Custom Brushes Tutorial

A lot of people ask me what kind of brushes I use and how I made them. Usually when I paint I only use a few brushes, most of which are just Photoshop presets with a few tweaks to the brush settings. When painting the figure I normally use the standard brushes and save my custom brushes for textures and for backgrounds. These are the brushes I use, although a majority of all my illustrations are painted using primarily the two brushes circled. I find that most of the time there are too many brushes to choose from, and most of them are just plain gimmicky. I like to stick with just a few of my favorite brushes when painting. This also helps to improve your speed, since you do not have to look around and try and decide which brush to use next. It also allows you to learn how to paint different textures using the same brushes, instead of relying on a brush to paint a texture for you.

Let's start making a custom brush by putting down some random shapes and lines. Try not to make anything too symmetrical, as this will make your brush look weird and fake. Sometimes what I like to do is use a custom brush that I have already made as a starting point. I lay that down and then start drawing and erasing on top of it. Now that I am happy with my shapes I am going to open a photo to use as a texture overlay. It doesn't really matter what kind of photo you use. In this case I used a photo of my sister's dogs just to show that you can use any subject matter and still get a cool looking brush.

Once you have a photo, convert it into grayscale and then go to Image>Adjustments>Levels (or ctrl+l). Drag the sliders around until you get some high contrast within the photo and then click ok.

Copy and paste the photo into the document with the brush we started making. On the layer with the photo, change the layer properties to something that looks good. In this case I used Overlay.

Now you can go back and add another layer on top of the photo and fix any parts that may cause problems or repetition. I painted out some of the lines in the top left of the picture.

To make this into a brush, go to Edit>Define Brush Preset. I am using CS2, so the wording may be different in other versions, but basically anything that says "Define brush" will work.

This brush will now be at the end of your brush list on the brush drop down menu. Select your new brush and give it a try. Right now the brush will look really ugly and repetitive. We are going to fix that.

Next we are going to change the brushes setting by opening the brush settings window. To do this either click this button at the top, or go to Window>Brushes or hit F5. You will now be able to get a good looking brush by playing around with these settings.

I would probably spend some time dragging all the sliders back and forth so that you can get a feel of what each setting does, and find which ones you like. For this brush, click on the first setting called Shape Dynamics. This will bring up different options on the side. By selecting size and angle jitter we can break up some of the repetitive shapes that are in the brush.

Now click on the second option, Scattering. This will take the basic shape of the brush and spread it out so that you are painting with several instances of the same shape instead of all of them being in the same line. You can also control the density of the brush here.

To add some more texture to the brush you can click on the texture button. By clicking on the picture of the texture you can bring up a dialog box where you can select which kinds of textures you want to use.

Finally click on the other dynamics option. This controls the opacity of the brush based on pressure sensitivity. This is a little sample of what the new brush looks like after changing the settings.

Brush examples



The brush above left is used mainly for painting backgrounds as well as making an initial lay in for my figures.

I only use the above right brush for creating different textures in the background.

Sometimes I use the above left brush when I want to have a more painterly feel, or for textures.

I also like to use the above right Brush to soften edges.

This is probably the brush I use most. This brush is very versatile and allows me to paint more like I would with oils. When used at a very small size, you can get some really sharp lines, while at bigger sizes you can get a lot of texture. You can also rotate the brush in order to get brush strokes at different directions. Just go to the Brush tip shape option and drag the circular slider around.

To see more by Daarken, check out Elysium: The Art of Daarken

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