Before and After No 5

Another installment in my Before and After articles. This time a detailed account on my thought process in creating an Da Vinci styled image out of one of my cutting horse images.

First a little back ground. Lately I have been experimenting with a new plugin by Topaz Labs called Impressions. The plugin easily allows digital artists to apply the artistic styles based on the Masters to a photographic image. The plugin can be a simple one button press or it can be customized with a number of setting adjustments to adjust the brush type, opacity, paint thickness, background colour, textures and individual colour adjustments. Add the power of Photoshop layers and masks, a lot of options are available to create something unique.

This particular article will try to demonstrate the creative process I used to create the final image. Its will not be going into detail Photoshop settings but will remain more general in nature.


The base image is the foundation of the entire digital image. I wanted to insure the image had good edge detail for the Da Vinci styles as well as all unnecessary elements removed.

The base image in general had good colour and good contrast with sharp edges. Its hard to see in these smaller images but I did open the shadows up. As well, the image also needed to be edited to remove the background tractor trailer. I quickly did this using both lasso selections and rubber stamping tool on a separate layer. I was able to make the edits quickly as the image did not require the level of accuracy as I would normally need for a photograph. The background was recreated where the trailer was removed.

The final edited image was grouped with together with the edits and created a new working layer of the base image for the filter application.


The first filter applied was the Da Vinci I filter. In general I liked the results except for the loss of detail in the rider's face as well as the loss of texture on the back of the cow in the foreground. I also felt the "sketchiness" was somewhat lost in the main subject of the image and would I wanted to emphasis that more. I decided to first tackle the facial detail.


After creating a new working layer based on the base image, I began experimenting with some of the other black and white filters and I found the Charcoal I filter gave a nice grey scale base to work the image from. I liked the way the facial features were retained while still giving a loose artistic feel. The layer was then moved below the original D Vinci I filter layer.

Then using a white mask/black brush, I brought in the elements of the Charcoal I layer (below the Da Vinci Sketch I layer) to bring out details in the riders face as well as to subtly bring the grey tones out into the upper layer to give the image a little more lightness. Now I wanted to work on the "sketchiness" feel of the image. I created a new layer form the base image and put it to the top of stack and then went into Impressions to see what would work.

A quick word about layers and masks for those not familiar with Photoshop. The absolute power of Photoshop is the use of layers. This allows for no destructive edits that can be turned on or off, have blending effects added or making changes in opacity to blend with the layer below. Its a stacked concept with the top visible layer showing first. Masks allow for elements of the layer to be either painted out or on, depending on the coloured masked used. In general, white masks show, black masks hide. In the article I make reference to white mask/black brush which means the white mask allows the active layer to show and the black brush is painted over elements to hide and allow the lower layer to show through. With a black mask/white brush the opposite happens with the top layer being hidden to show the entire lower layer and then elements of the top active layer are then painted on to show. The brush elements control the strength of the effect with size, feathered brushes, opacity and flow levels. It reads confusing but in practice its quite easy to use. 


I found the Da Vinci II filter gave a nice amount of "sketchiness" to give the image a loose feel. Using a black mask/white brush on the top Da Vinci Sketch II layer to hide it, I then selectively painted into the image the sketchiness elements, concentrating on the horse, rider and the cattle.

The results showing the sketchy effects in and around the horse, rider and the cattle. Looking good, but not quite there yet. I still needed more edge details to give the image a real sketch feeling, something similar to an architectural render.


A new layer was created from the base image and then I had a look at some of the other Da Vinci filters. Da Vinci Sketch III gave a very light rough sketch effect. Again I was not concerned about the entire effect but only the elements around the riders arms and hands, the horse, the foreground cow and some other details. 

Once again I used a black mask/white brush to paint on the details I wanted to isolate. I really began to like the sketch effect on both the horse and rider, giving the image a very rough and loose feel. The only thing to fix was the cowboy hat as it got lost in the back ground.

DA VINCI SKETCH II Filter repeat.

I again created another working layer copy of the base image. Before applying any filters, I wanted to increase the contrast on the layer in order to bring more separation of the hat from the back ground. In the colour image you can see there is colour separation but in black and white the tones are similar so they blend when applying the filters. By increasing the contrast, it help to correct this. Again I wasn't concerned about the overall effect, I was only concentrating on the hat. I found the Da Vinci Sketch II filter worked well. 

Again, a black mask/white brush was used to hide the layer and then paint the hat in place. Only the hat was used.

After a final review, I was very happy with the results. A signature layer was added and that completed the project.

I hope this post was of interest to you and demonstrated the thought and creative process that went into creating the image. I will continue to experiment with Impressions further and post both more Before and After articles as well as a gallery of samples.

Before After

User slider to see before and after.

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