Digital Imaging

Week 3 Part II: Painting from Photographs

Lesson Objectives

At the end of this lesson you will be able to:

  1. Apply techniques you learned in last week to create a self-portrait painting
  2. Use the Mixer Brush Tool to paint and blend in Photoshop
  3. Create a digital contour drawing
  4. Create a digital palette for painting


Credit: Olivia Muus #museumofselfies –

This week, we will create a painting based on a photograph. We will start with the not-so humble selfie and work from there to transform it into a digitally painted self-portrait.

This will also be an opportunity to push the boundary of the photograph as inspiration as well to start with a portrait and reinterpret it into an original work of art. Lots of apps available on your phone will do this sort of thing for you but it’s far more fun and original to do it by hand. The result from apps that turn your photo into a painting are becoming common – how can you make something better, something more original and uniquely you?


Taking Selfie

This week, you will be creating your own self portrait using digital tools, starting with the camera. In preparation, please take a few selfies.

Here are the constraints to follow.

  1. Pay attention to the composition, color scheme, lighting
  2. You must take a photograph for the exercise, not a photograph you have taken before
  3. No sunglasses for this one because eyeballs are good challenges to paint.
  4. Focus on the face, no body shots.
  5. Simple backgrounds are better. If you want to decorate the background from your imagination, go for it.
  6. Don’t use an app filter – Instagram photography is great, but for another time. Do your adjustments in Photoshop before you start painting.
  7. Don’t use an app that turns your photo into a painting. Let’s paint by hand.

Tradition of the Self Portrait

self-portrait grid

There is a rich heritage of self portraits and what they communicate in the art world.

Historical Perspective

The audio is not great on the following videos and you will have to turn up the volume when the author speaks but they are a fantastic and thorough overview of self portraiture through the lens of Western art history. If you are interested, they are worth the watch and will bring inspiration for this exercise.


Tool Demos

Remember you can adjust the brightness and contrast to your image before you start painting. Also take advantage of key commands! They will save you a ton of time!

Helpful TIPS:  

  1. Don’t forget that you can choose different workspaces and there is one just for painting. Go to Top Menu -> Window -> Workspaces -> Painting.
  2. There is a small icon of a lock lock iconon the layer palette. Lock a layer you don’t want to mess up, like the outline, by clicking on the icon while the layer is selected. Click on the icon on the layer again to unlock the layer.
  3. Move the outline layer to the top of the layer panel so you can always see the outlines. (click-hold and drag up)
  4. Common key commands for this exercise:

    [ and ] – increase, decrease brush size
    i – eyedropper tool
    b – brush tool
    shift-b – move between the different brush tools

Here’s a couple of quick demo video with text overlays of helpful tips and the basic steps to follow (no sound). If these don’t work for you or if you want to try a different technique, check out the resources in the further reference section but you are also welcome to search for a different tutorial to follow. If you do use a different technique or tutorial, link to it in your blog post. There are so many amazing methods out there, it’s great to share if you find something good!

Part 1 – Tracing

Part 2 – Basic Painting

Further Reference

These videos are long, you can skip through to get the general idea.





  1. Take a photograph of yourself. Think about the  composition  and your pose when you take the photo.
  2. Use your drawing tablet and, in Photoshop, the brush tool and mixer brush tool and create a painting based on the photograph.
    You don’t need to be faithful to all of the details of the photograph. You can ignore some features, paint with colors that don’t exist in the original photograph, paint a new background etc.
    Remember how you paid attention to volume, color and shading when you painted the apple. Also, remember how you painted the texture on the apple following the shape of the apple. Instead of moving your brush simply along the contour or randomly, think about the shape of your face and head when you move your brush. That helps you to create three-dimensional feel.


These awesome examples are provided, with permission, from previous students.

By Scott Fronzuto
By Scott Fronzuto
by Sarita Spindler
by Sarita Spindler
by Morgan Woodward
by Morgan Woodward
by Josh Guerrero

Journal - Blog Post

  1. Please save your file as .PSD (Photoshop) file format with a name like “YourName-Original.PSD’
  2. Adjust the image size to 1000 pixels in larger length (if it’s a landscape format, please make the width 1000 pixels). Save your file as .PSD again with a different name like “YourNameSelf-Small.PSD’) This is for sharing the Photoshop file with your instructor on Google Drive.
  3. Save your image as JPEG format (you can use the ‘Save for Web’ function in Photoshop) and post it to the class blog as “Journal’.
  4. Upload this smaller PSD file to your Google Drive folder  for class.


Discussion expectations are outlined in   Week 3 Part I.

Please generally comment freely on all posts.