Holiday present: A.M. Cassandre Photoshop Airbrush Tutorial

A reader wrote to me today to find out more about how the airbrush effects were achieved in the Gallatin “Listening to Wine” poster design. The design had been based on the feel of many wonderful posters by Adolphe Mouron Cassandre, whose dramatic shading effects defined an era of 20th century advertising posters. As a holiday present to all who may stumble upon this post, here’s a quick and dirty tutorial to help you experiment with the stippled airbrush texture effect made possible by Photoshop’s dissolve blending mode:

  1. Start with a new Photoshop document, with a blank white layer as the background.
  2. Create a new transparent layer on which you will use your “airbrush.” (It’s a best practice to create layers instead of destructively airbrushing directly on the background.)
  3. On the new, transparent layer, create a circular selection using the Elliptical Marquee tool.
  4. On the Layers palette, click the “Add layer mask” button (looks like a shaded rectangle with a white circle inside). This will create a layer mask from your circular selection, allowing you to work on the layer without having to worry about losing the original selection shape.
  5. Click on the Layer 1 thumbnail to make sure that the layer itself is selected and not the layer mask. It’s sometimes difficult to tell which is currently “active.”
  6. Select the Brush tool from the tool bar (or press “B” on your keyboard).
  7. From the Brush palette, select a brush that is soft, round, and large. The exact size will depend on the application, but you can use the [ and ] keys on your keyboard to scale the brush up or down while you’re using it.
  8. Also from the Brush palette, use the Mode drop-down menu to change the brush’s blending mode to Dissolve.
  9. Make sure that the Foreground Color is set to something other than white (black is a great color to practice with), and then click and drag your brush tool across the canvas. You should see a speckled effect on the feathered edges of the brush. If you were using the “Normal” blending mode instead of dissolve, the feathered edges would be soft and clean and would lack the texture that “Dissolve” offers.
  10. You can vary the effect by changing the brush size and also by altering the Brush palette’s Opacity or Flow settings. Experiment in order to find the effect that works best for your application.
  11. Use additional layers and layer masks just as you would use vellum and stencils in the real world. Layer mask “stencils” help to define the boundaries of the shading effect, but the brush itself defines the look. Another advantage to using layer masks, rather than simple selections, is that the “overspray” is accessible if the mask needs to be moved at any point in the future. It’s like having a stencil that can travel through time!

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  1. A Link to the Past | three steps ahead — perspectives - February 14, 2010

    […] basic concept was designed and approved, my brother Devin Korwin helped out with some last-minute Cassandresque shading, just as he had for the “Listening to Wine” […]

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