Working with Layers in Photoshop 7: Part 3

By Gary David Bouton

Dateline: September 1, 2003
Volume 1, Number 8
Part One and Part Two I hope you'll like this series enough to consider buying the book. :)

Making Your Own Brush Tip and Quick Masking With It

This month opens up two more features of Photoshop to your use: the Brush Tip Shape menu within the Brushes menu, and the Layer Mask mode. The custom brush tip will become immediately apparent to you in terms of its use, but a Layer Mask might sound as oblique as a "rotary simulatory activator".

The Layer Mask mode in Photoshop is, quite simply, a "gimme back" facility. You appear to be erasing when painting in Quick Mask mode, but here's the safety chute – no erasure is permanent until you peel the Layer Mask off the image. Photoshop then asks you if you want to apply the erasures or discard the mask, in which case everything on that layer returns to the state before you did any editing. I wish I had this feature back when I was (physical) still-life drawing with a (physical) pencil at my (physical) university!

No sense in hangin' around now. Here's the plot: the duck on the pocket watch is laying pretty flat on the ground and there should be a blade or three of grass growing up around the watch. By erasing part of the duck's watch on the bottom, it will appear that grass is indeed growing around the watch. And to paint (erase) shapes that look like grass, you need to make a brush that looks like a blade of grass.

Growing Grass in the Picnic Image

  1. Choose the Paintbrush tool from the toolbox, and then click on the menu icon on the top right of the Options bar (the first illustration shows what the icon looks like).
  2. Click on the Brush Tip Shape title on the Brushes menu, and then click on the 13 pixel diameter tip. Now, you're going to distort this brush tip, but not to worry. No changes are permanent unless you specify it – the next time you call up brush tip 13, it will be round and happy again. And it's not the time to teach you about permanent changes.
  3. With your cursor, squash the roundness of the tip in the window in the illustration, where the pointing finger is, by dragging the dots on the sides of the tip toward the center. Then drag the arrow so it is almost upright, as shown. As you can see in the preview window at the bottom of the menu, the stroke sort of looks like a blade of grass. This is good. Click on the Close icon on the menu to close it, and it's on to the Layers palette.
  4. You click on the icon pointed out in the illustration to create a Layer Mask on the selected layer title, so make sure the QuackTime layer is chosen before you click the Layer Mask icon. Now, you are ready to do some sophisticated editing.


    Create a unique brush tip for a special assignment, and then put the layer upon which you intend to edit into Layer Mask mode.

  5. Zoom into the bottom of the pocket watch. Trick: press Ctrl([@Cmd])+ (the plus key on the keypad) until the image is at 200% viewing resolution – you don't always need to slow down your work to shift views by choosing the Zoom tool. Hold the space bar and drag within the image window until the pocket watch is in plain view.
  6. Make some strokes upward from outside the bottom of the watch to inside the watch, with your custom tip. As you can see in the illustration below, it really does look as though grass is infringing on the watch.


    Remove parts of the bottom of the watch with your custom strokes and you get a convincing illusion that there is grass growing over it. How long did this guy wait for the picnic to begin???

  7. In the next illustration, I've decreased the opacity of the shadow layer underneath the duck, so you can better see the grass illusion. Uh-oh. My boss doesn't think "QuackTime" is funny, and wants a different duck in the image. I have to agree and would like a duck that brings its own food and drinks to the party. But you need to see what happens when you delete a Layer Mask before we delete the duck. Click on the thumbnail to the right of the image thumbnail on the layer title, and then drag it into the trash icon on the Layers palette's bottom. A question box, very similar to that shown in the illustration below, pops up. Remember what we talked about? You choose "Apply" to make your erasures permanent. So click on Apply, and the pocket watch now has permanent deep gouges on the bottom of it, masquerading as blades of grass.


    Answer "Apply" to the dialog box when you drag a Layer Mask thumbnail into the trash and the areas you've erased are gone from the picture for good.

  8. Now, drag the QT shadow layer into the trash icon, because we will soon be deleting the object of the shadow, the duck swimming in the watch. Adobe gives you no warning that you deleted a layer – and never will. As we agreed (or at least as I agreed), the duck in the watch has gotta go. But before you drag its title into the Layers palette's trash icon, why not move it to the left so the tap on the keg doesn't spill any precious (whatever is in the keg) onto the watch face. Do this by pressing either V or Ctrl([@Cmd]) on the keyboard to toggle to the Move tool, choose the QuackTime layer, and scoot the little soon-to-be-doomed fellow over around 2 screen inches. See the illustration below.

    Tip: When you have the Move tool chosen, and tap on the keyboard arrow keys to move the contents of the current editing layer, you do so by one pixel per stroke. If you want to "super nudge", hold shift while you hit the arrow keys.


    Delete layers by dragging their titles into the trash icon, and when the Move tool is chosen, you can either drag the contents of a layer or use the keyboard arrow keys to move a layer's contents.

  9. Now that the duck is gone, we can openly make rude remarks about him. We also need to create a shadow for the keg. The duck was hiding this area. Creating a shadow for the keg is easy. First, click on the Annoying Gnome layer title, and then click on the Create a new layer icon on the layers palette. Now, the target layer for the shadow is beneath the Keg layer, as shown in the next illustration.


    To enhance the reality of the scene (?), a shadow needs to go on its own layer directly above the Annoying Gnome layer.

  10. Rustle up the Elliptical Marquee tool on the toolbox, and drag an ellipse to the left and touching the keg, as you can see in the next illustration. Black should be the current foreground color. If it's not, make it so – you've already run through the Color Picker routine. Now press Alt(Opt)+Delete (Backspace) to fill the marquee selection with black.

    Tip: If your ellipse doesn't look situated as it's shown in the illustration, drag (from the inside of the selection) with the Elliptical marquee tool before filling it, and you will have moved only the selection – it's kinda like a ghost – and not the contents of the selection marquee. Only the Move tool can mess up a design by dragging within a marquee selection.


    Fill the marquee selection with foreground color.

  11. The shadow is too opaque and dense when compared to the other shadows in the image. Deselect the marquee selection (pressing Ctrl([@Cmd])+D is the pro's way of doing this), then crank the Fill control down to about 50%, as shown below, and you've got a perfect keg shadow. Now's a good time to name the new layer. Something modest, but tasteful, like "Keg Shadow".


    Reduce the Fill amount on the Keg Shadow layer, and the shadow takes on more reality.

    What's the diff' between Fill and Opacity? Opacity applies to both a layer's contents and any effects associated with that layer, such as embossing or a drop shadow. Fill, on the other hand, only affects the opacity of an object, and leaves changes outside of the design on a layer alone. Yes, there was no effect attached to the Keg Shadow in previous steps, but it's a good time to get into the wise practice of leaning a little more on the Fill feature and a little less on Opacity.

    That's all the pixels there are for this month. Hey, it's September, and when you or your kid goes back to school, remember: take along all the answers. Next month, we're going to bring in the new duck, work with positioning and composition, and have more fun.

    My Best,
    Gary David Bouton

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    Gary David Bouton is an author and artist who is largely responsible for the book "Inside Adobe Photoshop 7" and wouldn't mind at all if you bought a copy . Gary hosts a thread on the Photoshop Gurus site and is the moderator of a 3D modeling forum. His guide to Caligari's free trueSpace 3D app is available online. Besides being an educator/artist/all-around-nice-guy, Gary is still wondering why it is in America that you can get a pizza to show up faster than an ambulance."