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Tutorial: Creating unique paintings with automated Tools

By Karen Sperling

Corel Painter IX.5, the latest version of Painter, has new tools that speed up the process of turning photos into paintings, making them ideal for the professional photographer who wants to offer his or her clients painted portraits. These tools let you automate the blending and painting process so that you can produce unique portraits without having to close your photo studio for three months while you paint them.

This tutorial shows you how I turned this photo by Mary Wynn Ball into a painted portrait.


Photo © 2006 Mary Wynn Ball; Painting © 2006 Karen Sperling

I opened the photo in Painter and chose File: Clone and named the new clone (File: Save As).

I chose the new Underpainting palette in the Window menu.

First I chose Increase Contrast in the Underpainting Style menu to make the photo more dramatic.

  • In general, one way to make a photo more painterly is to eliminate detail through painting with one of the Blenders variants. In Painter IX.5, the Smart Blur slider in the Underpainting palette does the blending for you.

For this painting, I set the Smart Blur Amount slider at 30 percent and clicked Apply. With the Smart Blur Amount slider, results vary based on the size, resolution, clarity and contrast in the photo. You’ll have to experiment on your own photos to get the desired effect. With larger photos, applying the blur several times works better.

Once I finished with Smart Blur, I saved. This is the new clone source.

You see the original photo on the left and the image after Increase Contrast and Smart Blur on the right.


Next I worked on painting background.

I created a new clone and used Painter IX.5’s automated painting tools to paint in sections of the background. Later, I cloned the figures back in.

First, I cloned this new image. I chose Quick Clone in the Underpainting palette. This creates a clone, clears the cloned image and turns on Tracing Paper.

I proceeded to apply strokes from various brushes in various combinations. I started with the Artists’ Sargent brush. I chose Hatch in the Stroke menu in the Auto-Painting palette. And I chose Clone Color (click the rubber stamp in the Colors palette) so that the brush would pick up the colors from the clone source, which was the previous image. And I clicked the arrow in the Auto-Painting palette to start the strokes. To stop the strokes, I merely had to click the red button in the palette or anywhere in the image.

  • For the rest of this tutorial, when I say I ran a stroke, I mean I clicked this arrow. And when I say I stopped it, I mean I clicked in the image.


As soon as I started to see the strokes, I realized that I would need varying ones for different parts of the image. So first I selected the area with the trees and bushes using the lasso. I did a very rough selection. I knew I could touch up details at the end, so it wasn’t important to take the time to do a detailed selection. I saved this selection (Select menu: Save selection). Then I ran the Hatch stroke some more within the selection. I stopped it, changed the Size slider in the Property Bar and ran it some more. Then I stopped it again and I deselected the Randomness check box next to Rotation. This meant that I could then type in the degree of the angle next to the Rotation slider and that would be the direction that the brush stroke would go in. I proceeded to choose various angles and run the strokes, building up the amount of color in the image.

The strokes were too uniform, I wanted them to curve a bit so I created a custom stroke.

To create a custom stroke:

  1. Choose the triangle in the Brush Selector and in the drop-down menu choose Record stroke.
  2. Paint a curved stroke.
  3. Now choose Save Stroke in the same menu. The Save Stroke dialog box appears.
  4. Type in a name for your stroke. I called mine Coarse.
  5. Click OK. This custom stroke now appears in the Auto-Painting palette’s Stroke menu.

I ran this new stroke for awhile. Then I changed to the Distortion’s Confusion brush and ran the stroke some more. The Confusion variant began to blend all the strokes.


Then I switched to the Artists’ Impressionist brush. I clicked the rubber stamp in the Colors palette for this brush to use the color from the original as well. I ran various strokes from the Auto-Painting palette, including Pressure Modulate, Fade In/Out and Short Stroke.

I also chose the Chalk’s Square Chalk, and turned down Resat to 0 percent and turned up Bleed to 33 percent in the Property Bar and autopainted with all of the above strokes. This blended the existing strokes.

I saved these changes as a variant.

