The New Brush-Stroke Smoothing Feature in Photoshop CC 2018: It’s Not For Every Situation December 31, 2017 21:29 18 Comments

As you’ve upgraded from Photoshop CC 2017 to CC 2018, you may have noticed a few differences with regard to using your standard brush tool and your mixer brushes.  There are changes to the brush presets panel, allowing users to manage brush presets more quickly and easily, and there’s also a change to the way brush presets are saved - all of the options-bar settings are now included in the brush preset.  These are important changes that we’ll be looking at more closely in future posts, but I want to focus here on another change that was built into CC 2018 called "brush stroke smoothing." 

What this does is to allow for drawing smoother, less jittery lines.  As you can see in the sample below, the path of the stroke is somewhat smoother with this feature on.  I can see how this might be helpful in some cases - creating line drawings, cartoons, signatures - but for the most part, I find this addition to be an annoyance for the kind of painting I like to do.

For one thing, it changes the way my mixer brushes look and work.  For another, it requires a lot more processing, which further slows down a tool that can already be a bit on the slow side.  What I’ve done - and what I’ll recommend you do - is to disable this feature by setting the amount of smoothing to zero.  Early on using CC 2018, every time you switched from one tool preset to another, you would need to reset the smoothing to zero, which was an inconvenience - or uncheck and lock the “smoothing” setting in the brush settings panel.  But it seems that Photoshop now remembers the smoothness settings for the various brush tools (e.g. the brush tool, the pencil tool and the mixer brush tool).

I would think Adobe would be well advised to make zero-smoothing the default setting, allowing users to add this when desired.  Hopefully, we won’t have to wait too much longer for that to happen.




Beard-Detailing Demo December 31, 2017 21:10 18 Comments

Here's a peek at a portion of Lesson Three in my MTDC series, "Painting Portraits with the Mixer Brush."  In this chapter, I use my mixer brushes to add beard detail to an underpainting that was made in a previous chapter.

Mixer-Brush Painting Techniques: Video Sample April 9, 2016 09:37 6 Comments

This is a video sample from my tutorial, "Painting Portraits with the Mixer brush in Photoshop," Chapter 4, "Mixer-Brush Techniques." Demonstrated here are two painting methods - one showing a technique for painting onto a blank canvas, another for painting using the "mixer-brush cloning layer setup action."

Tools of the Trade: Birding Cameras April 9, 2016 09:37 6 Comments

I'm often asked which camera/lenses I use to photograph the birds I paint.  There are of course many options for this kind of work — ranging from the extremely expensive high-end DSLRs/telephotos to the much more affordable point-and-shoots.  Cameras like the Nikon Coolpix P900, which I use, and other similar super-zooms are really the best and most affordable options for the bird painter.

Bear in mind that if the ultimate goal is to take photographs of birds for use as references or starting points for our paintings, we really don’t need super-high-resolution images. So you really don’t need a great big camera with a great big sensor, and the big, heavy lenses that would go along with it — or even the tripod that would be needed to support this kind of rig.  An all-inclusive point-and-shoot camera, like the P900 will do a much-better-than-adequate job for us.

There are quite a few cameras in this category.  Along with the P900, there’s the Canon SX60, the Pentax XG-1, and the Fujifilm S1, to name a few.  At about $600 the P900 is the most expensive of the group, but it does offer some big advantages — the most important of which is its 83x optical zoom lens that ranges from 24mm to 2000mm (35 mm equivalent).  You can imagine the cost of the lenses that would be needed to cover this range with a full-sized DSLR.

You won’t necessarily get great feather/fur detail with the P900 (especially at the long end of the zoom range), but I really prefer that the detail not come from the photograph, but rather from my brush.  With the right set of brushes I can add just the right amount of feather detail to my bird paintings.  

Also, the autofocus isn’t always super accurate — I sometimes have to play with it a little to get it to behave, and raw shooting capability is certainly a feature I would like to see added.  Overall, though, I’ve been very satisfied with the P900's performance and image quality.  I’ve really found this camera to be a great image-capture tool for my birding needs.  

And I wouldn't want to leave you with the impression that this camera is only good for bird photography.  I've found it to be an excellent camera for all of my general photography needs — from landscapes to portraits to sports.

In a future post I'll be writing about my process for capturing bird photos for use as painting subjects.  And be sure to catch for my upcoming video tutorial:  Autumn Nuthatch, Painting Birds with the Mixer Brush.

