A Behind-the-Brush Look at Kyle T. Webster’s Photoshop Mastery
One of the Photoshop community’s most admirable qualities is its collaborative spirit. Artists helping each other and benefiting from each other’s work is always awesome to see, and is especially perpetuated by Kyle T. Webster.
If you’re an illustrator or digital artist, I’ll bet you’ve either used or heard of Kyle’s custom Photoshop brushes. We caught up with him recently to learn more about his history and process:
Can you tell us about your progression in Photoshop? How did you make the move from painting in Photoshop to creating your own brushes?
I started using Photoshop in 1998 in my senior year of college and was instantly addicted. Immediately following college, I was hired as a web designer and I found as many excuses as possible to create graphics on the job, rather than write code. While at my first job, I started experimenting a little with brush creation as a way to create random patterns for website background elements.
Then, I was hired as a graphic designer in 2002, and it was at this company that I started getting serious about designing my own custom brushes for illustration. We had many clients who needed many different kinds of artwork and I wanted to be able to create 100% of the art in Photoshop, if possible. I was once asked to create folk art painted in acrylics on wood panels. I created custom brushes to do the job in Photoshop instead (because of the very tight deadline and inevitable rounds of revisions) and after the report was successfully printed, the client requested one of the ‘original paintings’ for their corporate office. We had to confess that there were no originals! I knew then that the tools I had created were quite good and had served their purpose.
I continued making better and better tools at the design firm and then at my own company after 2006, when it became a bit of an obsession in my downtime. Finally, in 2013, after numerous requests from associates to borrow my brushes, and when Gumroad had gone live and made it possible for independent creators to sell digital products easily, I launched kylebrush.com. I now have over 150,000 customers around the world.
What is your workflow for creating a Photoshop brush?
Actually, there is no set sequence of moves in place for creating my tools. Most of the time, I will let myself be free to create shapes for hours until I hit upon a few that seem special somehow. These shapes are often made in Photoshop using other brushes I have already built (more than 400 of them now), or will be created with natural media on paper and then scanned. Then, I will make adjustments to a tool through Photoshop’s brush engine and see how many unusual things I can make it do. This can take a few minutes or weeks of tinkering.
After I have an assortment of mostly finished brushes, I will look for common traits, and then group them together, add brushes, and refine this group until it becomes a dedicated set that emulates a certain kind of natural media. If I do not have enough for a full collection, I will add these new tools to my Megapack, which has grown over the years from 90 assorted tools to 170! Before releasing any new brushes, I will send them to a short list of beta testers who I trust to give me excellent feedback.
In addition to crafting brushes, you’re also an incredibly talented illustrator. Do you have a go-to brush that you use in your own work?
Thank you! Well, because of the range of brushes I have made, I find it nearly impossible to stick with any one tool anymore because they are all so fun to play with. So, these days, I find excuses to use a lot of different brushes for different assignments so that I’m never bored.
I bounce around between the watercolors, the dry media, and the gouache sets a lot. I just finished all of the art on my first picture book (Please Say Please! from Scholastic, available August of this year) with my Ultimate Gouache set, in fact, and it was really fun, and quite different from much of my work from years past.
What’s your biggest design pet peeve?
Design by committee. Nothing good ever comes from this and the best ideas always get watered down. A point person should be assigned by the client / customer to handle creative direction for a design project. And careful thought should be given by a client to hiring a designer they can trust to really bring great, on-brand ideas to the project. Hiring a ‘wrist’ to simply execute a committee-approved design usually does not lead to great results.
Your brushes have gained amazing popularity among the digital art community. Who are you most surprised uses your brushes?
I am so thankful for my customers – they write the nicest, most supportive emails and posts online and this drives me to keep going with more innovations with each new set or update. I am most surprised whenever I learn that an artist who is best known for their traditional artwork is now using my brushes as part of their process, or sometimes from start to finish for various projects.
Here is a short list of great artists who have used my brushes in their work: Olly Moss, Robert Neubecker, Sterling Hundley, Paolo Rivera, Christoph Niemann, Celine Loup, Roman Muradov, Steve Mack, Mike Moran, Gerard Dubois, Tommy Lee Edwards, Noah Bradley, Ian McQue, Paul Shipper, Pascal Campion, and Dale Stephanos. Even the musician, Gerard Way, has tinkered with them – I don’t think enough people realize that he is very good at drawing, amongst other obvious talents.
How did you find out your brushes were being used by the pros?
I usually find out about pros using my brushes through the contact form on my kylebrush.com website, through Twitter, or in person at conferences or art award events. It’s a great feeling to get a note, out of the blue, from an artist I really admire, who wants to thank me for creating these brushes. That is tough to beat.
Which of your brushes would you recommend to a novice digital painter?
I always point people to my Megapack first because it provides such a wealth of varied drawing and painting tools at a very low price. It includes a bit of everything: pencils, inks, paints, and some pastels. And, updates to the set are always free for existing owners, so that just makes it even more valuable.
Any career advice you’d give to someone breaking into the world of digital art?
My advice would be exactly the same as the advice I would give to any artist: be patient, be friendly, be objectively good at making the kind of art you wish to make and then approach the appropriate audience for this work with a combination of confidence and humility.
Be an active member of the art community and meet people who do what you do; social media is great, but real human contact is second to none, so attend conferences and conventions and get to really know your clients and fellow artists.