Using stock images to recreate painted textures and lighting in the style of Vermeer and Rembrandt; a guide by renowned Photoshop Artist Scott Valentine

As digital artists, we are sometimes called on to simulate traditional media. This isn’t always straightforward, requiring not only skills with pixel-pushing monster applications like Adobe Photoshop, but also an eye for detail and an ability to break down visual elements in a variety of ways. You can find more of examples from this project here.

For the ADIM 15 Conference in California, I put together a series of portraits to demonstrate one way of recreating the style and aged look of some classical paintings. In particular, I used works from Vermeer and Rembrandt as a model for a finished product. Heading over to Google’s Cultural Institute Art Project, I waded through dozens of paintings and read up on the materials used. There is a surprising variety of textures resulting from the combination of substrate, media, and age.

In the end, I am working towards adding a mystery made up of years and centuries, illustrating the gap in time between when an artist created a piece of work and when we might enjoy it in a museum. I love the potential of the untold story: how the painting was treated, in whose halls might it have hung? What events was it witness to?

The first thing to choose was the substrate – the material on which paints are applied. I went with a large natural linen canvas . The neutral color and even lighting allowed me to crop or duplicate the texture to match the size of the fibers with the level of detail I wanted to portray.

Light natural linen texture background


Next, I chose a handful of cracked painted textures to use for the aging effect. In my research I found that the way cracks are formed varies depending on the type of substrate, the composition of the paints, and several other factors such as heat over time and thickness of paint. The specific effect I wanted was that of nut-based oil paints, which can crack along paint boundaries and exhibit what is called ‘crazing’ in larger, flat areas. Using several stock images (#62315656, #59224563, #24505498), I was able to sample from a range of areas to get exactly the kind of cracking needed to simulate the ravages of time in dusty attics and halls.

Finally, I needed a subject with the right light and overall look – soft, single light, minimal details, and a subtle expression. The process I use allows me quite a bit of freedom in changing lighting, but all the core elements have to be there. This lovely lady fits the bill quite nicely.

Beauty in medieval dressWith all the pieces in place, I set up my canvas and began a technique known as ‘Clone Stamp Painting’. Basically, I use Photoshop’s Clone Stamp tool to take bits and pieces from other open images then paint into a target document. The real effort in this approach is building up slowly and taking things in stages, which sometimes takes more patience than I think I have!

Part of my research involved learning how paintings of this kind are made, and I developed a series of steps to help me follow a similar path. I start with preparing the canvas by painting or laying down a gradient using blending modes to allow the texture to come through. Next comes preparation of the source material. Since paintings are generally started with broad areas of color to define the subject, I create a series of blurred versions of the subject. The textures are sometimes desaturated or otherwise treated to some processing that allows them to be used without contributing color to the final image.

My main tool during this process is the Clone Stamp with a Bristle Brush and a Wacom Intuos Pro tablet. Depending on the style of painting, I generally use a large brush with low flow setting. The bristles allow me to have some expression, but also help develop a third texture component – the brush strokes. This is an important element to sell the idea of a traditional painting. The rest is a careful selection of source points and painting on different layers to keep things organized.

It’s important to pay attention to the texture and the representation of the subject as you go. Too much of the original photo obscures the canvas; too much detail belies the painted aspect; too much cracking looks obvious and unrealistic. Working with a low-flow digital brush and taking advantage of layers, blending modes, and the ability to adjust details in isolation all let this process grow over time.


One of the main reasons I like working with this technique is that it feels more organic. Similar approaches usually involve masking and working in a single document. But by having multiple sources open and working additively by painting enables more expression, more subtlety. I don’t have to pay attention to revealing masks and clipping layers together. Instead, I simply dip into the open images like a palette of paints. After all, your tools should not get in the way of your art.

A big thank you to Scott for this fantastic guide! To discover more from Scott head to his website, Twitter and Facebook page. Stay tuned for more from Scott and let us know what you think of his guide by commenting below!