Stylized Matte - Adobe Photoshop


Some of the most fun paintings are those that are stylized.That is, they are not photorealistic. Photoshop is obviously excellently equipped to take on such challenges, but it is impossible to cover every situation. Although most stylized matte paintings either have a source painting or line art from which the matte painter works, some stylized looks can be derived from a photo, thereby simplifying and speeding up the process

Pen and Ink

I can give you one example from my past. A long time ago, I did some work for a company that was trying to create an Edward Gorey series. If you are familiar with Gorey’s work, it is a dark, moody, and meticulous ink-drawn style. The look was accurately portrayed—in 3D. To get the look for the textures and backgrounds that I worked on, I drew in ink and scanned it. At the time, I thought that was the fastest way. Let me show you what I wish I’d had back then.

Start by assuming there is a picture that the art director asks you to render in an ink-etch style. Figure shows the image you start out with.

The inspiration image

  1. Press Command+J (Win: Ctrl+J) to duplicate the background layer.
  2. On this new layer, run Filter > Brush Strokes > Crosshatch, as shown in Figure.
  3. Apply a filter to a duplicated layer

  4. In the dialog box, play with the sliders on the right and check out the preview on the left.You want to get some good markings for when this gets turned into a black and white drawing.Worry more about the stroke visibility than about the color artifacts. See Figure for the idea.
  5. Don’t worry about the color artifacts showing on the preview. You switch this to grayscale anyway

  6. Apply the angled strokes filter on top of the crosshatch by Option+ clicking (Win: Alt+clicking) the Angled Strokes filter in the Filter Gallery.
  7. If you have already pressed OK and closed the Filter Gallery, you can just go to Filter > Brush Strokes > Angled Strokes.

  8. In the dialog box, play with the sliders to get a stroked look that breaks up the uniformity of the crosshatch.
  9. Again, don’t worry about color artifacts. See Figure. Now it’s time to get rid of the color.

  10. Go to Image > Adjustments > Desaturate.
  11. Use the angled strokes filter over the crosshatch to break up the uniformity of the previous filter.

    You can get this done alternate ways:

    • Press Shift+Command+U (Win: Shift+Ctrl+U).
    • Look at and copy one of the channels.
    • Go to Image > Adjustments > Channel Mixer and select the Monochrome checkbox at the bottom of the dialog box.
    • Press Command+U (Win: Ctrl+U) to bring up the Hue/Sat dialog box and drag the Saturation slider all the way to the left to 0 percent.

    Figure shows the slight differences between the different options.

    The leftmost image is a straight desaturate and isn’t bad. I decided to use the green channel, however, because of the sky tone balance and the etchy style.

  12. If you use one of your channels as your grayscale base, select the channel in your Layers palette and press Command+A (Win: Ctrl+A) to select all, then press Command+C (Win: Ctrl+C) to copy it to your clipboard.
  13. Click on the RGB composite channel before returning to your layers and pressing Command+V (Win:Ctrl+V) to paste it on a new layer.
  14. As you can see, the crosshatch and angled strokes still look like a processed photo and can’t pass as an ink illustration.

  15. Press Command+J (Win: Ctrl+J) so you have a copy of your layer.
  16. With the topmost layer selected, go to Filter > Stylize > Trace Contour.
  17. Play with the slider and edge options until you get something that appeals to you and click OK.
  18. Notice that the filter’s actual effect is more detailed than the preview. It might take a bit of undoing and retrying to get a look that you like. Even with all the different settings that you try, it may not be enough to get the look you want. I chose Figure.

    In this case, I liked the setting I chose, but wanted to have dark windows. That’s why you created a copy of the desaturated image.

    I chose this setting because I like the way the sky came in.

  19. With the original desaturated image still selected, press Command+J(Win: Ctrl+J) with the layer selected to create a copy.
  20. Either drag this new copy above the previously processed layer or hide the processed layer by clicking the Eye icon on the left.
  21. Now you can apply the Trace Contour filter to this layer. See Figure.

To merge the two images I have created, I set the top layer (the one with the dark sky that I liked) to the Darken Layer Blend mode. Since the images are black and white, the white doesn’t affect anything and the dark “ink” is layered on top. The effect was a bit too much, so I brought the opacity down to 57 percent. Last but not least, I touched up the image with a few small brushstrokes on a new layer. Figure is the original and Figure shows the finished product.

I played with the setting to give me the dark windows I wanted.

Your final image’s picture source.

Your final image


I have a picture of where I was sitting in my local Starbucks, and I think it would be perfect for a contemporary cartoon type of look.

Custom Swatches

You keep swatches of colors used in this image in a custom set. To do that, you have to first clean off the current palette. Unfortunately there is no New Swatch Palette button(don’t ask me why), so you have to delete everything that is there to get a clean slate.

The standard way of deleting a single swatch color is to simply drag the swatch to the trash icon. But that can be a drag(no pun intended) if you have to do that to each and every swatch. Here is the secret shortcut.

Remember, I’m a proponent of laziness:

  1. Open coffeeChair.tga, downloadable from this book’s companion web site.
  2. Select the Eyedropper tool, hold down the Option key (Win: Alt), and click the swatch.
  3. You see the cursor become a pair of scissors; each click cuts away the swatch. As far as I know, you can’t select them all and cut once, but this way is pretty fast.