To create a variant:

  1. Choose the Brush Selector icon (the little arrow all the way to the right): Save Variant. The Save Variant dialog appears.
  2. Type in the new variant’s name. I called it No Sat Square Chalk. Then click OK.
  3. Your new variant appears in the variants menu (it is either at the bottom, or listed alphabetically).


The greenery part of the image was looking pretty good at this point, so I turned my attention to the walkway. I selected it with the lasso, saved the selection and ran various brush strokes.

For instance, I used the Square Chalk in its original state.

To return to the Square Chalk in its original state:

  1. Choose the Square Chalk if it isn’t selected.
  2. Choose Brush Selector menu: Restore Default Variant to return the Square Chalk (or any selected variant) to its original characteristics.

I clicked the rubber stamp in the Colors palette to pick up color from the original. I also used the Sargent brush. I adjusted the Size slider in the Property Bar for both variants to get the strokes the desired size.

I introduced different strokes from the greenery to the road by choosing Pressure Modulate for the Stroke and keeping the Randomness check box deselected next to Rotation and adjusting the angle so that the strokes were somewhat horizontal and crosshatched. I let the autopainting run for awhile in one direction, then let it run in another, winding up with a cobblestone-looking effect.


Once the road was filled in, I deselected (Select menu: None) and I cloned back the girls from the previous version. I clicked Soft Edge Cloner brush in the Restoration palette and painted in the clone.

  • Lower the Size slider in the Property Bar to paint the little details like the shape of the face.


Below, the original image (after Smart Blur) is on the right and the newly painted one is on the left.


From this point on I left the automated features alone and did the “manual” painting to add detail in some places and to minimize it in others.

For instance, I eliminated the details from the dresses, making them look less photographic.
I added brush strokes first with the Square Chalk. I option/alt+clicked on a color—the dark color in the shadow of the fold, for instance—and then painted right over it with the Square Chalk, giving it a painterly look. I also painted some of the strokes in the dresses using the Artists’ Oils’ Dry Brush variant.

Once I had some strokes laid down, I blended them slightly using the Blenders’ Water Rake and also my No Sat Square Chalk that I created (see To create a variant). You see the originally smart blurred photo on the right and the cloned image after I painted in the dresses on the left.


Next I added some definition to the background elements.

With the Artists’ Impressionist variant chosen, the rubber stamp in the Colors palette deselected and Tracing Paper turned on, I lowered the Size slider and option/alt+clicked on colors and painted. For instance, I option/alt+clicked on a dark green in a bush and then painted in the bush to round it out. I did the same thing for the tree trunks.

  • Click the little icon at the upper right-hand corner of the image to turn Tracing Paper on and off.

In the image, the before is on the right and the after is on the left.


I was almost done.

I checked my tones by choosing Black And White in the Style menu in the Underpainting palette.

I wanted the faces to be the focal point, or the area of greatest contrast between light and dark. As you can see in the images below, the faces were blending into the background.



I clicked Reset on the Underpainting palette, chose the Photo’s Burn tool and painted the area around the faces.

  • Lower the Size slider in the Property Bar to paint the details right next to faces. If you go overboard, click Soft Edge Cloner brush, lower the Size slider in the Property Bar and paint back the face.

Below you see the results after I painted with the Burn tool. The faces are more clearly defined because I darkened the areas next to them.



Last, I chose Jagged Vignette in the Edge Effect menu in the Underpainting palette.

It may seem like there was a lot of work involved, but there really wasn't, when you consider that I didn't paint the art stroke-by-stroke. The automated tools help you create art in far less time than if you had to paint it from scratch.


Artist, author and photographer Karen Sperling is the original Painter expert. She wrote the manuals for the first several versions of Painter, authored several Painter books, has had many Painter tutorials published in magazines and has taught Painter to artists and photographers at movie companies, design firms, universities and at PPA affiliates and schools.

Learn Karen Sperling's Painter techniques in person in southern California at the Artistry Corel Painter Retreat July 18-21, 2006 and at the Artistry Corel Painter Portraits for Profits Workshop August 28-31, 2006. She will also be teaching at the PPA affiliate in Sacramento August 16-17, 2006. Visit for details.