Playing with custom brushes to create magical scenes

Playing with custom brushes to create magical scenes

Photoshop brushes are tools often underestimated. Download the set, load it and click over your canvas: this is the typical use of them. Today I want to show you some powerful features of brushes. We will start with a musical note shape to create a custom brush and deal with some options like shape dynamics and scattering.


Click on the image for a larger preview:



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This awesome composition by Laura Ferreira inspired me to create a similar result using custom brushes.

step 1

Create a new document in Photoshop – mine is an A4 document – and fill it with a dark blue (#0a3556)

new document in Photoshop

Step 2

Create a new layer, set white as foreground color, grab a large soft brush and start gently painting over the canvas. Create a few spots on different layers and reduce the opacity. Take in mind that these soft light effects, that now look flat and boring, will be made more vivid using adjustment layers.

Why don’t we simply apply a gradient overlay to the background? By using a brush and clicking on different layers you have a better control on how the background will look. You are free to play with opacity and move the spots where you prefer at any time during the work process.

Here is my result:

light effects

Step 3

To make the background more vivid, we need 2 adjustment layers. Firstly go to Layer>New Adjustment layer>Gradient map and add a gradient, from a dark blue (#021a38) to a light one (#dff7ff). Set the layer blending mode to overlay with opacity 70%.

gradient map

Add a Curves layer (Layer>New Adjustment Layer>Curves) and move the curve as shown in the screenshot below to increase a little bit color contrast.

The background looks better now.


Step 4

The final touch to the background: in order to enhance the central light area and the floor that we’ve created using only a white brush, create a new group and switch its blending mode to “color dodge”. Create a layer inside the group, grab again a soft white brush and make few clicks over the center and the bottom area. Reduce the opacity of the layers. I’ve titled this group “super-light”.

other light effects

Step 5

Now the background is complete. Paste the image of a guitarist (any other image related to music will work fine). I used this image of a rockstar downloaded from Shutterstock.

Do you want to learn how to extract objects in Photoshop? Take a loot at this article from the Photoshop beginners section.


Step 6

To add shadows, simply create a new layer and move it below the rockstar, grab a soft black brush and gently paint. Also in this case, the best approach is to create different layers and play with the opacity of each one of them. Premium members can download the psd file of the tutorial and see the way I’ve organized layers to create these soft effects.


Step 7

Select the layer of the guitarist and add a layer mask by pressing the apposite button at the bottom of the layers window. Then grab a black round brush and paint over the guitar to eliminate the top part.

Anyway, If you hate masks, you can use the eraser tool to achieve the same result.

How do masks work? Once created the mask you can use black to eliminate areas, white to restore them and grey to reduce pixel opacity. If you want to go in depth with this matter, take a look at our tutorial in the beginners section.

guitar masked

Step 8

It’s time to create our custom brush. Create a new document. A 500×500 pixels document will work fine. Grab the Custom Shape tool and, from the library, select the musical note. Create the black note, then go to Edit>Define Brush Preset and save it. We’ve so created a new brush.

Why can’t I click on “define brush preset”? This happens when you have the path selected – the grey thumbnail in the layer window – and not the layer. Try clicking on the path thumbnail and repeating the same process (Edit>Define brush preset). This time it should work.

note brush

Step 9

Now that the brush is ready, it’s time to understand how to use it. The aim is to create a lots of vivid and playful musical notes with the lowest effort. This is why we will use brushes options. Select the note brush and open the brushes window (Window>Brushes).

Here you can see several options. I’m going to introduce you to Shape Dynamics, Scattering and Other Dynamics.

brushes options

From the menu on the left, select Brush Tip Shape. Here we need to set up the brush diameter and the space between one brush and the next one. Set spacing to 130%.


Check and select Shape Dynamics. Here set Size Jitter to 100% (control off), and Angle Jitter to 25%. These options allow you to give dynamism to your brushes by creating notes of different sizes and angles with few clicks.

shape dynamics

Check and select Scattering. Here increase to scatter value to 1000%. Now your notes will squirt without control.

