Using Adobe Photoshop can improve your painting skills


“Who Goes There?” acrylic painting on canvas _ 2004

by Robert Conway

  The many years of experience of using Adobe Photoshop everyday as an art director and high-end retoucher has been a tremendous educational tool for me in teaching myself how to paint in the traditional way. Since I had never attended a painting class in college or high school, this is where I started to hone my craft on my own. You do not have to be an expert at the program to reap the benefits of improving your skill set when it comes to issues regarding some fundamental basics such as color mixing, color balance and composition and a host of other assets that can help you become a better painter. Just becoming somewhat familiar with photoshop and it’s basic principles is going to aid you in making good decisions with your approach to your artwork by taking away a lot of the guess work that can cause a lot of frustration during the painting process.

All of the digital photos I use for reference in my paintings are tweaked in photoshop in one way or another, whether it be just a fix in brightness and contrast or a full on multi-layered composite illustration, I want to make sure that the final artwork is going to be the best it can possibly be. Sometimes you can have an image that you may need a little help before it becomes painting worthy, and in photoshop you have the freedom to take a mediocre image and turn it into something extraordinary.

One of the great benefits of working in Photoshop is that it will give you a better understanding of working with colors. Using the eyedropper tool and the color palette is just the greatest way I can think to familiarize yourself with mixing colors, I mean what can be better than getting a Cyan, Magenta, Yellow and Black breakdown of a color in one of your own works? This makes things a lot easier for you when you are mixing your paints, what is worse than realizing that the color you are using is off and that you are going to have to repaint things? I always mix my paints with the CMYK process in mind, sticking with this color mixing principle is going to help you steer away from make poor, time consuming decisions and may save you from wasting paint.

Having your elements on layers gives you the freedom to move objects around on a page and it will give you a better sense as to how the colors interact with one another. You can also experiment with a full menu of layer options such as hard light, multiply and difference, these presets are going to give you a variety of different looks regarding how one layer looks sitting on top of another. Moving elements around in your piece using layers will also help you in strengthening your overall composition, I cannot emphasize enough what a great tool layers is for this, I have found that over the years that my compositional skills have improved just because of the invention of layers, experimenting and moving stuff around is going to make your eye for it better. I remember photoshop before it had layers, it seems like the stone age now.

Palette options such as Curves, Levels and Hue and Saturation are great to use when you want to make color changes on your artwork, with these adjustment layers you can give yourself countless possibilities on which direction you want to take your artwork. Even when I am working on a piece of art that I think is absolutely perfect and can’t get any better, I still experiment with these three adjustments levels, because you never know, maybe you can take it even higher, you won’t know until you exhaust all the possibilities. I have had many ‘happy accidents’  when using Curves, Levels and Hue and Saturation, I highly recommend playing around with them, it can be a lot of fun.

Now having said this, in the end there really is nothing better than using a real brush with real paint, even though photoshop has some terrific brush options and using a wacom tablet is fabulous, I think of these features as good practice brushstrokes for the real thing, akin to say a flight simulator.

And of course, let us not forget in Adobe Photoshop they have an undo button(Command + Z on my Mac) and a history palette so you can go back and erase past mistakes, this alone is a great reason to use the program because that fear of screwing up is taken away and you can experiment all you want. I cannot tell you how many times I have made mistakes on a final painting and my brain is thinking “Command Z !, Command Z !” but alas, there are no undo buttons in real life. Utilizing this type of safety net when you are plotting your new artwork can give you a firm and fertile environment in order to work out all the kinks before you transfer it all to a painting.

March 7, 2014


16 thoughts on “Using Adobe Photoshop can improve your painting skills

  1. There not a painting when I do my acrylic art that I don’t do little things with it in Photoshop..I am actually addicted doing a little tweek as you would and there..I love photoshop but have so much to learn ..there is always something to learn and I love it..I do a lot of just elements and I just got the subscription for cs6 and wow lots to learn there but there brushes are great…but your right I know learned a little more about lots of things for my acrylic painting., very nice article
    thanks for sharing
    oh thank you for the like on my blog!!!

    • You are very welcome Sherri. I have learned just about everything about acrylic painting from photoshop. All those years doing digital imaging I always thought was practice for painting. Believe me, my artwork was just dreadful before photoshop was invented. Yes I like the new cs6, still getting used to it, my favorite thing is that it now has file recovery, I can’t tell you how many times I my computer has crashed before I saved it. I still haven’t learned all the bells and whistles in photoshop and I have been using this program almost everyday since the late 80’s, so don’t get intimidated about learning it all, enjoy, nice to hear from you – robert

  2. Thanks for the like on my blog. I pretty new at blogging. I too use Photoshop as a starting point for many of my paintings. So great to be able to take a photo of mine and crop, use filters, move objects around and just play with an image until I get something I might like to use to inspire a painting! Even if the painting goes in a different direction it helps to have that starting point.

  3. Am enjoying and appreciating your postings. Photoshop is a great paintbrush, and learning digital has been a trip for me. Also a fairly new blogger, thanks for visiting over on my site. Really like what you are doing with your acrylics. I also appreciate your posting style and comments, good to talk with experienced folks.

  4. I see we are of like minds, that’s why you enjoyed my post “I wish there was an “undo” button while painting.” Funny thing, I was struggling with color while painting jellyfish (“Procrastination and Painting”) and decided I would use the eyedropper tool to help me determine the right color. Like minds! Or it’s similar backgrounds. I’m an Art Director who didn’t have the pleasure of attending art school. 🙂

  5. Thank for stopping by blog and connecting me to yours. I have plans to learn digital art, as a next step. I think I’ll go for Photoshop after reading your post.

    • good I am glad you will be checking out photoshop. it is so helpful for a great many things that are art related. There are so many helpful and easy tutorials all over youtube that you can use to get you familiar with it. the best of luck to you.

  6. I see a lot of interesting posts on your website. You have
    to spend a lot of time writing, i know how to save you a lot of
    time, there is a tool that creates high quality, SEO friendly posts
    in couple of seconds, just type in google – k2 unlimited content

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s