Friday, July 19, 2013

How To Emulate Oil Painting With Your Computer

-By Serge Birault

I just finished my own version of the autoportrait of Léon Bonnat. I like this kind of exercice. I already did parodies of classical paintings. I like this, it's very fun to do and I learned a lot.

My usual style is very "clean", I try to be very precise and I only use one brush, the soft round brush.
This time, it was quite the opposite. I tried nearly all the standard brushes of PS. The goal was to emulate classical oil painting so I had to find a new way to work.

When I say "emulate classical oil painting", it's a little bit stupid. There are so many styles, so many techniques, so many different brush strokes .... But I think you know what I mean. I just tried to use more textured brushes to be close of the oil painting rendering.

There's no magic trick but I can give you some advices:

1. Find Some Good Reference:

You can easily find pictures of classical oil paintings in high resolution on the internet, Art Renewal Center for example. Then spend time to analyse your reference. Each painter had his own technique. Take your time before starting to paint.

Beware the colors and the tones. Don't use the eyedropper tool. Just try to understand why the painter added olive green on the shadow or red on the top of the nose. 

2. Choose Your Weapons:

I use PS but, of course, you can do the same with Painter, Artrage, The Gimp, ... I'm too lazy to customize my own brushes. Actually, you don't need to do that, try all the basic brushes you can find. 

If it's not enough, Jan Ditlev Christensen did several packs of brushes, you can freely download (for PS) :

3.  Find Your Own Process:

You work with a computer so don't forget you can do mistakes, you can change your mind, you can try different ways ... Once again, be patient.

Few years ago, I did a funny version of the autoportrait of William Bouguereau. The process was very chaotic. I added the texture at the end.

You can start with a very clean picture then add the texture at the end if you want, or work with low opacity brushes. You can create a lot of adjustment layers or playing with all the adjustment tools. Experiment !

4. Find Your Own Style

It's more funny if you mix different things. You can try to do a cartoon face with an oil painting rendering for example.

5. Forget What You Know About Lights:

Sky light or candel light only! Avoid rim lights or too bright of lights.

6. Forget What You Know About "Levels"

It's a kind of sickness for digital painters. They're all obsessed by "levels". If you want to emulate classical oil painting, don't use pure black, don't use pure white, don't try to have perfect contrast. Try the opposite : do mistakes, add imperfections.

7. Add Texture:

You can easily find canevas texture on the internet. Just put it in an "overlay" layer and decrease the opacity. You can add some scratch marks too or cracks in the paint.

8.Try To Paint With Oil For Real:

Best advice I can give :)


  1. of course! thank you for sharing your knowledge

  2. I've been looking to dive more deeply into the digital oil pond. This post helps. Actually, it is great advice for traditional _and_ digital painters. Great example images, too. Well done.

  3. Good tip the "avoiding rim lights" I tend to overuse those and my illustrations look like anything but real media.

    Nice article Serge!


  4. "8- Try to Paint With Oil For Real"
    Best advice ever- The main problem I see with students learning to paint digitally is that they don't know how to paint traditionally. If you don't understand the process of creating a picture and the principles of art that contribute to a good picture (value, color, contrast, edges texture, etc.) then all the digital trickery in the world won't add up to a successful piece. I had a good grasp on traditional mediums long before I tried to learn how to paint in Photoshop. I try to approach digital painting very much like I do hand mediums and the results are very much like my paintings. Oh, and for crying out loud, DRAW! Drawing is the basis for all good pictures, Don't cut and paste photos and then manipulate and paint over them. Drawing is where the magic happens.

    1. I agree. A lot of my stidents have very poor drawing skills. They all want to do "speed paintings", because they think it's easier and quicker. I try to convince them to know their basics first ... It doesn't work very often >_>'

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