I shot all of the images in the P900’s “auto” mode without use of a tripod.  With lower light levels and/or use of extended digital zoom, a tripod would be highly recommended.  The house finch and the cormorants were shot using a 35mm focal length equivalent of 2000 mm.  The moon was shot at 1800mm (in 35mm).  Note: some images were cropped, color-edited and lightly sharpened.

Follow Deardorff Training on Pinterest November 26, 2015 09:53

I'm happy to announce that Deardorff Training is now on Pinterest.  I hope you'll join me there.  Be sure to click the "follow" button to see what I'm working on - as well as some of the artwork/artists I enjoy.

If you're not a Pinterest member, it's easy to sign up - and it's free.  Once you do, you'll quickly see that it's a great source for ideas and inspiration.  I look forward to seeing you there!


The Mixer Brush Controls November 15, 2015 21:46

This video is an edited sample from my MTDC series, Lesson 3, "Painting Portraits with the Mixer Brush," Chapter 3, "Mixer Brush Basics."

The “Over My Shoulder” Training Series November 8, 2015 12:16 5 Comments

With my “Mastering the Digital Canvas” portrait-painting series complete, I’m looking forward now to my new series, “Over My Shoulder,” that will cover new subjects and techniques.  The first lesson in this series will focus on my technique for painting birds using the mixer brush in Photoshop.  This is a passion of mine, and I’m looking forward to sharing with you my approach to this kind of painting.  The tutorial will be available in the spring.

Other painting subjects for this series will include florals, landscapes and still-life - as well as some different kinds of portraiture.  If you have any thoughts about what you’d like to see presented, I hope you’ll feel free to share those ideas.

This new series will be structured a little differently than my MTDC series.  I took a lot of time in Lessons 1-3 to introduce the tools I use for painting in Photoshop.  I tried to show all the finer points of the smudge tool and the mixer brush - how they work; designing and creating them; all the different controls that are available.

The OMS series will assume that you already possess all of this knowledge, so the instruction will focus more on workflow and technique.  I plan to be a little more concise with these tutorials, but we’ll see how that goes.

Note: The work-in-progress painting above shows a northern flicker that I photographed on my deck.  This bird is a fairly large, distinctly-marked member of the woodpecker family. They are maybe even more striking in flight - their underwings are magnificent.  One morning my wife, Janet, and I watched as a male and female flicker danced in near-sync on our neighbor’s roof.  It was quite a show.

As I make this painting, I’m using the mixer brush (the same brush configurations provided in Lesson 3 of my MTDC series).

Autumn at Lake Arrowhead November 8, 2015 12:05

One of the many things I love about living in the mountains is the color that accompanies the arrival of autumn. It doesn’t last long, but when it’s here — it’s beautiful.  I try not to miss an opportunity to capture the amazing colors with my camera — and then, of course to combine elements of these photos into digital paintings.

The painting above was made fairly quickly using the mixer brush in Photoshop.

Lesson Three: A Big "Thank-You" September 28, 2015 21:44

I’ve been pleasantly surprised by the response I’ve received to the release of Lesson Three in my MTDC series, “Painting Portraits with the Mixer Brush in Photoshop.” I put a lot of time and effort into producing it, so it makes me happy to know that this is a technique you’re interested in - and that you’re finding this lesson useful. Here’s a sampling of some of the feedback I’ve received over the last few weeks.

So “thanks” to those of you who have purchased this title. Your support enables me to continue making tutorials that will hopefully - to some degree - inspire and inform.

Also, a quick “thanks” to Gary Rose who allowed us to use as a learning tool his wonderful photograph of this “Old Fisherman.” Your generosity is greatly appreciated.


Package Discount Offering September 28, 2015 21:14

I’ve had a number of people ask about receiving a package discount for the purchase of two Lessons at the same time — I had only been offering a package discount on the complete three-lesson set.

In response, I’ve decided to offer a $20 discount coupon that can be applied to any orders totaling $198 or more:


Not only will this coupon apply to the purchase of any two lessons, but it will also apply to any lesson(s) purchased in conjunction with my 1-ON-1 Training. This coupon may also be applied to the purchase of the Complete MTDC Set, bringing the total price for all three lessons to just $229.

*This discount cannot be applied toward previous purchases, and may be discontinued at any time.

Stocking Up: Finding Great Images to Paint September 22, 2015 21:00 2 Comments

The paintings I make are always photo-based, whether they’re photo-transformations or paintings that begin as blank canvases — using the photo only as a reference. And I’ve found sometimes that my own photo library doesn’t always meet all of my needs. This may be the case with you as well.

