Can We Mimic Oil Painting in Photoshop CC?

What is our goal when we create a digital painting?

I can’t speak for everyone, but my personal goal is to fool the eye; to convince the viewer that they’re looking at oil on canvas. I also work in oils on canvas, so I have a pretty good idea of what this should look like. 😉

While I never misrepresent a digital painting as an actual oil, I do everything in my power to make it seem as if it is one. 

There are several methodologies for digital painting. 

One increasingly popular way to create a digital painting is by using a one-click filter. 

I rarely make cautionary statements about style, but in this case I will... If your goal is to mimic oils, I beg you -- step away from the one-click filters!

I can almost guarantee that your digital painting will never be mistaken for an oil on canvas if you use a one-click filter.  These filters use artificial intelligence to analyze your image, and then they create brush-like-strokes.

These filters come in many forms and with a multitude of names —Topaz Impressions, Corel “auto paint”, the Photoshop Oil Filter are a few examples — these are all different variations of the same basic thing. 

While artificial intelligence has come a long way, it still has its limits.  All of these filters have the same end result…

  • A very mechanical look
  • No variation in brush strokes
  • Illogical brush strokes
    • artificial intelligence can sometimes create bizarre strokes that don’t work with the subject at all
  • Too much detail
    • an oil painter would never paint as much detail as I typically see in filtered images

 Take this image for example…

The original photograph was composited onto one of Heather Michelle's gorgeous hand-painted backgrounds...

 The composited image was then painted in several different ways using varying, widely available filters...

^^^ This one, in particular, makes me cringe!  The digital impasto effect just does not print well at all! 

Now consider a hand-painted version...

I took the same composited image and hand painted it in Photoshop.  This version was allowed to evolve as I hand painted every single brushstroke.  The end result is a unique piece of art that cannot be duplicated by any mechanical, artificial intelligence.

Let's take a closer look at the details...

In this hand-painted version, I will admit, I stayed a bit more on the literal side than oil on canvas typically would be.  I was looking to make an accurate comparison between this painting and a filter.  In oils, the strokes would be "chunkier" with more variation in color and fewer hard edges -- but this is a good place to compare for most novice Photoshop painters with little or no oil painting experience...

In the Photoshop Oil Filter painting, the literal rendering of the hair is just too much detail to be an oil painting!  The end result more closely resembles an over-processed photograph than oil on canvas.  If this is your style -- that's ok, because as I've already stated, this is very much a style choice!  However, if you're trying to mimic oil on canvas as I am, I'm sorry, but this is an inaccurate representation and no art aficionado will view it as anything other than what it is -- a digital rendering. 

In my opinion, there is NO COMPARISON between the hand painted and the filter versions of this portrait.

I know what you're thinking...

"Yeah, but... hand painting!  I can't draw stick people! I NEED MY FILTERS!"

If all this talk of hand painting has you quaking in your boots - RELAX, there is somewhat of an "easy button" with hand painting in Photoshop (sort of)  --

Hand painting in Photoshop is absolutely achievable by most Photoshop users since the ability to draw has been eliminated.  You read that right -- you do NOT need ANY drawing skills to be an accomplished and successful Photoshop painter! 

However, it still requires effort to learn. Nothing will ever be as simple as a one-click filter.

The reward for mastering any hand painted method is the ability to create one-of-a-kind, hand-rendered, mixed media artwork that isn't achievable any other way.  You can advertise your work as "hand-painted" with integrity -- because that's exactly what it is.

In my opinion, it is ethically questionable to call any filtered image "hand painted".  Even when hand-rendered brush strokes are added here and there, the artificial intelligence of the filter did most of the "painting".  I personally could never claim this work to be hand painted -- but to each his own I suppose. 🤷‍♀️

What if hand painting just isn't for you?

If you prefer "one-click simple" -- something like applying a filter -- or just don't want to invest the time into creating each individual piece of art  --  hand painting probably isn't for you.

You have options, my friend!

There's no need to devalue your brand by offering filter paintings.  If you would like to offer hand-painted portraits in your studio, but you'd rather NOT get involved with hand painting yourself, you have several options...
  • Contract the painting out to a "ghost painter"
    • This is an independent artist that paints for studios on demand
    • There are many, MANY ghost painters out there (including myself!)
  • Several professional photography labs offer painting service
    • Mid-South Color Lab in Jackson, TN is one such example
  • Send your image to a service such as painterlystudio.com

"Fast and easy" is rarely superior to methodical, hand painted methods. As a matter of fact - It’s about as rare as hen's teeth! (FYI - if you're not familiar with this southernism, hens don't have teeth LOL!)

The trained eye can spot a "filter painting” from a mile off.  While it may be fast and easy, it is most definitely NOT hand painted.  This is why I choose to use hand-rendered brush strokes from the very first brushstroke to the very last.

Now I'll bet you're thinking to yourself, "I've seen the paintings of the old masters.  They have lots of detail.  This all sounds like a load of hogwash!"

From a proper viewing distance, the works of the masters do seem highly detailed.  But have you ever taken a close look?  I mean a REALLY close look?  Come back next week and we will take a closeup look at some very famous works and the brushstrokes used to create them.

Where can you go from here?

If you're up to the challenge of ditching the filters and learning to paint by hand -- get yourself started with some free, beginning painting exercises here:

https://www.elevateyourart.com/photoshop-painting-free-tutorial

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