View Full Version : Layers 6: Non-destructive Layer Painting in Corel Painter

08-11-2006, 06:06 PM
Layers 6: Non-destructive Layer Painting in Corel Painter

Painter's layers can be used similarly to Photoshop for arranging and compositing a multitude of visual components. However, what sets Painter's layers apart is their ability to treat any underlying imagery—no matter how many layers—as wet paint. In general, brushes that smear and blend on a layer can equally smear and blend any underlying color found below the current layer. This capability enables a highly useful technique that I refer to as nondestructive layer painting. The use of this technique dramatically expands your creative safety net, enabling you to selectively edit painted elements—as well as save time.

For my example image, I'm going to use a photograph as it dramatically illustrates the use of smeary brushes on layers. However, this same technique is equally useful with regard to imagery created from scratch.


Interpreting a photograph into a painting utilizes the concept of overpainting. Overpainting is the process in which an existing image—a photograph in our example—is interpreted into a painting by utilizing non-paint-bearing brushes to smear the underlying color within the image. It is as if the photograph has been transformed into wet oil paint. A variety of brushes can be applied to the wet imagery to imbue it with a hand-painted appearance.

If you were to directly overpaint a photograph, you would be destroying the original detail, making it difficult to go back and adjust various elements that need additional enhancement. Of course, the technique of creating source and destination images via cloning is an option. You could then overpaint the clone (destination image) and selectively soft-clone back any original detail (source image) as needed.

Non-destructive layer painting eliminates the need for a clone because the base image is the source image. The layers become the destination imagery. Instead of ending up with a flat overpainted photograph, you end up with the original photo intact and the cloning dispersed residing on as many layers as you wish. Each layer remains editable, enabling a great deal of flexibility.

Smeary Brushes to the Rescue!

In Painter, a brush is said to be smeary if it picks up any underlying color and either mixes it into the current brush color or simply blends the underlying colors together. The mechanics of smeary brushes are covered in depth in the Creating a Smeary Oil-style Brush in Corel Painter (http://www.wetcanvas.com/forums/showthread.php?t=292080) installment. You may want to refer to it before proceeding if you are not familiar with this concept.

You may have a favorite brush that smears great on the canvas, yet refuses to perform on a layer. Why? Not all brush variants can act as layer-based smeary brushes due to the limitation of some brushes' construction. To get you started with layer painting, I recommend that you utilize the Smeary variants found in the Oils Category (Brush Selector Bar). These include the Smeary Bristle Spray, Smeary Flat, and Smeary Round. If these brushes are new to you, the Smeary Round is probably the best choice.

There are two controls you'll want to utilize in conjunction with the Smeary variants: Resaturation (Resat) and Feature Size (Feature). Both of these controls are available in the Smeary brush's Property Bar (below the Menu Bar). Resaturation controls how much color is deposited by the brush. Turn it down to 0% and it is limited to smearing only. That's what we want, so be sure to adjust it down. Feature Size controls the density of hairs within the Smeary Round's stroke. By default it is set to 4.7. I find this a bit coarse. I recommend lowering Feature Size to 3.0 for a finer-appearing brush stroke. You can then adjust both Resaturation and Feature Size to suit your needs as you progress through your painting.

Two Essential Layer Palette Controls

There are two essential Layer palette controls used in conjunction with layer painting: Preserve Transparency and Pick Up Underlying Color. Both of the checkbox controls are located above the layer list. In order to layer paint, Pick Up Underlying Color must be enabled.If you find that your Smeary brush is not affecting the underlying color, be sure this checkbox is enabled. Conversely, Preserve Transparency must be disabled in order to layer paint. Once again, if your Smeary brush is not affecting the underlying color, be sure this checkbox is disabled.

Note: You can simply open your source image and begin building up layers on it. The original photo on the Canvas layer will remain untouched. To avoid any permanent damage, however, you may want to work on a duplicate of the original.

Initial Layer: Play It Loose!

Our layer painting example begins with a base photograph of an elegant doorway accented by rusticated stonework. The base image is located on the Canvas layer. There are many fine details within the composition. If we were to attempt to overpaint this image as a flat image, it would be difficult to retain many of its fine details. The mortar joints in the brickwork make a good example of this problem. How can I apply a loose painting style to the brickwork without losing the the mortar detail? Easy: layer painting!

