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Smudge Painting Tips

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  • Smudge Painting Tips

    Smudging is really easy... just takes some practice. Some folks asked me to tell how I do smudge painting and I thought the answer really belonged here, under techniques.

    But they are scattered around, so I'll attempt to put the details together here in one place. To smudge paint in PS, here's what you do.

    Working on a duplicate of the Background choose the Smudge tool and a brush with some "bite" to it, such as dry brush, spatter, stipple, etc. If you want a smoother look, use one like charcoal or chalk.

    I set the brush size in the 30-40 pxl range for the most part, using smaller diameters for more delicate areas such as along edges.

    I seldom use the "normal" setting, though sometimes go over areas with low opacity on normal to blend in speckles. Usually I use a brush opacity of 65% - 85% and set the brush mode to lighten or darken, depending on the area I'm painting.

    I often use both in succession on the same area. Separating the lights and darks gives a less smeary effect in the end and sharper hairs, etc., though on large flat areas it tends to leave white or black specks, which can be touched up with the opposite setting or a bit of normal.

    Do background first, then large center areas, followed by a narrow brush to define edges, then brush in hairs, whether human or mane! For large areas with little detail, you can "scrub" the brush...this works great if you are using lighten and darken modes instead of normal. Scrub in a back and forth motion, changing direction as the picture itself changes direction, following the main outlines of the pic.

    Eyes: On people, use a small brush for eyes, of course, alternating between lighten and darken settings for different parts of eye. Put eyelashes on by drawing dark eyeliner with a tiny brush, then smudge brush out in a curve from the dark line with tiny brush set to darken or normal mode. Remember to reduce brush opacity to keep the lashes looking natural. You can use the smudge brush for this on any photo touch up... not just when smudge painting a picture. Here is a pic where I added eyelashes to someone who didn't have any at all! [url]

    Save the hair areas for last. Don't scrub on hair, but pull smoothly and quickly to follow the shape of the hair. This is the fun part! Keep your undo button handy... some strokes will go astray!

    After smudging the whole picture, I adjusted levels and color, then used a fuzzy burn tool set to shadows on areas I wanted to accent more as "lines", such as grooves between hair smudges where contrast wasn't sufficient. Then I used a fuzzy dodge tool set to highlights over the areas I wanted to bring out and accent, again to increase contrast locally to define hair etc.

    As a final touch, I recommend unsharp mask to bring out the texture of the strokes in hair etc, but I do the sharpening on a second layer, so I can erase away the parts I don't want to be so sharp, using a large low-medium opacity eraser.

    Each picture is different. Sometimes you want a hard look, sometimes a soft look... basically sharpening is good for tweaking.

    To sum up, use lighten and darken brush modes, brush opacities between 65-85%, and keep the undo button handy to correct as you go. And save snapshots of your work from time to time, since history gets filled up very quickly when you are making individual brush strokes!

    Last edited by DannyRaphael; 11-29-2006, 01:41 PM. Reason: Update content and removed some broken links

  • #2
    Thanks for such a great step-by-step Phyllis!

    We have slightly different techniques, but I do most of the same things you do. Your strokes are much more delicate and refined than mine are.

    I tend to do a lot of image manipulation in tandem with the smudging. I take a lot of liberties with photos. I also exagerate features or facial lines before I do any smudge work. I might make the eyes a little bigger, or the smile a little more broad, etc. etc. using the liquify tool. I darken lines with a low opacity burn tool. The key is a light touch for both.

    My last few steps always include several duped layers set at different blend modes and dropped in opacity. I like the extra richness it brings to the finished piece.

    And lastly, if I want to define the brush strokes a bit more, I prefer to run a "custom/other" filter instead of USM. It serves the same purpose, but gives a slightly different quality than sharpening.

    I think what your tut demonstrates the best, though, is that this is such a flexible technique that almost always yields terrific results. You can vary the look tremendously by chosing a different brush or a different opacity. There's a lot of latitude and room for personal artistry in this technique.


    • #3
      Originally posted by themanda
      I darken lines with a low opacity burn tool. [...]

      My last few steps always include several duped layers set at different blend modes and dropped in opacity. I like the extra richness it brings to the finished piece.
      As I mentioned, I darken lines also, but only after smudging. I hadn't thought to do it BEFORE the smudging...will have to try that tip. The blending of duped layers explains why your pics always have that "richness" as you put it. It works, and, again, thanks for the tip!

      I never would have thought to use the custom filter with smudgies. Can't wait to give that a try!

      Anyone else have tips that have helped in smudging? Comments? Questions? I think this is a developing art form with a lot of room for experimentation and new methods. I hope others will share what they've discovered.



      • #4
        What is the custom filter ?

        Oh! PLEASE don't let it be a basic function


        • #5
          Originally posted by TwinbNJ
          What is the custom filter ?

          Oh! PLEASE don't let it be a basic function
          It's under "other" in the filters list...same place you find the high pass filter. You most likely will have to lower the opacity of this layer and use blend modes to get an effect you like. Depends on the settings you use. There is a whole thread by an expert on how to use all the numbers somewhere in this forum...just don't recall where it is.



          • #6
            Thank you --- I have never gone there, I just felt it was beyound my means. LOL

            I will search for the info on this.


            • #7

              Is there any chance you can post some examples of your smudged paintings before and after adding additional layers in blending modes so that I can "see" what you mean? Do you run any filters on the duped layers before/after changing the blending mode? I'm very interested in this piece of your description.

              Thanks, Jeanie


              • #8
                Here is a very quickly done example of the effect multiple layers and blend modes can have on a smudge painting.

                The first image is the result of a regular smudge treatment.

                The second image is the result of the regular smudge after several duped layers and blend modes.

                The third image is the whole thing with a slightly faded custom/other filter run to sharpen it up.
                Attached Files


                • #9
                  Very cool Amanda. Thanks for the visual - and the details to go along with it. I usually try to get the same effect with curves on my final smudged painting, but I think that perhaps adding layers like you do is a better solution.



                  • #10
                    Re: Smudging Tips

                    I have a smudging tut for fine hair here:


                    • #11
                      Re: Smudging Tips

                      Thank you Skyopal will look into it later, had a quick peek and it will please some people here as it is in psp ( but can be used in either) the psp'ers are crying out for a smudging tut



                      • #12
                        Re: Smudging Tips

                        Thanks Anita for the hair tutorial....Its well written and easy to understand....
                        Just what i need!!!



                        • #13
                          Re: Smudging Tips

                          Originally posted by Skyopal
                          I have a smudging tut for fine hair here:
                          Hi Anita...

                          It's an honor to have one as talented as you join us here at RP. Thanks for pointing us to your excellent smuding tutorial.

                          FYI: Anita was recently named as a moderators of the Digital Nuts Yahoo group:
                          * pBase gallery:

                          If you want to be inspired, check out Anita's pBase gallery. She does exceptional work:



                          • #14
                            Re: Smudge Painting Tips

                            I had been looking for this information!!


                            • #15
                              Re: Smudge Painting Tips

                              Originally posted by anjcook View Post
                              I had been looking for this information!!
                              In case you want any more

                              here is some



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