Tiny Tutorial #2: Basic Bead Brush in Photoshop

An image reading "Basic Bead Brush! A Tiny Tutorial from Liana's Paper Dolls, http://lianaspaperdolls.com. There is an image of a stylized sun with wavy rays radiating from the center, which looks like it's been done in small golden beads.Today’s Tiny Tutorial is very tiny indeed, but it’s a very useful technique in my bag of paperdolling tricks, and I wanted to put it up so I can refer to it in future tutorials. Now, I hesitate to do Photoshop tutorials because I’m hardly an expert myself, plus I work with Photoshop CS2, which is nearly a decade old, and I can’t promise that what I do is the best way to do things — or even accurate — for newer versions. Still, if someone can make good use of my techniques or the tutorial sparks someone’s imagination and that person improves on my techniques, then I believe it’s worthwhile.

Three examples of this bead technique: a beaded golden necklace, an edging of silver beads and a garland of pearls.One thing you’ll see me do in several of the new series are small lines of pearls or beads. These are done with a special brush and layer styles in Photoshop; once you have those two things created, Photoshop does all the work of making as many garlands of beads or sequins or rhinestones as you need. (A welcome development after drawing thousands of little circles to serve as pearls.)

An example of the circle brush next to a straight black line with curved ends.First, let’s make the brush. Start with an 20 pixel wide circle brush, 100% hardness, opacity and flow. A single brushstroke looks like a circle, and a line from that brush is going to look straight, thick and well-defined. (Holding Shift while drawing makes the line straight.)

The Photoshop CS2 brush settings window, with the spacing field highlighted.In effect, when I draw the line I’m drawing tons of little circles overlapping each other so that it looks like a solid line. What I want is to move those circles apart so that they don’t overlap, which will make it look like beads. So let’s look at the brush settings window. See the “spacing” setting? Right now, it’s at 25%, and that makes them spaced close enough together to look like a solid line. So all we have to do is…


The Brush settings screen with the spacing increased, creating a dotted line.Increase the spacing. At 105%, each individual brushstroke is far enough apart from the next one that there’s a little space between it.


The circle brush, spaced far enough apart to create a dotted line.There we have it, a dotted line. Save your brush if you like, to save yourself the trouble of having to do it again.

Now, let’s take a quick look at layer styles. Layer styles allow you to change how everything in a layer looks without making any permanent changes, so that you can easily change colors, add shadows and do other things to the underlying image. Layer styles are their own delightful world, and I’m just going to show off one small part of what you can do with them in this tutorial, with future Tiny Tutorials dedicated to how I use them to create the illusion of pearls, rhinestones, beads and so on. Double-click on the layer to open up the layer styles window.

A brownish-golden dotted line.First, let’s change the color with color overlay. I’m going to make this row of beads look golden, so I’m going to start with a warm golden brown base (#d28a00).

A dotted line with a Photoshop layer style effect that makes the beads look golden.To give the beads shape, I generally play around with bevel and emboss, inner shadow, inner glow and drop shadow until I come up with an effect I like. For this example, I’ve just used these settings to give it a simple gold bead look.

A nondescript brown line of beads.When using this, you’ll want to keep in mind how big you want the beads to be, because the layer style changes drastically with the size of the brush. Using that same layer style with a 5 pixel wide brush only gives me a muddy brown line.

A line of small golden beads.I have to adjust the layer style to get anything resembling beads when the brush is so small. You’ll also note that the beads in the 5 pixel wide brush line look like they’re closer together than the beads in the 20 pixel wide brush line; if you’re as picky as I am you may want to adjust the spacing every time you have a new shape.

Three strands of small gold beads winding around each other.With your brush created and your layer style made, all you have to do is draw your beads the way you want them. You can draw freehand, and I tend to use paths or shapes for this, to keep the lines nice and smooth or to be able to accurately go over the same area multiple times with different brushes; paths are well beyond the scope of this tutorial, however! (I used one of the default Photoshop shapes, set as a path, to create the sun symbol at the top of this post.)

