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Once you've transformed a photograph into a painting, you have the option of adding the appearance of physical surface texture, which is another vocabulary element of painting. What is this? It is a simulation of light on the 3-dimensional surface of paint, canvas, and varnish. When a physical painting is photographed or viewed under Gallery Lighting, the lights will cause the painted brush strokes, particularly impasto style painting, and canvas texture to be emphasized by highlight and shadow.
Applied varnish or a glossy protective coating will appear as subtle brush strokes delineated by specular highlighting. These visible artifacts make up part of our perception of the painted physical object. Depending on the wishes of the artist, gallery or museum, these physical affects can be attenuated or suppressed, depending on the lighting setup. My technique is non-destructive, so you have the option of displaying or printing with or without this virtual varnish. I used to think that this surface effect would not mix well with prints on canvas, but I've been pleasantly surprised that it can and does work.
This is definitely a personal preference, depending on your style of print reproduction and presentation, you may or may not wish to utilize virtual surface effects. I'm going to go ahead and add this varnished layer in this layered document. I'm going to go ahead and go up to the Actions, and in our cloning layers extras here, I've got a Create Varnish Layer. And while we're here, I want to mention, too, another shortcut I've put in here is this Clear Layer, which on a full- sized keyboard, I've got it set up for F13.
Now you don't want to ever use this on a Cloning Layer because as I've mentioned several times, doing so will delete the information in the Cloning Layer that makes it possible to paint with the Cloning brushes. I do find it very useful, though, when I start trying out something on a non-cloning layer. Quite often, I want to get rid of it real quickly, particularly with something like the varnish layer. Let's go ahead and create our varnish layer. And it's going to tell you here, that it's going to create a varnish layer, and when the dialog comes up for the layer style, go ahead and dismiss it.
But here's the important part. Because this varnish layer is going to be in an Overlay mode, the way to paint with clear paint is, you have to use 50% gray on that layer, and that will apply the affect of the raised varnish, but it will not add any color to it. So, be sure you switch to 50% gray, which is, in RGB, that's a 128 R, G, and B. Or, if we're using the HSB sliders over here, set it to 50%, and you'll have the correct tonality.
Now of course, you can experiment and you may want to play with tinting at the color. Or you certainly could use this as a tinting varnish if you are so inclined, but in my example here, I'm going to use it a strictly clear varnish. So let's go ahead and run this, and we'll go ahead and dismiss this. And here we have our varnish layer. I'm going to go ahead and raise this so it's just up above all of the other layers and outside of the detail strokes. So I kind of want it independent on its own. We can go ahead and close this up.
So, we want 50% gray, and I'm going to use a rather large brush to apply this. It's up to you what scale or size of this you want it to look like, but in my own experience, when I applied kind of a finishing coat on a painting, I generally use a pretty broad brush and it's mostly for protection. And as a result, they're rather large brush strokes. But let's go ahead and I'll start this and I'll show you how I do it. I just start applying, and you can see it on there, it's subtle, but it's there.
And let's also make sure That Texture is on, and I'm going to zoom up a little bit, so you can see this a little bit closer. It applies that strokes, and you want to use a light hand on this, you know. You don't want to necessarily be heavy-handed. I'll show you what happens if you do this really heavy. You may or may not want that look, but it's obviously going to be very distracting at this level. We also have the option, once we've applied this, and you'll almost always end up doing this, is turning down the opacity of this layer, so you can adjust just how visible it is on the image.
So I'm going to undo this stroke, and I'll work up a little closer here at first, so you can kind of see the effect. I'm doing it just like I would apply it typically on a painting. I just kind of like to move my brush strokes around and change angles fairly randomly so that there's no definite trend in the angles of the brush. Now, I'm going to go ahead and zoom out a little bit. If you do this at 100%, the brush tends to be kind of slow, whereas when you back out and do it more on an overview, the brush performance speeds up.
I think it has to do with the bevel and emboss layer effect. It's just something about it. At a 100% it tends to slow things down whereas, back out like this, it's actually a pretty quick brush. There's two ways to do this. I like to just do this just general overall look. Another way you could it, is go in there and try to follow some of the brushwork in the image. Now that would be a rather meticulous job, but if you wanted to have the strokes in the painting sort of look as if they're actually more impasto-oriented and raised up, you could do that. But this is more or less applied more to be kind of like this varnish coat and not actually emulating an impasto effect as if all the brush work in this image is raised.
I'm pretty much finished applying this, and we're looking at it zoomed out now, so you can see some visual appearance of it, particularly in some of these areas up here. The way this is adjusted by default, if we go into the Bevel & Emboss effect, is, by default, I've got it set so it says, if the lights are directly from above, because I typically want to emulate pretty much like a gallery setting, and in a gallery, you're generally going to have lights from above.
You can change these, I can put this in some different angle, and its going to affect how it looks. In my experimentation, I found this kind of 90 degrees and 15 degrees altitude, tends to be a good combination. Now, let's also, I'm going to go out of here, I want to go back and look at this at 100%. You can see, it's bringing the grain out. And we're seeing, you know, these brush strokes in here. This is so close. We probably actually want to get back out a little bit.
Oh, and there's a spot where I missed, so I'll just add a little bit right there. See, I can see the brush is acting very slow here at 100%. But you back out, and curiously enough, it actually is faster. Let's get fairly close, maybe at least 50%. And you can see now, this is way too noisy. If I turn it on and off, you know, there's our image without it. It's really adding a great deal of noise, and we do want that noise there, but we don't want it to this degree. So let's go back to the Bevel & Emboss layer effect, and you do have the recourse here.
For example, you can turn down the opacity of the highlight. You can leave these two, if you want, at a global level. That's kind of what they're doing in here. If I turn this down, you'll see slight loss of the shadows, but what I tend to do is, I go ahead and leave this as is. And I play with the opacity of the actual varnished layer itself. This is one of my little rules, I always call it my 50% rule. Try taking it to down to probably about half of what it is, so I'm going to take it down to 50% here, or in that general vicinity.
It's still there, but notice, it's far less intrusive to the eye. Here, we'll turn it on and off. You want it to be there just about as much as you would see varnish on a real painting, but you don't want it to be so glossy and intrusive that it distracts you from the actual content of the image. And so let's go out a little further. And as we back this out, because Photoshop has to average all of this down, it gets a little less sure, you know, what you're going to get when you see it zoomed out like this. If we turn it on and off at this point, you can see it's a very minor addition to the image.
So, this is an entirely a subjective addition. I like to add it and I think it helps give it that extra smack of reality of a traditional painting. We tend to get enamored by these effects, and it's all too easy to unintentionally overdo it. So, once you've applied a virtual varnish to your painting, I really recommend getting away from the image for a good while. When you return, you'll most likely find that the visual effect of the varnished coat is too strong, and I often apply my 50% rule to this type of situation.
However good an effect looks initially, it usually looks better at about 50% of its original strength.
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