Finally select Other Dynamics. Here you can add other dynamic effects. In this case I’ve set Opacity Jitter to 100%.

other dynamics

Step 10

The first thing to do with the new brush is to modify the top area of the guitar. Select the layer mask, set the foreground color to black and paint over the top of the instrument.

In case you used the eraser tool in step 7, grab again the eraser tool, select the note brush with the custom options and erase the top of the guitar.

Step 11

Before creating the scattering musical notes, we need a reference image of a singing lady. I’ve found this free image on stock.xchng. Roughly extract the head on the lady and paste it in your document. Here desaturate it (shift+ctrl+U) and reduce the opacity.

Step 12

For the notes we will use 3 colors taken from the guitar palette.

Set one of the 3 brown shades as foreground color, create a new layer, grab your note brush with the customized options, and paint. Start from the guitar, using a small size, then go up and increase the size of the brush.

Try to follow lady’s lineaments. When working on the face, reduce scatter to a lower value (0-15%) or it won’t be possible to have control on the outcome.

Step 13

Repeat the same process using different colors and different brush sizes.

Step 14

The last touch is to create a new group, title it “final lights”, set the blend mode of the group to color dodge, create a layer inside the group and, like we did in step 4, create some white spots over the areas you want to enhance.

final lights

…and here is the final result:



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(+add yours)
  1. this is awesome Sebastiano :) Thanks

  2. Awesome tutorial. Simple but nice result.

  3. AWESOME AWESOME AWESOME!!!! Great job and the steps are very easy to follow, bravo.

  4. very useful article,I learn a lot

  5. Elephant

    Wow, never knew about this cool tool, great tutorial indeed. Very well done the tutor, great easy steps.

  6. Very good work!! :P

  7. Nice… easy and looking great…

  8. Excellent tutorial!

  9. Hi folks,
    I’m glad to see you appreciate the tutorial! I’m trying to make all the tutorials easy to follow and interesting at the same time

    • TANIA

      this aint easy homie, its hard! im 14 and i cant get this right gosh!

  10. Avesome work! Good example for work with brushes.Thank you for lesson:)

  11. Very good and useful tutorial. The fine image is amazing!

  12. Simone

    Thank you very much! Beautiful artwork :)

  13. That is a really good tut…

    though I must say the original piece… is Perfect and we can be no way near to it… :)

  14. kinjal

    very well explained..all the tutorials are helpful in creative fields..:)

  15. Hi,
    What a nice design…

  16. Joey Nguyen

    On another level with the brush tool now. thanks!

  17. LENKA


  18. This was amazing! Outcome was cvery good.

    Great Job Sebastiano

  19. Ali Afkhami


  20. Great tut, thanks for sharing!!

  21. Nice ideea indeed

  22. Kais

    Awesome !

  23. wow, very very creative idea

  24. mobivox

    you are simply superb man….

  25. niloofar

    AMAZING !!!! easy way … thank you for sharing .

  26. Osvaldo

    I did the tutorial using Kurt Cobain as the rockstar. The only difficult part for me was creating the shadow (I use free transform on a piece of shadow) and the lips on the music notes layer. Hope you like it

    • Hi Osvaldo,

      Nice work. Shadow looks realistic. The only think I would change is the notes color. Anyway nice job!

      • Osvaldo

        The shadow cost me a little bit. As i said, the lips were somewhat difficult to do. For the records: what colors you would use on my image?


      • I would switch the black notes to a dark blu, so they will look semi-transparent over the blue background

  27. khan

    amazing design

  28. Really excellent tutorial, looking forward to giving it a go..

  29. RomeoX

    awesome tuto, but i think the light is in the other side. Left side

  30. Awesome tutorial
    your all Photoshop tutorials are amazing & creative
    keep up good work

  31. jonly

    nice bro. Thanks

  32. nice .tutorials are amazing design.thanks

  33. selva

    im not thinking this way of working thanks

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