Creating a Custom Organic Oily Brush

In this blog post, I wanted to try to combine some tips for creating custom brushes, as well as some tips into quickly transforming photos into paintings.


So the first thing I want to do is create a brush that will feel very organic and oily. Then I will use the brush to convert a photo into a painting.

NOTE: I am NOT an artist ;)





There are many ways to achieve this in Painter.  I could use a mix of various types of brush technologies (Blend Camel Hair mixed with Real Bristle, Artist's Oils, Static Bristle with Resaturation & Bleed etc.), and I would get a wide range of very different results, and they could all be very pleasing.  There isn't only a single way to get the brush you want in Painter, and this is what makes Painter so powerful!


But today, I wanted a brush with a specific organic shape.  For this purpose, I will use the "Captured Dab" technology along with the "Growth" effect.


Whenever I want to create a new brush, I often try to find one that is a least a bit similar to what I want to achieve. Then I modify the brush to get the effect I want.

Below are the steps I used to create the "Organic Oily" brush variant, which you can download at the end of this post.


Step 1. Select Captured Bristle from the Acrylics category as a starting point.  This brush is stamp based, so it's as good a starting point as any.

Step 2. Create the footprint/shape of your brush.

- Create a blank document, size 500x500 pixels.

- Launch Growth effect (under Effects - Esoterica), and use settings similar to these:



- Click and drag from the centre of the document to the edge to create a large shape, without going outside the document.



Tip: You can try repeating steps 3 and 4 until you like the shape you get.


- Click on: Select - All.

- Click on: Brushes - Capture Dab (This captures the image to be the footprint of the brush)


Step 3. Show brush controls.

- Window Menu - Brush Control Panels - General


Step 4. Select an oily media.

- Change brush method and submethod to be "Drip - Grainy Drip".  This method has a greasy effect which is what I am looking for.

- Set Grain to 100%. (For drip brushes, this makes the effect stronger).


Step 5. Make the brush size change with pressure.

- Set size to 30, minimum size to 0, size expression to pressure and size step 10%.


Step 6. Make the brush have some differences in orientation, so that the footprint will not always be in the same direction.

- Set the squeeze to 99% to allow the brush to rotate.

- Set angle expression to source (this will make the brush rotate with changes in color from the clone source).

- Set angle range to 360 degrees

- Set angle step to 10 degrees



Step 7. Make the brush have some randomness in dab positions.

- Set jitter to 0.2


Step 8. Enable cloning so that the brush will pick up color from a source.


Step 9. Save brush 

- Brushes Menu - Save variant and give it a name.



Here is a sample stroke created with the brush.





Ok now we are ready to use this brush to transform a photo into a painting.



Step 1.  Choose a nice photo :) and open it in Painter.


Step 2. Select the photo as the current clone source.  This will make your new brush pull the colors from the photo.


Step 3. Paint directly on the photo, adjusting the brush size, and using pressure to control your brush.


Some tips for painting: 

- Use broad strokes (larger size) in the sky and other areas.

- Use finer brush size for detail areas.

- Follow the contours of the shapes.


Some additional tips:

- You can use the underpainting palette to prepare the photo before using it as a clone source.  For example, use Smart Blur to remove details from the original photo. 


-You can use the Apply Surface Texture effect to add a canvas texture to your painting.



Here is a quick sample result...

I'm not an artist, but I think this could be a good starting point, and someone with more talent could start adding colors and more depth as well as refined strokes to the painting.




If you would like to try out this brush, here is the link:


UPDATE: You can download the variant in the much easier sharing format here, I still add to zip it to conform with the blog software... sigh!




Let me know if you have any questions or comments on this brush or any other types of brushes :)

Happy painting!




As suggested out in one of the comments, you can use this brush to paint colors if you turn off cloning.

Here is a sample of some of the brush work details that you could get.  You can see that the brush can give some nice "rough edged" stroke which helps to make it look less digital and more natural.










  • Thanks for the tutorial. Just beginning Painter so all this is new info and glad to have it.


  • Chris, as usual your tutorials are spot-on. I so like the detail.

  • Thanks Wyndham and Yuman!

    Have a good weekend :)

  • Hi Chris,

    Very interesting post. I had noticed that you have used source before for your angle expression.  If there is no clone source, then Painter defaults to using the currently selected pattern.  Your test is using Hens and Chicks I think.  Anyway...I went to Painter to play with the brush with and without cloning.  I can see the turn of the brush with the change of color of the  If I change to current pattern in the clone source, I get the look of the pattern as I paint and can see the variant turn.

    Then I turned off clone color.  At this point I don't think I am seeing any turn with the brush...I'm not sure.  If I set the expression to direct...I see the effect.  Here is the question...finally...with clone color turned off, what does source expression use?

