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Creating a Custom Brush to Paint Fur and Hair
by Don Seegmiller

I often get asked if there's a secret to painting hair and fur, and if there's a way to make it easier. While there is no secret formula, there are some things that you can do to make the process easier. First, you should use appropriate tools, which is where Corel Painter IX comes into the picture. There is no other program that gives you as much creative and artistic freedom when painting difficult subject matter.

In this tutorial, I'll show you how to create a custom brush for painting hair and fur. I'll create this brush from a default Corel Painter brush. Then I'll show how I would generally use the brush to paint a furry character.

There are many default brushes that would make great hair and fur brushes but knowing which to use is sometimes the most difficult decision. For this tutorial, I have chosen a favorite brush of mine, the Opaque Round brush. It is a variant in the Oils category (see below).

To see how the brushes apply paint, create a new document and draw on the canvas using the Opaque Round brush variant. You will notice that it already has a hairy appearance that makes it a good candidate for customizing into a specific fur brush (see below).

Now, let's create some furry brushes. First, open the Brush Creator by using either the shortcut keys Ctrl + B, or from the Window menu, select Show Brush Creator (see below).

If you are not familiar with the Brush Creator, you may want to refer to the Painter Help section on customizing brushes. We are not going to look at any of the individual controls for a stroke other than the few we'll use to make our brushes. Though the Brush Creator can seem daunting, you can gain familiarity with all of the controls rather quickly by reading and experimenting.

In the Brush Creator, you will notice a preview of your stroke on the lower left side of the window (see below). From the Colors palette, select a dark color so that this preview is easy to view. Also, notice the Clear button to the right of the preview window. This will be used a lot as we tweak the brush settings.

Now, let's make the following changes to the brush:
  • In the General controls, change the Expression of the opacity from None to Pressure (see below). Now, as you draw with the brush you will be able to go from very light and transparent strokes to heavy and opaque strokes.

  • In the Size controls, we will make several important adjustments. First, change the Expression under the Min Size slider to Pressure (see below). In the default setting of the brush, the Min Size slider has no effect since the Expression is set None. When you have made the adjustment, paint a stroke in the window. You can now paint light and small strokes, and use pressure to increase the size and opacity of the strokes.

  • Press the Clear button to clear the canvas.

  • While there is still some hairy appearance to the stroke, it is rather dense. In the Size menu, adjust the Feature slider to 6 (see below). Paint another stroke and notice how we have added spacing between the individual bristles. The stroke now looks more hair-like. You should experiment with the Feature setting until you get a look that you like.

  • Now, go to the Random controls and increase the Jitter slightly. I have entered the numeric value of .55 (see below). Paint on the canvas and notice that you now have a pretty passable hair brush. In this case, leave the Expression control set to None.

  • To finish your new brush, go to the Color Variability controls. If you are using black or gray, you should now select a color to see how the changes we will make effect the stroke. In this case, I've selected a brownish color. Clear the canvas and paint a brown, hairy stroke. The top sample stroke (see below) shows the stroke before any adjustments have been made. Increase each of the sliders to about 5% to add a bit of randomness to the color of the stroke. This will add the same type of variation you might expect to see in real hair. The bottom sample stroke shows an increase of 10% in the sliders to make the effect more visible. You now have a pretty serviceable hair and fur brush.

    Exit the Brush Creator and save your new variant. To do this, click the small black arrow to the right of the Brush Selector and choose Save Variant from the menu (see below).

  • In the Save Variant dialog box, type a descriptive name for your new brush so that you can find the brush while painting (see below).

  • Next, we need to restore the Opaque Round brush variant to it's original settings. While you have saved your new brush, your current brush is the Opaque Round variant and it is still painting like the new fur brush. Painter will remember these new settings from session to session. Simply click the small arrow to the right of the Brush Selector again and select Restore Default Variant (see below). This will restore the Opaque Round to it's default settings. Whenever you create a new brush, you should restore the original.

Now, you have a new fur brush to use when painting hair or fur. It is currently located in the Oils category of brushes and you might want to move it to your own custom category or wherever you keep all your favorite brushes. If you do not know how to create your own category of brushes, refer to the Painter Help file.

Let's paint something furry using your new brush. Rather than try to paint a finished painting, I'll focus on the technique I might use when painting this type of subject matter.

I have scanned in a rather strange drawing from one of my sketchbooks. I am only going to be concerned with the character on the right (see below).

The first thing I need to do is get rid of all the white space around the figure. Using the Paint Bucket tool, I've created a new layer and filled it with a gradient that ramps from blue at the top to a pink bottom. I've also changed the composite method of the new layer to Gel and dropped the layer onto the sketch. This gives me a nice, even gradient across the whole image (see below).

Even though I have created a new brush that will paint great fur, it is not the brush that I choose for the initial work. If you begin with the furry brush you have created, you will spend a lot of time trying to fill in the whole character building up with tiny individual strokes. It is much easier and quicker to do your initial lay in using a different brush. I have begun to block in the color of the character's fur (see below) using the Round Oil Pastel 20 variant of the Oil Pastels brush category. Using the Property Bar, the only change that I have made to the brush is setting the Opacity to 35% instead of 100%.

Using this brush, I eventually filled in all the colored areas of the character (see below). I was not concerned with staying in the lines of the original drawing since the fur will spread into the background. I have also used some rather strange colors. Remember, you can have any colors you want when creating fantasy worlds.

Now the real fun comes as we switch to our newly created fur brush to finish the painting of the character.

First, I painted in the body of the character. I tried to follow the contours and directions that fur would follow the body on a real character. And I have worked in a slightly darker color than that of the original block in (see below). Notice how I let the furry stroke overlap the background colors.

I continued this same method of painting across the entire figure, including the head (see below).

With the initial fur painting completed (see below), I continued to refine the fur using the same brush in a variety of sizes and opacities.

Remember, you can use the Shortcut keys Ctrl + Alt to change brush size on the fly. I also occasionally use the bracket keys ( [ ] ) to change brush size. I use the number keys on the top of the keyboard to vary the opacity of the colors. I will also change the feature setting depending on how dense I want the hair to appear (see below).

As I further developed the painting, I selected the background color and used it to paint the character's fur (see below).

By painting the background into the foreground of the character, I'm able to keep a clean, yet soft look while maintaining my drawing (see below).

I also spent a lot more time developing subtle features and adding detail to the character (see below). I generally paint from dark to light when working and that is the method that I've used on this image. You can see where I have painted lighter strokes over darker ones at the top part of the neck. I have also added a subtle mouth and eyebrows.

With the fur pretty much completed, notice how I've maintained the flow of the fur across the character while also letting colors visually blend. This is particularly apparent where the tail meets the rump (see below).

At this point, I could continue by adding eyes and other smaller details. I would also, of course, finish the background. However, for this tutorial I have shown how you can approach this type of subject matter.

Possibly in a future tutorial, I will finish the strange object to the left of the character and work on the background areas.

I hope that you have learned some basic information about creating some custom brushes to paint fur. These brushes can be used just as effectively to paint hair, too. You should now also have a much better understanding of how I paint this type of subject matter. While it is definitely not the only, or even necessarily the correct way, it is effective and will give you good results. I hope you have enjoyed the tutorial and don't hesitate to drop me a line if you have additional questions.


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