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Photoshop Fine Art Effects Cookbook
"Van Gogh Effect - Van Gogh's Sunflowers"
(Pages 130 and 131 from the Painters section of Photoshop Fine Art Effects Cookbook - courtesy of O'Reilly Media.)
In the late 1880s, Dutch painter Vincent Van Gogh created his most famous works in a brief period while living in Arles, in southern France. These included Provençal landscapes, indoor scenes, and vases of sunflowers.
Influenced by Impressionism and Post-Impressionism, as well as by Japanese art, Van Gogh’s style is distinct and instantly recognizable. His work is characterized by thick swirls of solid color, as can be seen in many of his skies, but he also painted poplar trees and fields of waving crops.
In his sunflower paintings, Van Gogh limited his palette to golds, mustards, and contrasting blues, and he tended to compose the images within tight framing in order to focus the eye. The thick swirls form a backdrop for the slightly scruffy, withered petals of his flowers, outlined in prominent black lines.
My local flower store only had fresh sunflowers, nothing as old or wilted as van Gogh’s subjects, but I emulated the style of the painting by making one stem droop away from the bunch. I placed the vase on a low table against a simple, contrasting background that would be easy to remove digitally. Using a short zoom lens, I used an angle of view similar to van Gogh’s for a striking composition.
To create a contrasting background, select and remove the existing background with the Magic Wand. Set a low tolerance and click a pixel typical of the area. Hold down Shift to add other pixels (or Alt/Opt to subtract them) from the selection.
When the selection looks correct, click the “Add a new layer” icon in the Layers palette and immediately click the new layer’s “Add layer mask” icon. This layer will be used for painting a new swirling background; the mask will protect the sunflowers underneath.
Click the chain between the thumbnail and the mask to unlink them. This stops later steps from affecting the mask.
Set the foreground color to turquoise, mustard, or a deep shade of blue, and fill the layer with Edit > Fill. Use the Brush tool to paint onto the layer, but use a slightly different shade of the same color. There is no need for artistic skillrandom strokes will be fine.
Choose the Marquee tool (shortcut M) and select an areathe smaller the area, the tighter the swirls will be. From Photoshop’s Filters menu, select Distort > Twirl. As you drag the Angle slider, you see a preview of how Photoshop will twirl the selection. When you are happy with the result, click OK.
Make a new selection and apply the Twirl filter again. Here, I have already applied the filter to areas above the flowers and to their right, and have moved the selection marquee, ready for another twirl. Repeat this process until every part of the background has been affected. Save time by using Ctrl/Cmd + F, which reapplies the same filter settings, or use Alt/Opt + Ctrl/Cmd + F to reopen the dialog box and change the angle.
If your vase and tabletop are as unsuitable as mine, activate the Magic Lasso, zoom in, and select them by dragging around them. Use Ctrl/Cmd + J to copy them into their own layers.
With these elements in separate layers, you can safely experiment. Paint randomly with the brush, or choose Filter > Filter Gallery, click the “New effect layer” icon at the bottom right of the dialog, and apply multiple filters simultaneously. Here, Poster Edges was perfect for creating cracks on this vase, while Paint Daubs smudged the colors.
Van Gogh’s vase had a line halfway across, so I selected the top of my vase and added a strong border using Edit > Stroke. I also used Image > Adjustments > Hue/Saturation to fine-tune the color, then used other settings on its lower half. The top was gold, the base beige.
Van Gogh usually gave every detail an edge. As all the image elements are on different layers, it’s easier to merge them onto a new layer before proceeding. Hold down the Alt/Opt key and select Merge Visible from the Layers palette menu (if you are using Photoshop CS or earlier versions of Photoshop, you should first create a new layer). Then select Filter > Artistic > Poster Edges. Turn the Posterize slider down, and adjust the edges to match the image. I used low values.
For a final touch, place your signature in the same position on the vase as Van Gogh did on the original sunflower paintings.
See more Sample Recipes from the Photoshop Cookbook Series.
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