Turning a photo of old clay tile into textured Photoshop brush for grunge designs

There were lots of vine-like trees and branches to choose from. I loved this one, which I shot using flash on a dark and seriously-rainy, cold day.

At the end of 2013, I spent more than a month pet- and house-sitting for a family who lives a bit outside of town on a roomy stretch of property. Among the fun memories from this stay were the jaunts their sweet dog and I often took around the property. I shot hundreds of photos during those weeks. Pictures of rocks and tree stumps and aging fence posts, vines with water droplets falling from the low-hanging twigs, discarded boards: **little missed my lens. The visual candy was endless and I never seemed to get enough snippets of new perspective.

Among the goodies I photographed were some old tiles stacked to the side of the house to be reused in a remodeling project. These reclaimed tiles thrilled me. I shot many photos of unique tiles in those piles, knowing that one day I would use some of these for creating Photoshop brushes to then be used in my design work. (Read on if you're interested in what this means; some will be bored, others riveted. Ahem. Nominally interested.) I tried different light, flash vs natural light, morning, midday, evening. Rainy days, too. One day I had to dust off snow and another day I had to wait for the ice to melt before I could capture the surface with my lens. You might say I developed a bit of commitment to shooting those tiles.

Close up of a wet, clay tile waiting to be reused in remodeling project.

Today as I worked on a design project, I remembered these shots and wondered what I might be able to incorporate into my grungy work. Babies, we're gonna' declare this a success. The photo I chose for the example here was shot after one of the many rainy days. The wet surface added to the visual interest in the photo, though the Photoshop brush illustrated in the shot below mostly focuses on the scratches and marks that accented one area of the tile. Can you see which part I used?

One of the Photoshop brushes I made using the tile photo.

My artist clients frequently hear me say that "blogging the process" is a useful practice for adding value to their websites. I tell them that there are some people who will find their artistic "back-stories" highly interesting. I encourage these painters and mixed-media artists to consider taking photos of their in-process paintings and collages and to post them online. I tell them that some of their friends, colleagues, and yes - potential customers - will find these stories interesting. Emphasis on the word "some" since we all know users of the internet are like snowflakes and we can't paint all online searchers with the same brush, so to speak.

Today I realized I should take my own advice and share my own back-story.

Today's project that has captured the bulk of my attention needed some more messy, scratchy, grungy textures. For those who don't work in Photoshop, a tiny explanation. Many of these composite images are created by combining scores - sometimes hundreds - of layers of images that are then joined into a final image. If I love it - and finish it - others will eventually get to see it, too. But not until an insane amount of time is spent compiling those layers and customizing them until they thrill me. One of the tools in the designer's toolbox - the Photoshop "brush" - is something akin to a digital stamp. You know those ink-pads used with rubber stamp sets that have patterns and designs on them? Yea. It's like that. Only in a digital format. Designers buy these from other designers and download freebies and collect massive quantities of these brushes. And many times we make our own, too. Today I've been making my own. This wasn't in the plan when I started work today, but it's definitely a familiar part of my process. Because sometimes it doesn't matter how many grunge options I may have on hand. I always seem to want more! NEED more!

Thumbnails of some of the other shots of the old tiles waiting for my attention. Because there will be many, many more brushes to come, using this set.

Friends and family members are familiar with my habit of carrying a camera with me everywhere I go. Of course having an iPhone makes it easier to leave the Nikon at home, but one way or another, most excursions in my life are going to have some facet documented. Some of the more fun ones are often difficult to explain, when asked to try. I'm often asked to try. So now I've shared a snippet. Here's one of the many ways seemingly-random shots can be used in other work.

Eventually I will open an online digital shop and sell some of these textures and brushes. I will also offer free downloads of some featured samples. All this is in the works. But it requires an outrageous amount of time to pull all the varied parts together, so that work is handled in the fringes of my other work.

Although I didn't wake up planning to design Photoshop brushes today, the organic process I've employed today told me that the direction I was heading in will be best served if I added to my collection of grungy textures. Good thing I have thousands of photos to choose from!


Interested in learning how to make your own Photoshop brushes? There are many resources available to those wanting to expand their design work to include this skill. I was pleased to discover this free tutorial by Obsidian Dawn's Stephanie Shimerdla. In my earlier design days, I purchased a number of brush sets from Stephanie and always found her to be highly professional and gracious. I very much like connecting people with others I've enjoyed working with, and hope that if you visit her site, you, too, will find your experience to be beneficial.


**I say that "little missed my lens" and this warrants a bit of clarity. When I take care of people's homes, I don't photograph their living spaces. These are not my visuals to share. I am deeply committed to the privacy of those who entrust their property to my care. Therefore the only photos you'll ever see me sharing will have very close-up snippets of non-identifying vignettes I have their blessings to share, (including the occasional piece of lovely yard-art, of course,) or, much more common, a simple detail from a tree stump's natural pattern or other nominally-interesting-to-strangers texture-rich slice-of-life that thrills me.