In future Tiny Tutorials, I’ll build on this technique and show you the exact layer styles I use for sequins, metallic beads, rhinestones and pearls.


Lavender-Tailed Mermaid with White and Gold Top and Starfish Brooch

A bluish-lavender mermaid tail with lighter, warmer fins along the top, sides and base of the tail. The top is a one-shoulder Greek inspired white top that shows the midriff and is bordered with gold scroll patterns. At the shoulder is a golden starfish brooch with an opal in the middle, and there are strands of pearls looped over the shoulder and upper arm.Here’s my first digitally colored mermaid tail! I’m not entirely satisfied with it, because without a little scale pattern I think it looks too flat, but I’m only just getting started with digital coloring so for today it will work.

I’ve had mermaids on the brain, because I read a book called Story: Style, Structure, Substance, and the Principles of Screenwriting by Robert McKee, which was all about how to construct a compelling, well-paced and satisfying story. It’s aimed at screenwriters, but it dealt with universal principles, so I got a lot out of it even though I’m not planning on writing a movie anytime soon. It’s a great book, but also pretty dense and something like 400 pages long, so I’ll also recommend Hilari Bell’s writing tips, which present much of the same information in a way that may be more understandable.

I always enjoyed writing my mini-stories about my mermaid world for this site, and I’ve often thought of making it into an actual story. I have a rather large amount of information already written about aspects of mermaid society, actually. Where I trip up is my lack of understanding about oceanography, general scientific principles and experience underwater, which has a direct bearing on a story set somewhere besides dry land. What does it feel like to hear things underwater, and what sounds are easiest to hear underwater? What might materials mermaids could possibly use to build cities look like after years spent in the sea? How far down can mermaids dive before they start to have problems with the pressure? Can they breathe underwater, like fish, or do they have to come up for air, like dolphins? If I want the geography to look a certain way, how did that come about? If you can’t store paper books underwater or too close to water, is there a good way of distributing and storing reading material?

For many of these questions, I don’t even know where to start looking because I have only a vague recollection of my science classes. I suppose if it’s my fantasy world I can answer all these things however I like, or simply not care, but to me it’s more fun if the world is plausible and the fantastic elements are placed elsewhere. I love worldbuilding, especially stuff like this geological history of A Game of Thrones where the setting is taken quite seriously. Still, it slows me down because I’m imagining a lot of things from scratch and learning a lot of things for the first time. If I actually want to write something, I’d probably do better with a setting that is easier to nail down, but I keep returning to my mermaids. And I do like it when I have the time to learn new things that I can apply to the world – I keep reading books about science or marine animals and coming up with mermaid world applications for little details.

In any case, it looks like an elf dress won my poll, with 51% of the vote, so I will sketch some out and be back next week with a black and white dress and a new contest, plus a 1930s outfit. Until then, follow me on Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest for site updates, previews and mermaid jewelry. If you enjoy my work, I’d also appreciate your support through Patreon.


1912 Egyptian Revival Gown with Scarab Belt and Pith Helmet

A 1912-style gown. The underdress is a sandy golden yellow color, with an Egyptian geometrical pattern on the fabric. It has a shallow scoop neck, short sleeves and a long, tube-shaped skirt that falls to the floor. It is gathered slightly above the waist with a wide gold sash, decorated at the front with a large brooch depicting a jeweled blue scarab holding an orange sun and adorned on both sides with a multi-colored wing pattern. At the bodice and at the hem are an Egyptian fan pattern done in small rhinestones. Over this is an overdress made of white lace patterned with Egyptian geometrical patterns and lotuses. The overdress is like a shawl over the bodice, opening at the front to show the fan pattern at the neckline, and going under the belt. It covers most of the underskirt, and opens in the front to show the fan pattern and the drape of the underskirt. There is a pith helmet to go with it, which is about the same color as the dress, but slightly darker and with a more utilitarian texture. Around the crown of the hat is a line of rhinestones.So, this one requires an explanation. A 1912 gown won my poll handily, and then I did a contest to determine who would direct its coloring and patterning. 13 people entered, including my husband Brian, who posted the first comment. Brian is a big Animal Crossing fan, and one of the things you can do in that game is catch different kinds of bugs. He caught a wharf roach, which he warns me, and I will pass the warning on to you, not to google it unless you like really ugly looking bugs. Then one of the animals who lives in his village said “So I’m thinkin’ of basing a design on a wharf roach.” This tickled his fancy, and he produced this image. He also gleefully informed me that, should he win, he wanted a wharf roach themed dress.

