as solid entities, irrespective of the head patterns around them, so that the mind can more readily identify the subjects as birds. If the simulation can't isolate birds' eyes, you can imagine how it would also lose detail from human faces, even close up.