  4. Sample a color from the picture. Since your palette is clear (see Figure), don’t go to the Swatches palette menu and choose New Swatch.
  5. The empty Swatches palette

  6. Click the empty area of the Swatches palette. The Color Swatch Name dialog box pop up.
  7. Name your swatch as I’ve done in Figure.As you work on the image, you save colors to your personalized Swatches palette. For organizational purposes, I like to pick and save the color as I go along, defining an area with the Pen tool.
  8. You can go through the palette menu or simply click an empty section of the Swatches palette.

  9. Press I to make sure you are on the Eyedropper tool. Select the color you think best represents the coffee cup.
  10. At the Swatches palette pull-down menu, choose New Swatch. See Figure.
  11. Add the current foreground color as a new swatch

  12. In the dialog box, give your color a name that makes it easy to find later on.You can see the name I bestowed in Figure.

Name the color swatch with a descriptive moniker.

The Pen Tool

Now that you have the color of the coffee cup, define the area in which the color is used.

  1. Switch to the Pen tool by pressing P. You see your cursor change to a pen with an x near its tip. This means that you are starting a new path.
  2. Before you put down that first vector point, ensure your tool is set to Shape Layers (not Paths) in the tool options bar at the top of your screen.
  3. Zoom in close on the coffee cup and start outlining the cup by clicking around it.
  4. The moment you start, you see a new Shape layer appear. The mask reflects the path you are creating. Figure shows the cup.

    Starting to create the cup shape.

  5. As you place your second point, drag to see your Bezier handles appear.
  6. These handles are tangent to the point. You can adjust one or both of them to change the curvature of the lines coming in and out of that point. If you want a hard corner, click without dragging; the lines come into that point at a hard/straight angle.

    Continue tracing around the cup until you reach your starting point. Because you are doing this as a filled shape layer, you can see your outline filling in with the color you chose for the cup.

  7. After placing your second to last vector point, bring your Pen tool to the first vector point.
  8. You see an O appear near the tip of the pen. This indicates that clicking that point closes the curve.

  9. Click to close the curve and take a look at your coffee cup in Figure!
  10. This is just the beginning.

  11. Repeat the same steps, but this time for the mouse pad.
  12. Pick and save the color to the swatches. Create a filled shape based on the outline of that color on the mousepad.
  13. Do the same thing for the mouse. Now use a slight cheat for the mouse.
  14. Outline the mouse as usual, but only do the light section.
  15. Click the Layer Effects button on the bottom of the Layers palette. Add a drop shadow.The dialog box, which you can see in Figure, appears.
  16. Have Photoshop do the shadow for you.

  17. Adjust the angle and lower the opacity to match the photo’s look.
  18. Once the shadow looks good to you, click OK to accept the settings.
  19. Continue using the same method for all of the objects on the table.Your work in progress should look something like Figure.Do the table top a different way. You could use paths on this also, but use the circular Marquee tool since it is an oval.
  20. It’s getting there.

  21. Press M to switch to the Marquee tool, then press Shift+M to switch to the circular marquee.
  22. Hold the Option key(Win: Alt). Click the center of the table and drag out to the approximate length and width of the table.Notice that the table is at a slight angle, and your marquee is not.Never fear—you can adjust your selection.
  23. Go to Select > Transform Selection.Transformation handles appear.You can rotate, squeeze, or deform your shape. See Figure.
  24. Transforming a selection.

  25. Once the shape fits the table, press Return (Win: Enter) to accept your selection transformation.
  26. Give your shape a color fill:Go to Layer > New Fill Layer > Solid Color.
  27. Select a color that represents the table top and click OK to accept it.
  28. Click-drag the table-top color layer down until it is below all the computer and coffee layers.This moves the layer down so you can see the objects that are supposed to be on top of the table. Figure shows your work.
  29. Your work in progress.

  30. Make sure to save your table-top color in your swatches; you use this color for all the highlighted wood.
  31. Now you get the basic idea and can do this for the chair and its shadows, saving colors and making paths. The process is pretty forgiving. You can choose which details contribute toward your painting and which ones you can gloss over. I left some of the edges rough; they did not follow the outline of an object exactly. It adds to the contemporary print feel. Your image should look similar to Figure.

    When you have taken care of each element, give your setting a background.

    All that remains to be done is the background; the image on the right is the same as the left, but with the source photo hidden.

  32. Choose a color from the ground near the front.
  33. Press X and choose a dark color from the background. This switches your foreground/background swatches.
  34. Press G or Shift+G until you have selected the Gradient tool.
  35. Make sure the options are set to Blend from Foreground to Background.
  36. On a new layer right above the source photo, create a gradient to fill the entire canvas, as shown in Figure.

    Creating a gradient backdrop.

  37. To give a little more interest, reduce the opacity so hints of the background are barely visible.
  38. The final product is an interesting modern graphic shown in Figure.

    These stylized images are just examples of the possibilities that Photoshop offers. It shows what a little ingenuity can do. Your imagination is your palette, and the world is your canvas. Don’t you feel so empowered?

    Fit for a poster!

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