I chose the winner by random number using random.org. I just made a list of everyone in the order they’d posted, assigned them a number and hit the button. Brian was #1, and as I hit the button, I thought “Not 1, not 1, not 1.”

He was kind to me, though. He didn’t actually order me to make wharf-roach themed lace. Instead, what he said he wanted was an Egyptian-themed dress with a scarab beetle on it. I was actually happy about this, because as it happened, I had seen some lovely Egyptian Revival 1912 gowns when drawing the sketch for this one. He left it mostly up to me, but said that he wanted it to be a sand color, and he specifically wanted a pith helmet. In his imagination, this dress belongs to the least practical Egyptologist in the world. She’s spending her inheritance looking for lost tombs. That’s right — she got her money from her mummy! (Blame Brian for that one.)

Now that this contest is over, let’s move on to the next one!

Next week, you can look forward to a mermaid tail! Until then, follow me on Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest for site updates, previews and thoughts on what I’m doing lately. If you enjoy my work, I’d also appreciate your support through Patreon.


Recolored Regency Gown in Bright Colors

A lavender regency gown trimmed with white lace at the neck and sleeves. The sleeves are gently puffed and the bodice is ruched, trimmed on the right side with red roses and blue forget-me-nots. Under the bust is a pink ribbon sash decorated with a scroll pattern. The dress fabric is decorated with small embroidered white flowers, then at the edge of the skirt are pink swags, trimmed with lace, with pink hearts, red roses and blue forget-me-nots at the top of each swag. Intricate white embroidery surrounds the flowers. Under the swags are pleated turquoise frills that fan out to the ground and are trimmed with white lace. Long white gloves are attached to the outfit, and there is a pink wrap over the arms that is decorated with a shiny gold paisley pattern. At the neck is a thin gold chain and a pearl pendant.I didn’t finish the dress I meant to have up today (the contest winner), so for now, I will present the recoloring chosen by one of the two winners of my Oscar contest, dannyscotland! Technically, it was chosen by her 5-year old daughter, and it did turn out to be vibrant. She wrote:

I have consulted with my ‘assistant’ a.k.a. daughter, and she would like to have you color the Valentine’s Day Regency Gown. For five years old, she’s pretty specific, so please feel free to alter as you see fit. :-) And thanks for understanding. She (and I, I guess) would love to see turquoise gloves and bottom ruffle, a pink shawl, lavender dress (the body of the dress), red roses, and pink draping over the bottom ruffle, kind of like it is now. Maybe it could be a different shade of pink?

Dannyscotland, I hope you and your daughter like it! It was fun for me, because the finished dress is quite different from the original, but it does some fun things in and of itself. The blue of the ruffle actually complements the forget-me-nots, and with the lavender background, you can see that there is a very subtle swirl pattern on the fabric, which was pretty hard to see on the earlier version.

The top part of a blue gown with a delicate darker blue vine and white flower pattern and puffed sleeves. There are a line of pearls at the neckline and a wide gold belt with pearls.But wait – that’s not all there is today! RLC of Paper Thin Personas has been doing interviews with paper doll bloggers lately, and for this month, she interviewed me! Check out the interview for my thoughts on why I love paper dolls, how I created the pose for the new doll series and whether I prefer sparkly things with some shine or shiny things with some sparkle. Plus, I did a blue princess gown exclusively for RLC’s site! If you’d like to see and download the full dress, you’ll have to check out the interview.

Come back next week for the 1912 gown with colors and patterns chosen by my husband! (I’ll give you a hint: Beetles.) I’ll do the poll next week, too. Follow me on Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest for site updates, paperdoll thoughts and very pretty opals. If you enjoy my work, I’d also appreciate your support through Patreon.