What i’ve done, and what I would recommend to you would be to seek out and use (with permission of course) images taken by other photographers. These may be images posted to different photography or digital-art forums - some with an invitation to other members to retouch/manipulate/paint the posted image. Early on, as I worked to expand my skills as a digital artist, this was a great resource to me. Not only the images that were made available to me, but the feedback and encouragement I received from other members.

Another great resource I would recommend to you for the purposes of practice and portfolio-building would be the stock-image websites that are out there in increasingly larger numbers. You might be surprised to know that a large number of these sites offer use of their images for free.

Here’s a list of eighteen of my favorite sites offering free-for-use images: Pexels, Stocka, MMT, DesignersPics, Unsplash, Splitshire, Pixabay, Life of Pix, Magdeleine, Stocksnap, Gratisography, Kaboompics, Raumrot, Picjumbo, Im free, Re:splashed, ISO Republic, and Stokpic.

The stock site I use most often when I'm looking for a picture to paint is Dreamstime.  You'll have to pay to use most of their images (a very reasonable price, I think), but they do have a really large selection of free images as well.

So you might want to take a stroll through some of these sites. You might just find the inspiration for your next masterpiece.

MTDC - The Complete Set Now Available! September 11, 2015 09:51

complete setWith the release of Lesson Three in my “Mastering the Digital Canvas” training series, the complete set is now available as a digital download.

The first two lessons in this Photoshop training series explore the use of the smudge tool as a primary means of transforming portrait photographs of animals and people into portrait paintings.

In the recently released third lesson, “Painting Portraits with the Mixer Brush,” you’ll follow along from beginning to end as I transform a photo of an old fisherman into a painting using an assortment of mixer brushes that I've custom designed.

This fairly recent addition to the Photoshop toolbox has really expanded the creative opportunities for digital painters - like you and me. Whether you like to transform your photographs into paintings or paint onto a blank canvas, the mixer brush offers us a wonderful new means of creative expression.

The first two lessons were well received, and I hope this one will be as well. Both the smudge tool and the mixer brush are powerful creative tools in the right hands and with the right training!

Beyond the MTDC portrait-painting series, I have lots of plans for future tutorials that will cover a broad spectrum of subjects and digital art techniques - from the very basic to the more advanced. I plan to offer free products from time to time as well.

Please sign up for my newsletter (at the bottom of this page) to receive further updates.

Up to Speed with the Mixer Brush May 7, 2015 20:45

There’s been some discussion about brush lag that may occur when you’re using the mixer brush.  I don’t find this to be a major issue for me as I paint, and I’m not using a super high-performance machine.  If you do have lag issues, here are some things you might want to bear in mind as you paint:

Smaller files with fewer layers will lead to better performance.  I like to paint with as few layers as possible.  A paint layer on top of a background reference layer is really all I need for most of the painting work I do.  If you’re working on a particularly large painting, you may find it useful to crop certain areas of the painting and work on them separately.  For example, painting a large portrait you might want to crop and work on just the area of the head.  Once that’s done, you can paste it back onto the larger painting.
    8 bits per channel is plenty for digital painting.  16 bits is overkill and will slow down your system.

      Painting with “sample all layers” off will require much less processing than with it on.  The brushes I use are configured in this way.  Instead of painting onto a blank layer and sampling from below, or using cloning layers (mixer brush cloning paint set-up action), I prefer to paint directly onto an image layer, sampling only from that layer.
        The smaller the brush the less processing required.  Sometimes you’ll need bigger brushes, for example, when you’re painting a background.  As a work-around you may want to work with a reduced image size when painting the background area of a painting.  This way you can work with smaller brushes — the reduced file size won’t hurt either.  You can then upsize and rework the background with smaller brushes.

          Brush configuration is important.  If you’re using the bristle brush tips with the mixer brush — like I do, remember that you’ll get better performance using brushes with fewer/shorter/thinner/stiffer bristles than otherwise.  Also, increasing the “spacing” setting just a little can help to reduce the processing load — without any noticeable difference to your brushstroke.

          Although the other Photoshop painting tools — like the smudge tool and the brush tool — are somewhat less processor intensive, these recommendations can be applied to them as well.

          I love the mixer brush. Used right it’s a wonderful painting tool that produces amazing results — and is great fun to use.

          Digital Painting Tip - A Fresh Perspective May 2, 2015 10:13

          When I used to make prints in a darkroom, as soon as my print was fixed and washed, I’d bring it into the light and attempt to evaluate it. I’d study the composition, the tonal quality, the color — always asking myself what could be done to make a better print. As part of that evaluation process, I would look at my print in a mirror. By doing this, It was almost like seeing my work for the first time. This new perspective allowed my to see the overall composition, the shapes, the various tones — the photograph itself — in a new way.

