Removing the barrier of worrying about my tools helps in getting my ideas and intents into the canvas more naturally. We have to learn to make them our own to direct our focus on improving ourselves. Speed and efficiency were one of the first few things I’ve learned because I had limited time to paint. I wanted to do quality work with the time I had.
Before we get to my setup, let’s see some badass examples. The first one actually made me want a Razer gaming keypad. I didn’t even consider using it for art before. An interview article is here, I’ve added the video of it in action below. This illustrates the basic idea of keeping the left hand focused on accessible shortcuts while the right hand is drawing.
Taking it to the next level we have redjuice and his custom controllers. If you aren’t familiar with his work, redjuice is Guilty Crown’s illustrator. With his electrical skills he took a USB gamepad, even tacked on a working scroll wheel, and used the buttons for painting. That’s what I call innovation. The full interview is here. You can find more details on redjuice’s custom controller build here and his recent upgrades here.
I really want to give credit to the video that got me to start this practice. But unfortunately I can’t find it anymore. The main point was that the default Photoshop shortcuts were very far apart for painting. You had to move most of them to the left side, so that your left hand can access them all with minimal movement.
To change keyboard shortcuts, go to Edit > Keyboard Shortcuts > Shorcuts For: Tools.
Brush, Smudge, Mixer [ B, H, N ]
These are my most commonly used painting tools made to be closer together. This speeds up blending a lot since I can quickly swap to the Mixer/Smudge then back to the Brush Tool. Don’t forget the Color Picker modifier on the [ Alt ] key too.
Increase, Decrease Brush Size [ A, S ]
The defaults for these are the bracket keys that are hard to reach way on the right side of the keyboard. By making them easily accessible I can switch between levels of detail faster; from bolder strokes to smaller ones.
Previous, Next Brush [ D, F ]
As mentioned in the previous post, this is where more concise brush sets shine. With the brush thumbnails memorized I can decide on which brushes to use much faster than going through the right click menu.
Brush Opacity [ 1 ~ 0 ]
This is one thing I learned from Feng Zhu’s videos: leaving opacity control to Pen Pressure can look bad. It’s better to manually control it with the number keys. With that, I have only my brushes’ Flow locked to Pen Pressure most of the time. I usually use low opacity brushes when blending light and color together initially. After than I just set it back up to 100% then color pick from the area.
Lasso, Move [ C, V ]
Admittedly I don’t have a lot of practice in using the Lasso tool yet. It’s useful for quickly masking off areas to paint. They are handy for copying areas and fixing proportions too.
Flip Canvas [ F2 ]
Flipping the canvas as you to keep a fresh eye on your work. It is essential in solving compositional problems early. By default, the flipping function doesn’t have a shortcut. It’s hidden under Image > Image Rotation > Flip Canvas Horizontally. By using the Actions ( Window > Actions ), we can record the flipping effect and play it back later. On the Actions window you can set it to play as with one of the Function Keys. If you want, you can also bind a Flip Canvas Vertical key.
Tool Presets, Brush Shortcuts [ Function Keys ]
Tool Presets can be used to organize brushes and other tools further. For example, they store more information than a brush. We can save multiple Tool Presets of the same brush tip with different settings.
There is one neat trick I learned that can be done with Tool Presets and Actions. We can bind a Function Key to a specific Tool Preset. This basically mirrors other programs where you can bind a brush to a shortcut key, like in Paint Tool SAI. To do this, record a new action in the Actions Window then select a Tool Preset. I like to use this with the very basic brushes so that I can use them quickly. I then use the Next and Previous Brush keys to cycle back to my other brushes.
I had trouble mixing and picking my initial colors, even now. I wanted to emulate traditional media’s colors and it was difficult to pick colors by eye. This set of swatches really helped me get started. They are based on common oil painting colors so I was using these when I referenced traditional painting tutorials too. You can download them here. I was also taught to use the HSV sliders to tune my colors as well so you can see that on my Colors window.