    Great blog post...thanks,


    PS: why didn't you provide the variant as a name.brushvariant file?  That is such a beautiful brush sharing system.  I love it.

  • Hi Skip,

    thanks for the great feedback!  I keep forgetting about the brush sharing system LOL!  I will add this file to the blog post! Thanks for the suggestion :)

    As for the rotation and clone source questions...

    First, in Painter there is always a current clone source, even if the brush is not cloning (painting with color).  As you mention, by default the clone source will often be the currently selected pattern.  The result is that the brush will rotate somewhat randomly, but not as much as if Random was selected as your expression.  You should be able to see your current clone source selection in the clone panel.

    But what I think is even cooler about using source as an expression in this case...

    Imagine you have a photo, and you set it up to be your current clone source.

    If you paint in regions of almost constant color (the sky for example), the brush will not rotate much, giving you only little rotations (it will still rotate a bit, because the sky will not be completely uniform, but the brush angle will be more constant).

    Then if you paint across regions where the color changes rapidly (transition between sky and objects, faces, etc.), you will have much more rotations giving you brush strokes that are very different from the constant color area...

    Great questions, and thanks again :)


  • Thanks Chris,

    Wow...I had no idea that there is always a current clone source and that expression source worked the way you described painting with color.  That's a whole new ballgame.



  • Great brush, Chris. I can make fantastic use of it in a painting I am currently developing. My style is to use multiple layers in my pieces to maintain maximum control as a work develops. Is there a way I can modify the Organic Oily brush to paint on a blank layer rather than only on the canvas?

    Your work definitely demonstrates the power of Painter 12. For me, designing brushes to get a certain stroke, just puts me farther back from actual painting, which I'd rather do. So.... do you have some other creative brushes hiding in you brushes folder that you could share? LOL

    Thanks, Chris for all your efforts in working with us out in the trenches!


  • Hi Jim,

    thanks for the feedback.

    I understand your need for layers.

    Although the result will not be exactly the same, you can make modification to this brush to allow it to work on layers.  (It just won't be exactly the same behavior).

    1. Open General brush controls panel.

    2. Change Method from Drip to Cover.

    3. Select Soft Cover in the Subcategory.

    4. Open the Wells brush controls panel.

    5. Set Resaturation to approx. 20%

    6. Set Bleed to approx. 60%.

    Changing the method from Drip to Cover will allow the brush to paint on blank layers.

    Setting the Resat and Bleed to these settings, will make the brush have a "greassy/drippy" feeling to it.  Not quite the same drippiness as the Drip methods, but pretty close.  And since you can paint on layers, it makes the brush more versatile.

    You can save your own custom variant with these settings.

    Let me know what you think of these modifications.


  • Greetings Chris,

    First of all, Thank You! so much for all the Painter information that you so generously post for all to enjoy.  Painter is an incredibly powerful and complex app that simply boggles my mind.  That said, I have a question that concerns brush variant development.

    I, like millions of others no doubt, would like to build my own custom brushes.  However, when I seek out info on this, whether in books or online, I always find some discussion about how to create a watercolor, oil et al, variant.  This info is good to know.  But, what I would like to understand are simply the basics of brush variant creaton.  

    Have you posted something similar or can you point me to an online reference?

    There are lots of palette's that affect variant brush building, and these alone can be confusing.  I fully understand the complexity of this, but I want a good understanding of all the 'controls' that are available before I begin this journey.  In truth, understanding how brushes do what they do will really give me the knowledge to get the effect(s) that I want to apply to my Painter projects. I am an engineer so this is required by the left side of my brain.  Ha!

    Please take you time in replying as I am in no hurry at all.  Thanks so much for any help you can provide.

    Warm Regards,

    Phillip Anthony

    P.S.  This will probably have no bearing on your reply, but just to be clear, I am using Painter 12 (12.2.1 1212) on an iMac with OS X 10.7.5.

  • Hi Chris,

    I'm getting odd symmetrical results from the Growth Effect even with identical settings.

  • Phillip, the best trick (although not perfect technique) is to start with the general panel and choose a dab type and media that you want to use.  This is the first step in creating a brush.

    Then, depending on the dab type and media you have chosen in general, other panels will be enabled/disabled  based on the chosen combination.

    In X3, you can make use of the Smart Brush settings panel which makes things a lot easier to make brush adjustments.  But if you want to do more advanced changes, you will need to go the old brush panels to get access to all the controls.

  • Hi JoeC,

    do you get this weird result on different document sizes? Does it depend on the size of your "circle" when you do the growth effect?

    Thanks for reporting the issue!