Adobe, Syd Weiler, and Photoshop Brush-making at ICON10

Meet the drawing & painting team in Detroit.

Art by Armando Veve for ICON.

by The Creative Cloud Team

posted on 06-13-2018

One thing’s super clear when visiting the ICON10 website: time and space for attending are at a premium. The timer is ticking down with five weeks —and only 12 tickets—remaining until the July 11 start of the conference in Detroit, Michigan.

For anyone not familiar with The Illustration Conference, it’s a four-day biennial celebration of the industry, the art, and the artistry of illustration filled with workshops, exhibits, and symposia. At the heart of ICON’s mission is a dedicated group of people who, in 1999, launched the conference to further conversations about illustration.

This year we’re not only super excited to be a sponsor — we’re really looking forward to illustrator/animator/creative streamer Syd Weiler’s brush-making workshop.

Syd and her (sold-out) workshop

We got to know Syd (who lives and works in Wheeling, West Virginia, amid a jungle of houseplants) in 2016 during her time as an Adobe Creative Resident. When we heard she’d added the title “Photoshop Brushmaker” to her list of professions, it sounded like a workshop in the making. Turns out we weren’t wrong. On Day 2 of ICON10, Syd will lead “Handcraft Magical Brushes” a hands-on lab where she’ll demystify Photoshop’s brush engine, and demonstrate how she uses Adobe Capture CC for extra brush texture.

We met up with Syd to get a preview of what she plans to cover in her class. She began by describing how custom brushes can bring illustration to life: by adding nuance, mimicking patterns and textures, and conveying hidden meaning.

Syd makes brushes in Photoshop specifically because the application offers a lot of perks that traditional media doesn’t — like the ability to undo, edit, separate, and iterate indefinitely. “Making brushes in Photoshop is completely its own medium,” Syd says. “For the most part, you can do anything you want, and it’s about engineering the tools within the program to achieve your vision. You can make as many brushes and variations of those brushes as you want — this gives you the ability to make your work extremely unique,” she says.

Last year Adobe changed how Photoshop organizes brushes, making it a lot easier to create brushes that apply paint to digital canvases in a variety of ways, and to get down to the details of what you really want it to do.

The process begins as simply as selecting an existing brush preset, a brush tip shape, or an image. Then it’s a simple matter of changing the settings in the Brush Settings panel to modify brush nuances and paint application and, once you’re happy with the settings, saving the brush to a library. “Don’t be afraid to experiment,” Syd says. “I’ve been doing this for two years now, and every day I find something else to apply this content to, something else to use these things for that I never would have thought of in the days prior.”

If designing custom brushes is a great way to create unique touches in your art and save yourself time, then creating “stamping brushes” — which are ideal for making a repeated motif with minimal effort — is a way to create repetition to tie designs together. After an artist’s retreat to Iceland, Syd was so inspired by the textures and natural forms she found there that she made almost 100 stamping brushes. “I’ve been able to recreate my experience, that very visceral impression of the landscape, via my brushes,” Syd says. “I’ve broken it down into little pieces, like flowers on a specific plant or the way a stream was rippling compared to a massive waterfall that I saw. All of those variations really make up a place, and you can emulate those details and feelings through brushes. It helps create continuity throughout a series.”

Creating a stamp brush begins with an image — part of a photograph, an illustration, or Stock asset—then it’s on to “Edit,” “Define Brush Preset,” brush naming, and a matter of adjusting the size, scatter, rotation, and angle until you achieve the look you want. But stamping doesn’t refer solely to a single repeated image like a rubber stamp, this type of brush can also be valuable for adding texture or elements to a canvas.

When creating her brushes, Syd’s process creates something personal. “If I’m using texture, it’s all my own textures that I’ve made,” she says. “Sometimes it’s charcoal textures that I’ve made paper rubbings of or textures inspired by photographs I’ve taken of rocks or natural elements like in my Iceland project. I like doing that because it makes the brushes extremely unique. No one can replicate those textures. No one can use the same resources unless I give them to them, so it makes it very, very personal.”

The mobile art studio of Adobe Photoshop Sketch

Whether you’ve been waiting for the right time to try creating your own brushes or are an experienced brush creator, Syd will be teaching methods for crafting and customizing brushes, demonstrating how to apply them to existing work, and using them across Adobe’s desktop and mobile apps. “Figuring out how to make this medium fit your voice is going to happen through practice and experimentation,” Syd says. “Don’t be afraid to experiment and have fun.”

But, we’ve saved the best for last. One of the best things about designing brushes in Photoshop is how easy it is to access them on-the-go in Adobe Photoshop Sketch. No matter how far you are from your desk, once they’re dropped into a Creative Cloud library, it’s a simple matter of opening that library in Sketch. Like this:

Come see Adobe at ICON

We know ICON10 registration time and space are tight (and getting tighter) — but if you make it to Detroit, be sure to look for us. You’ll find us in the Sponsor Salon at the Westin Book Cadillac Hotel. Try out Adobe Sketch and Adobe Draw, get a sticker, or just hang out with us. Hope we see you there.

Topics: Creativity, Art, Illustration

Products: Photoshop, Creative Cloud