If you're used to building an image in a linear, start-to-finish fashion, then layer painting can initially be a bit disorienting. Interpreting a photograph with layer painting is not constricted by a strict linear construction. Details that are completely smeared out are retrievable because the source image is always available on the Canvas layer. The initial layer in this example is used to apply broad, loose strokes without regard for fine detail. This gives the image greater spontaneity as well as blends the color together. If we were to attempt to overpaint both the bricks and mortar joints as a single operation, the result would look contrived and lack crispness.

Second Layer: Detail Restoration

This is where things can initially get a bit unintuitive. Let's examine what we've got so far. We have an untouched photograph on our Canvas layer, and an initial layer above it containing a broadly smeared version of the underlying photo. We'll now create a second layer above the initially smeared layer. We now want to reinstate selected fine detail from the original photograph. But wait, the initial smeared layer is occluding the photo. What to do?

With the second layer selected, simply disable the visibility of the underlying layer. This is accomplished by clicking the Layer Visible icon to the left of the initial smeared layer in the Layer palette. You can now pick up details from the underlying photograph—such as the mortar joints—using a smaller-sized brush and apply them to the second layer. To check the progress, temporarily enable the visibility of the initial broadly smeared layer. When you're finished, you enable any underlying layers' visibility to view the composite image.

The key concept to understand here is that smeary and blending-style brushes will smear whatever underlying color is visible—no matter what layer the color resides on. With this in mind, it is simply a matter of configuring the desired visibility of any existing underlying layers in order to pick up color and apply it to a current layer positioned above the existing layers and/or Canvas.

Additional Layers: Sweetening the Imagery

I continued to add additional layers in order to visually sweeten the image to my liking. I created a stonework highlight layer in which I sampled a highlight color, pumped it up a bit in the color palette, then applied it as color rather than smearing the underlying color. This gives the resulting more snap and provides hand-wrought detailing. I accomplished this by increasing my brush's Resaturation somewhat above 0%. This adjusts the brush to lay down color. Once you get comfortable with this notion, you'll start thinking of the Resaturation control as a way to toggle a brush's behavior between color-bearing and color-blending (or in-between).

I created new topmost layer, filled with 50% gray, and then set this new layer to the Hard Light Composite Method (Layer palette > Method Pop-up control > Hard Light). This technique offers the option of applying various level of gray—including black or white to the layer while the value of 50% gray remains transparent. This is true for the Soft Light and Overlay Composite Methods, as well. I'm including this variation to demonstrate the flexibility of layer painting with different Composite Methods.

Using white as my color, I applied a bit of texture to the Hard Light layer with the Square Chalk variant (Brush Selector Bar > Chalk Category). I chose the Artists Canvas Paper (Tool Palette > Paper Selector) as my current paper. This provides an illusion of lightly painted areas at the image edge in which the top areas of a virtual canvas show through the already painter areas.

Next, on a new layer, I selectively added some drips and splats to the image to provide yet another degree of spontaneity to the image. This was accomplished via two custom Image Hose Nozzles I created; each containing variations on paint drips and splats. I sampled underlying colors in order for the resulting drips and splats to appear consistent with the area of the image I applied them to.

Finally, I created another 50% gray layer and set it to the Overlay Composite Method. Using the Digital Airbrush (Brush Selector Bar > Airbrush Category), I used the color black to slightly burn the shadow area of the doorway and white to dodge the sunlit side. This helps give the overall image more depth.

The Final Image

My final image consists of six layers, plus the base source photo on the Canvas. I have repeatedly opened the image and decided to make further adjustments to it. For example, the dodged & burned doorway element seemed too heavy after reviewing the image, so I simply adjusted the opacity of the layer to my liking. I also decided to adjust some of the colors of the drips & splats, so I simply enabled Preserve Transparency—which allows only non-transparent areas of a layer to be painted over—and used the Digital Airbrush to selectively re-color some of the drips & splats. At any time, I can add a new layer at the desired level in the layer stack and add or adjust content. By saving the image in either Painter's RIF or Photoshop's PSD formats, the layers are preserved and can be further altered at any time. And the original untouched photograph remains at the bottom of it all!

Try It Out!

Whether you work with photography or create from scratch, non-destructive layer painting provides the artist with an amazingly pliable technique for creating—and editing—imagery. A bigger safety net definitely offers a bigger creative sandbox to play in. Give it a try on your next image!

Viva la Painter!

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