Creativity for All: Adobe digitises Keith Haring’s brushes in Fresco and Photoshop

by Adobe UK Team

Posted on 09-08-2020

By Patrick Faller

No matter which way you look at the work of Keith Haring, it is extraordinary. From the messages embedded in his art, to the way he displayed it and the materials he used to make it, his legacy lives on and shapes how we think of street art today. He famously believed that “art is for everybody”; he took that belief even further, saying “art is nothing” unless it reaches people from all walks of life. He did this by drawing his art in subway stations and on buildings, on sneakers and on bodies, with simple tools and techniques that are deceptively hard to recreate.

Adobe is working to preserve and share the works of great artists, putting their tools in the hands of creators all around the world, and in this year’s edition we are working with the Keith Haring Studio to empower designers to create just like Keith did. We have digitised Keith Haring’s brushes and are giving them away for free in Adobe Fresco and Photoshop, and rolling out some new ways to share your art in places accessible to all. This was no easy feat – recreating Keith’s brush strokes, as they would have acted when he himself was making art, came with technical challenges – but we are proud of the end result and can’t wait to see what you are able to create.

“The Keith Haring foundation is super keen to keep Keith’s heritage alive. Since our overarching direction, at Adobe, is creativity for all, it aligns with Keith Haring’s approach that art needs to be democratised. Art doesn’t belong to the museum, locked away, to an elite audience. It’s really for everyone. It is a perfect fit,” said Daniel Vargaz Diaz, creative director at Adobe working on this project.

Download Keith’s brushes here, read on for more details on this project, and learn a bit more about the process that went into sharing this legendary American artist’s materials and techniques.

Recreating Keith Haring’s art materials: Democratised tools, unconventional canvases

Keith Haring’s approach to ‘art for everybody’ went beyond just where he created his work; it extended to how he made art, as well. Most of the tools he used can be found outside of a conventional art store – he used simple brushes, spray paint, and surfaces like vinyl tarps to create his iconic designs. That’s why you will now be able to use the following brushes to create in Fresco and Photoshop, all favourites of Keith Haring and digitised with the help of those who know his style best. The brushes are:

“Up until this point, my focus has been on trying to create digital versions of more high-end tools as well as digital tools that create special effects. This time the challenge was really to try and look at the range of materials he used that are very common to everybody who uses any kind of natural media,” said Kyle Webster, Adobe senior design evangelist focusing on painting and drawing. Below, he breaks down the unique artistic challenges that went into digitising each of Keith’s brushes.

Recreating Keith Haring’s chalk, markers, and pens

Kyle dedicated himself to creating digital versions of these materials in ways that would really emulate the behaviours of these accessible tools, and how they change and act in the real world.

“Keith is so famous for these chalk drawings in the subways, for example, so I spent a long time just trying to get that texture to feel right and have it respond to pressure so that, if you’re applying more pressure, you’re grinding more chalk into the surface so it becomes more dense and you get a more opaque mark. Whereas if you use less pressure, you’re just kind of grazing the surface,” Kyle said.

“We also digitised alcohol-based markers, like Keith used, where with lighter pressure you’ll get little deposits of the alcohol where it pushes the ink, the pigment, away a little bit. So you have these drops here and there where there’s a little bit of irregularity, especially around the edges of the stroke that you are drawing. And as for the brush marker, if you’ve used one for a little while you know it does tend to break apart when drawing a line.”

Replicating Keith’s techniques with his vinyl paint materials and spray paint

Keith Haring worked on vinyl tarpaulins. The paint he used would sit up on the surface and not get absorbed. For Kyle, when it came to creating digital versions of Keith’s paint brushes, it was key to ensure the digital experience of doing this closely mirrored the experience the artist would have had creating in this way.

“The Keith Haring Studio pointed out his tendency to take Sumi-e brushes and actually cut them so that the length of the bristles all measured the same, meaning there was no longer a taper to a point if you wish to use a fine point in painting. Instead, they became just a sort of chopped off version of that brush; so we have a couple of brushes in there, one being a Sumi-e brush that’s been cut and another round brush that’s also been cut for more of a sort of acrylic painting look,” he said.

Then, of course, there is Keith Haring’s use of spray paint. It was important to recreate the effect of spray paint, maintaining some control over the brush effects but also implementing a scatter effect to leave room for “happy accidents” like variation in density and little droplets that land in unforeseen places. In Fresco, the user can control the diameter of the spray and the spattering effect of the spray simply with the pressure of the stylus.

“There are also paintings that some people might not be as familiar with, with a lot of dripping in the paint. As it was described to me, this was a result of him dipping the paintbrush in the paint and just going right to the surface or working with these alcohol markers, that were very wet and full of the pigment on surfaces that don’t absorb the pigment quite so easily,” said Kyle.

“As a result of the work being done quickly and with a lot of wet materials, these inks and paints would occasionally drip. And so we created a set of dripping brushes that you can use to add these dripping effects to the painting as well.”

“Art should be something that liberates your soul, provokes the imagination, and encourages people to go further.”

The above Keith Haring quote aligns with the passions of artists from all walks of life, all over the globe. Today, Keith’s spirit of creating and sharing and using your art to stir emotions and make change can still be seen in the new works being created with his iconic illustrations, and the generations of artists that have followed in his footsteps. Adobe challenges you to pick up Keith’s brushes and ‘draw a line for good’ in your own style for a chance to have your work displayed on digital canvases across the web, for all to see. You’ll also get the chance to win an annual subscription to Creative Cloud. Get a look at the full terms and conditions here.

“We want to enable as many people as possible to be creative, just like Keith Haring wanted. I also think his style of creating art of painting feels so attainable. You don’t have to be an academic painter to create art,” said Daniel.

“I think this will free people up to experiment a lot,” added Kyle. “And I just think that’s always a good thing.”

We hope these brushes inspire you to draw art that brings awareness to issues important to you too. To learn more about the Keith Haring brushes, and the opportunities to have the art you make with them shared with the greater community, click here.

Topics: Creativity, Adobe, UK, UK Exclusive, Creative EMEA

Products: Fresco, Photoshop, Creative Cloud