Digital Impressionism: Environment Photoshop Painting

In this article you´ll find some information about painting environments in a digitally-impressionist sort of way.

It is not a tutorial per se, that´s why I call it a guide, it should rather help you to look into the right direction for more information, but maybe my approach tackles you enough to get there on your own.

The technique is easy compared to traditional plein-air painting. Easy might be a subjective thing in that regard, because a prerequisite is a deep understanding of Photoshop and digital painting in general.
Go and get the fundamentals down if you feel this is still too difficult for you, check here - and here.

The results will probably not get you into the Modern-Tate-Gallery or the like, but it will show some techniques that allow you to loosen your workflow for illustration and make painting landscapes some fun.

Setting up:
For a basic setup it is recommended to have a capable computer, a copy of Photoshop and a Graphic tablet of your choice. 

I recommend using the brushes of Shaddy Safadi for doing landscapes. There are only three that I use from his package, but if you have your own, that is fine too.
Thanks Lukas, for sharing:)

Shaddy has a very stylized approach that is sophisticated and yet very clean, speedpaintings may look differently, but what I rather want to talk about is the basics underlying structure that help us to decide how to even get there.

Your document size can be regular web sized at 72dpi. for more detail you can scale up later and paint in details as you please, but to keep it fun and simple, just leave the images in the same size as your reference photograph.

If your photoshop lags when you try working with big or sophisticated brushes, try to change the "Tile-Cache" in the performance options in Photoshop from 1024K to 128K. It is very often by default at 1024 and that is OK for general image-editing, but not for painting where you want a direct feedback on your input.

First it has to be said that it doesn´t make a big difference if you are going to paint "en plein-air" or if you work from a photograph. A photograph, if not so hard edited as many shots from 500px, are really helpful.

The key is to question your reference and try to interpret, not to copy.

This guide is not about tracing or copying, but to get the essence out of a photograph to incorporate in your own, personal vision.

Seeing is believing and what you believe goes into the painting to make others believe what you believe.

You can for sure pull a grid to transfer the image lines, but don´t care too much. Your personal interpretation is way more important than to have a result that is accurate. The first attempts may fail miserably, but as you go on, the number of  flaws will be less and more acceptable. One benefit is that it will more distinctive and obvious that you are painting and not just tracing.

One approach in Photoshop that may save you some hassle without cheating too much is to reduce details. The following two options seem easy to do the trick in Photoshop
(Image courtesy Photos4artists)

Use either very bad compressed jpeg that gives you abstract colos in a nearly cubism look...

...or blur to take your attention away from the details, see example below:

Another reason to do such "digital impressionism-exercises" is to loosen, or warm-up and it helps to sharpen your eyes for coloring and values in general.

This is one of my painting studies that shows a very traditional edge to the digital impressionism look, it is not perfect and that is not the goal of this exercise.

You can find a demo-video with the process of the painting right here:

I´m sorry that it is not narrated, I hate speaking into the void and it makes things so awful to jump to a certain information, I rather write things down, so even a search engine can find my stuff.

Criteria for reference images:
Back to the painting: See below some indicators, by which you can determine if a photograph is good for use as a reference. As a rule I go firstly about the "3C´s" Composition, Colors and Contrast. But other factors such as interesting lighting and structures can be taken into account as well.

#1: Composition:

#2: Colors:

#3: Contrasts:

It all can be broken down to these things when considering a photograph, there´s even much more to it, training your eyes will open upmore things to consider in the long run.

So there are a lot ways to find good photographs, look at your own archive, or try to make some shots in your next holiday. Find them on google streetview, at flickr, 500px, photos4artists or deviantart.

More of my studies with thumbnail-process, to eventually learn from:

Some video tutorials:

Environment thumbnailing by MrCamske

Environment design by Hani Masyon

Check out the brushes, download them, and thoroughly read the information on this page.

Artists to check out that make great use of digital impressionism:

Shaddy Safadi

Jonas De Ro


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Oliver aka Fantasio is a creative blogger who likes to share his insights about art, marketing and social media. Follow Fantasio on twitter or facebook


  1. Thanks for the Tile-Cache tip! I noticed the lag when attempting to use more complex brushes, hopefully that helps

    1. Hey Kiren, thanks for your comment. Let me know if it has an impact. A friend had this issue with his powerful Wacom companion and changing that little number worked immediately.

  2. Ha! Looks like that the setting you provided was already in my Photoshop settings. Must be my RAM? Not sure.

    1. Hey Kiren, actually there´s a lot that can cause a lag or an unpleasant painting experience. I just found that the "tile-cache" trick is the most overlooked cause. Next big thing responsible is RAM, that´s for sure. On Windows machines there´s at least the option to switch to a 32bit version of Photoshop, which has a lower RAM footprint than the 64bit version but can only us 3.8 GB of RAM at all. So the trouble begins when you have a Mac with just 8 GB of RAM. I don´t know the exact footprint on the RAM usage of PS in OSX but I bet 8GB is too less to work properly. You can also try to set the RAM-usage to 100%, PS will not crash and it gives some wiggle room, but only within the given hardware specs.



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