By: Elyse                Categories: 3D Animation


This is a level one tutorial from the book The Digital Renaissance: Classic Painting Techniques in Photoshop and Painter by Carlyn Beccia.

“An artist must possess Nature. He must identify himself with her rhythm, by efforts that will prepare the mastery which will later enable him to express himself in his own language.” – HENRI MATISSE

In 1940, in his late 70s, Matisse was diagnosed with bowel cancer and had to undergo major surgery. He begged his doctors for three more years to live to complete his art. After the surgery, Matisse was extremely frail and confined to his bed, but cancer would not stop him from creating art. During this time, he painted gouache on sheets of paper and then used large scissors to cut out his shapes. His cut paper was compiled into a book entitled Jazz. In this book he was able to take his passion for color and reduce it to a more simplified expression.

Icarus - Matisse, 1947 Plate VIII from the illustrated book, Jazz. Matisse’s deceptively simple form communicates the descent of Icarus, who flew too close to the sun.

Today, some of our strongest logos and graphic prints work in a similar fashion, but Matisse was the first to reduce his paintings to just color and form. Excluding primitive cave paintings, they became the first examples of modern art. In this tutorial we will use Photoshop’s lasso tool to create a painting using shapes that we “cut out” digitally.


Digital Cutouts Drawing with the lasso tool gives the loose feeling of cut paper.


In this first step, we will use the Freehand Lasso tool to roughly form shapes, in a similar way to scissors cutting paper. You may feel that the lasso tool is a little unwieldy to draw with, but that is exactly the point of this exercise—we want an organic shape.

1. In Photoshop, click on the Foreground color to call up the Color Picker. Choose a light beige color and press Alt/Option + Backspace to fill the Background Layer with beige.

2. Create a new layer (Layer/New/Layer…) and name it “Blue.”

3. From the Toolbar, choose Photoshop’s Freehand Lasso tool.

4. Draw the main body form with the Freehand Lasso tool and close it off.

5. Press Alt/Option + Backspace to fill your shape selection with blue.

6. Repeat step 3–5 to create arms, legs, and a head.

7. Finally, cut into the form at her mid- section to suggest a waist, and also cut in to define her hair. Create a negative space where her eyes should be.


I wasn’t fully happy with how the form was filling the space, so in this next step I will show you how to use the Warp tool to push and pull pixels.

1. Select the Warp tool (Edit/Transform/ Warp). This creates a grid over the image that allows you to pull it in any direction.

2. For my figure, I clicked inside the image and pulled it out to the right.

3. I then clicked inside the image again and pulled it to the left.

4. When I was happy with my new shape, I pressed the Return key.


In this next step, we’ll be adding organic plant shapes to balance the negative space, and then adding brighter colors to give the woman a tribal feel.

1. Create a new layer (Layer/New/Layer…) and name it “Plants.”

2. Select the Freehand Lasso tool again and draw organic plant shapes.

3. Click on the Foreground color to bring up the Color Picker; I chose a blue color. Press Alt/Option + Backspace to fill the plant shapes with your chosen color.

4. Create a new layer (Layer/New/Layer…) and name it “Green Girl.”

5. Make a rough selection around the figure’s body.

6. Click on the Foreground color to bring up the Color Picker. I chose a turquoise color, then pressed Alt/Option + Backspace to fill the selection area.

7. Next, create a clipping Mask so that the turquoise will only show through the girl (Layer/Create Clipping Mask).

8. Repeat steps 3–8 for the plants, this time using yellow.

9. Draw in a small red dot on the figure’s forehead using the Pencil tool.

10. Select the Plants layer and click on Preserve Transparency at the top of the Layers panel. Select a bright yellow color and fill the plants with it by pressing Alt/ Option + Backspace.

11. Select the Background layer and fill it with blue.


Matisse said, “If I put a black dot on a sheet of white paper, the dot will be visible no matter how far away I hold it: it is a clear notation. But beside this dot I place another one, and then a third, and already there is confusion. In order for the first dot to maintain its value I must enlarge it as I put other marks on the paper.” When deciding to keep or remove elements, always ask this question: what role does this addition serve? Matisse felt that any element that did not play a role damaged the composition.


You could stop at this point, but we’ll go a step further and make our colors resemble the washes of gouache used by Matisse when he designed his illustrations for Jazz.

1. Create a new layer (Layer/New Layer…) at the top of the layer stack and name this layer “Gouache.”

2. Click on the Foreground color to bring up the Color Picker. From the Color Picker, choose a dark blue.

3. Click on the Brush Preset Picker and choose the Chalk 44 Pixels brush.

4. Open the Brush Panel and change the Size to around 175px and Spacing to roughly 40%.

5. Check the Shape Dynamics button at the left of the Brush panel and set the Size Jitter to 100%.

6. Then, check the Scattering option and set Scatter to 393%, Count to 1, and Count Jitter to 1%.

7. Check the Texture option and click on the small right arrow next to the texture preview window. From the drop-down menu choose Gray Scale Paper to load a range of paper surface textures. Click on the small gear tool next to the texture preview window again and choose the newly loaded Kraft Waffle paper from that set. Change the Scale to 87%, then check Texture Each Tip and set the Depth Jitter to 25%.

8. Begin painting on the Gouache layer using straight up and down strokes. You will need to vary the Size and Opacity of your brush to get less repetitive brush strokes

9. In the Layers palette, reduce the overall Opacity of the Gouache layer to 10%.


Matisse had photographers take pictures of his work at different stages so he could understand how his painting evolved. In Painter you can also record your steps:

1. Open the Scripts menu (Window/ Scripts). The control icons are the same as those used by all media players (stereos, Blu-Ray players, and so on).

2. Press the Record button and begin painting.

3. When you are done painting, press the Stop button.

4. Your recorded script will now appear in Painter’s Scripts panel. Press the Play button to play back your script.


Excerpt from The Digital Renaissance by Carlyn Beccia © 2014 Taylor & Francis Group. All Rights Reserved.

No Comments

No Comments

Tell us what you think!