Photography Project: Creating a painterly effect with Photoshop’s Mixer Brush


(Sigh)…..this seemingly “simple” project managed to hijack my entire weekend…..for just one photo!  About four hours into this (yes four hours was only a fraction of the time I invested).  I had that conflicted moment where I wondered if I should just cut my losses and move on.  I decided to muscle through and 14 hours later, with inflamed tendonitis in my right hand and cramps in my forearms, I was done.  I kept saying to myself, never again…….well unless someone wanted to give me buckets of cash, then I might reconsider.

So I read about this technique in my favorite photography magazine (Digital Photography/UK), it looked simple enough, use the Mixer Brush on a photograph and nudge the pixels around.  I even watched their 15 minute video (time elapsed) and it looked simple enough:  There were a few things I wish they would have mentioned.

  • This takes time…..a lot of it.  You can’t just choose a big brush and make large sweeping strokes.  You need a small brush and small strokes.
  • Be patient.  The more pixels you push around in one stroke, the longer it takes Photoshop to process.  I feel like I sat and watched that round blue circle spin for hours….come to think of it, I did.
  • The direction you push the pixels matters.  The color your brush starts in, is the color that will dominate on the blend.  You really can’t go back and forth without getting a muddy mess.
  • Turnoff the image, or Background Layer, from time to time to see where you’re at.  After 8 hours, I decided to do this and realized I missed over 50% of the image; I wasn’t holding the pen correctly on my Wacom tablet and it was making small distinct strokes.  More like a pen than a paintbrush.
  • I found using the mouse made broad thorough strokes.  Now all I need to do is figure out how to use my Wacom table correctly to get the same effect.

At about hour 2 I did try to process this image in some of my artistic plug-ins, but couldn’t manage to get the same effect.

Here is the before and after:



  1. onelifethislife

    Nice work!! i love. The colours and pattern. I was thinking about purchasing a Wacom. Unfortunately I don’t know anyone who owns one. What is your experience with it? Would you recommend it? Thanks in advance!

  2. pamphotography

    Hi – Thank you for your kind words….

    I would definitely recommend a Wacom tablet. Peter bought me one as a gift, and I didn’t use it until I got tendinitis in my right hand. Now I don’t work without it. It allows you to do fine selections and detail work, and is also much easier to use than a mouse. It requires much less movement, and energy, to move around on the screen and “double click” things (for a wacom tablet you push one button that is located right near your index finger). I would never go back to using just a mouse again.

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