To Every Season Detail

The Hunt for Brushes

Creating custom brush sets for easy retrieval

A couple of friends and I are taking the online Photoshop Artistry Fine Art Grunge course, and brushes are often used to help us create this style of image. These brushes are mostly what traditional artists call stamps. You don’t drag with the brush to paint, but simply click in place on your image. Photoshop ships with some, and you can find such brushes everywhere on the web.

The course provides us with quite a few brushes, and one friend was having trouble installing and finding her brushes, even though she’s used Photoshop for several years. As I walked her through the process of loading and accessing her brushes, I thought again that, yes, it is very confusing to have so many panels and proxies that use brushes, all needed for different tasks at one time or another. Perhaps I’ll take each panel in turn one of these days, trying to explain it all. No doubt I’ll learn even more myself by attempting to make sense of it. I think it just grew organically and was never part of anyone’s 5-year plan.

Too many brush panels
All these panels are used for working with brushes. The Brush Presets panel shows the last-used brushes right below the Size slider, which does make it easy to find a brush you just used.

But this time I want to talk about finding those brush sets bought or found on the web, and now we have to try to recognize them in the Brush Presets panel (or one of its proxies). They all get thrown into one “drawer,” one right after the other with no separation, no means of identifying them if the teeny Thumbnail preview isn’t good enough (and it’s not), or if you can’t remember what “Sample19” or “Grunge3” looks like in use when you’re in List view (and I never can). Everything about the Brush Presets panel, except for the nifty last-used section,  discourages us from experimenting by making it so hard to find anything we liked ever again.

Views of Brush Preset panel
Whether you use the List view or the Thumbnail view, it’s often difficult to identify what brush you’re choosing.

So when my friend said, “There are too many brushes to find anything,” I not only sympathized because I can never find anything either, I also tried to think of what we could do to help ourselves—at least until hopefully Adobe addresses this problem. Anything to encourage us to use the brushes in our scrapping, our art journaling, our fine art grungy fantasy creations. What sprang to mind involved more work than I wanted to do, but isn’t that often the way? I’ve created custom sets for Layer Styles and Swatches before, and I keep them separate in their respective panels by adding a White swatch at the beginning of every palette, or the No Style style at the beginning of every set of Styles. That way I know at a glance where one set stops and another begins, and I have my favorite glitter styles separate from my favorite metal styles or my favorite shadow styles.

Stlyles panel organized
Inserting a No Style between Style sets makes it more obvious when one type of style ends and another begins

I’ve never done this with brushes for the silly reason that there isn’t a No Brush brush—but, I remembered, there is a ‘No’ symbol in the Custom Shape Symbols library that ships with Photoshop. I can make a brush from any shape; all I have to do is create the shape in a document, say 300 pixels square, and then save it as a brush (Edit> Define Brush Preset). Pop into the Preset Manager (yes, it shouldn’t have to be this involved), and save that new brush as its own brush set—so that’s what I did.

Brush made from Shape
A custom Shape can be saved as a Brush
Preset Manager panel
Brush sets (which can consist of a single brush) are saved via the Preset Manager panel

Now any time I want to create a custom brush set, I first load the ‘No’ brush preset, then add the brushes I want to be in the set. I name the ‘No’ brush something descriptive to identify the set, and save them altogether with my descriptive name. And if I want all the brushes that Anna Aspnes, for example, put into her “DifferentStrokes7” set, I can first load the ‘No’ brush into the Brush Presets panel, then her complete set, and I can still tell the set apart from any other brushes I’ve loaded without having to save it altogether first.

Organized Brush Preset panel
With the No symbol separating custom brush sets, I can find the type of brush I want to use more easily.

Now I not only can find the brushes I want in the Brush Presets panel more quickly, I don’t have to slow down my computer keeping so many loaded.  I simply had to spend some TV watching time creating my favorite custom sets. For this image from a Photoshop Fine Art Grunge challenge assignment, I was better able to locate the splatter , grunge, and edge brushes I wanted, and the project was a lot less frustrating to complete.

PS Artistry Grunge Image
Created for the Photoshop Artistry course, I used several brushes  in “To Every Season,” and my head didn’t explode trying to find a splatter brush when I wanted one.



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