          Even as my darkroom has changed from wet to digital, I continue to evaluate my work from different perspectives.  In the digital darkroom we actually have available to us many more options for viewing our work in different ways as we paint.  We can zoom in and out, rotate our painting using the rotate-view tool, flip it horizontally or vertically using Edit/Transform.  We can even convert our paintings to black and white to evaluate the tonal relationships.  All with push-button ease.

          When you work on a painting for a while you sometimes lose the ability to know what’s working and what isn’t.  Certainly stepping away from your painting for a time might bring new perspective, and renewed passion.  But using these other tools regularly as we paint can help to keep the process fresh — while providing us with useful insight. 



          Lake Arrowhead Dogwood April 7, 2015 09:41 5 Comments

          A few years ago my wife and I — along with our two sons and our neurotic beagle — moved from suburban Rancho Cucamonga, California, to Lake Arrowhead in the mountains of Southern California.  One of the many things we noticed and fell in love with immediately was the mountain dogwood that begins to bloom in early spring.  It’s everywhere you look:  decorating the shadows along the winding canyon roads, sprinkled along the creeks that — because of our drought — flow very little, if at all.

          Despite our drought and the things that come with it — a lower water level in the lake, mostly empty creeks — The dogwood still blooms beautifully.  The image above is a small part of a painting I made from a photograph taken later in the spring last year.  This painting was made using the mixer brush in photoshop. I’ll plan to share with you at some future point the brushes and techniques that were used.  

          Smudge Tool vs. Mixer Brush April 6, 2015 18:19 9 Comments

          I’m often asked which tool — the smudge tool or the mixer brush — is the better tool to use for creating paintings in Photoshop.  And the answer is…use both, and see what you prefer.

          The smudge tool has been a part of the Photoshop tool box for some time - going back even to pre-CS versions.  This was the first tool I began to use for transforming photos into paintings, and I still use it a lot despite the introduction of the mixer brush with CS5.  The smudge tool primarily allows us to interact with the colors of our canvas using a variety of different brushes designed for specific purposes:  bristle-type brushes that are great for painting hair, fur and other areas where you might want to show brush texture; and smoothing brushes that work great for painting skin, clothing, etc.  You can effectively add paint to the canvas by using your smudge brushes in finger-painting mode, but the mixer brush is really a better tool for this.

          The mixer brush can be used like the smudge tool by using it in clean-blending mode.  By using a clean brush in the wet mode, it's very similar to using the smudge tool — you can even use the same brush tips you use with your smudge tool to make the experience more similar.  But, like I said, the mixer brush is a much more capable tool when it comes to adding paint to a canvas.  In dry mode it becomes essentially like the standard brush tool, but in wet mode the paint you apply to the canvas interacts with the paint already on the canvas.  Another great feature of the mixer brush is the ability to add a texture effect to your brushstrokes.  This is something we can’t do with the smudge tool.

          I've found the smudge tool to be an easier tool to use, and for that reason it’s a great place to start learning how to paint photos in Photoshop.  But even though it’s simpler to use, the boundaries of its creative potential are unlimited.  Similarly, the mixer brush, which was designed to more closely mimic the look of various traditional painting techniques, is an extremely powerful tool.

          I’ve also found the smudge tool to be very effective when it comes to creating paintings with a more photorealistic look.  The mixer brush is equally effective when you want to achieve a more textured, painted look with bolder, more noticeable brushstrokes.  Having said that, you can also make finely-detailed photorealistic paintings with the mixer brush and apply bold brushstrokes and a fairly realistic texture (after-the-fact) to paintings made with the smudge tool.

          My advice:  for transforming photographs into paintings, use either one (or both together).  If you're new to painting in Photoshop, I recommend starting with the smudge tool.  If you’ll be adding lots of paint to your digital canvas, the mixer brush might be the better choice.  Learn them both — I’ll be here to help.

          Downloads...finally March 14, 2015 08:21

          I've been working for some time now to add downloadable versions of my products to my site.  I know many of you - especially those of you who live outside of the US - have been requesting this.  Sorry it took so long, but happy to finally be able to accommodate you.

          With this option, you’ll be able to quickly start using your training materials, and without delivery charges, customs fee or sales tax added to your price.

          "Lesson Three:  Painting Portraits with the Mixer Brush," which will be released soon, will also be available as a direct download.  Please sign up for my newsletter (at the bottom of this page) to receive further updates.

          You may want to read these FAQs on downloading.