INTRODUCTION: When I started my career in graphic design there were a lot of Photoshop tools that I thought I’d never touch. If it didn’t clone, buff, stitch, fill, recolour, enhance, warp, stretch, squish, enlarge, shrink, mask, sharpen, blur, merge, or patch I didn’t really see the purpose. However, I had always been an admirer of beautifully crafted abstractions. The digital art that designers were creating for a new aesthetic. 3D blobs of colour, paint marbling, glitch effects, bizarre patterns, wild lighting effects, and simplified geometric designs are all examples of abstractions that add to the designer’s repertoire. In this post, I explore the easiest way to create abstract colour blobs and take a look at a brush tool that is often overlooked–the Mixer Brush tool.
Getting to know the Mixer Brush tool
For anyone that thought the standard Brush tool was a powerful way of painting digitally…meet the Mixer Brush tool. Capable of sampling more than one colour at a time while simulating real paint mixing and brush wetness this tool is the answer to “What would a professional painter simulation program look like?”. There are a multitude of settings to explore here and I would encourage anyone that wants to create digital paintings to do a deep dive into the various settings to create their next masterpiece. However, for this tutorial we are just concerned about using the Mixer Brush tool with the Hard Round Brush Tip Shape with a Dry, Heavy Load set at Wet 0% , Load 100%, Flow 100%, Smoothing 100%, and Spacing at 1%.
This setting will simulate a steady flow of thick paint. When a gradient or mixture of colours is sampled for use with this brush setting it will create a variety of colour combinations based on the direction and orientation of your stroke. Try going from right to left, left to right, bottom to top, top to bottom and any variety of orientations for different colour combinations using the same colour sample.
STEP ONE Find or create a nice gradient or mix of colours and sample it using the Mixer Brush tool (using the settings above).
STEP TWO Using the Mixer Brush “paint” a few curvy lines.
STEP THREE Add depth with dropshadows in one of two different ways. Either use the dropshadow function in the Blending Options window or create drop shadows using the shapes of the gradient lines. Below shows the latter.
To create dropshadow blocks, Command + click on the image in the layer you wish to make a dropshadow for. This makes a pixel selection. Create a new layer and fill in the selection with a dark colour. Deselect the layer and offset that layer from the original multi-coloured line layer. Apply a Gaussian Blur to the dropshadow block of dark colour and change the Opacity of the layer to 50% or lower and the transparency to Multiply.
BONUS STEPS Use the Liquify filter to make the brush strokes more blob-like before adding dropshadows. Make the brush tip large when working in the filter panel and click and drag very slowly and slightly in order to get subtle deviations and smooth blobs.
Layering your dropshadows to make the depth more realistic. When objects are layered on top of each other in 3D space their shadows cast differently according to their distance from each other. In order to create this illusion easily and quickly, we need to apply layers of shadows and remove the objects from each dropshadow layer according to their position in space. The closer the top object is to the object below the smaller the offset from the object casting the shadow.