photoshop creative

How to paint from a photo with the Smudge tool

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Tips & Tutorials, by Mark White
November 5, 2013

Part 2 – Anyone can create a digital painting in Photoshop. Just grab a photo and locate your Smudge tool!

Follow part 1 of this tutorial


Work through the buildings, keeping an eye on the edges and adjusting the brush size to suit. Once they are all complete, click on the trees and grass layer and activate its visibility. Place the trees layer above the buildings one.


We’re doing something a bit different here, in that we are keeping the previous painted layer visible. This is so we can see where any gaps are (caused by our free and easy approach to selecting) and simply drag the pixels out to cover. Because the trees layer is above the buildings, it is as if you are painting over them.


Use a large brush for the trees and a swirly motion with the mouse. Get the main bulk painted. Make the brush size smaller and drag out a few bits of tree to give a more natural look and avoid the trees looking like green sheep!


There are no surprises with the boats – repeat the process as before and make sure you follow the forms. Medium, straight strokes are the way to go here. We found it easier to have the trees layer visible but the buildings layer hidden.


Onto the water. A medium-sized brush is good here, with level, horizontal strokes. As you get to the foreground, zoom in nice and close and try to keep the highlights intact. We kept the Boats layer visible. Use a smaller brush for the background water to give the impression of distance.


With the water finished, the painting is nearly complete. We need to do a bit of layer rearrangement – working from the top down it needs to be: Buildings, Boat, Tree and Grass, Sky, Water and Background. Turn the visibility on for all of the painted layers. Oopsie, there are some gaps! This was due to our relaxed selection method.


Turn on the visibility of the Background layer for the photo to fill the gaps. Create a new layer, call it Touch Up and drag it to the top of the layer stack. Zoom in nice and close. Go up to the Options bar and click Sample all Layers. This will let you pull information up from the photo layer and fill in the gaps you want. Use the Smudge tool as before to make the edits.