Artistic Rendering – James Allan

Can I turn my photograph into a painting?  I think the answer is not a yes or a no, it is an “almost”.   The programs that I will discus here will distort and render a photographic image to resemble a painting.  You have a degree of freedom to control the process, but at the end of the day it is limited by the restraints of the program.  It is amazing however what can be achieved with digital processing.  I must warn however that this is not everybody’s cup of tea.

I remember several years ago we had a competition in which we had to emulate the style of a famous painter.  Matt Carr used a DAP filter to turn a photograph of some water lilles into what looked like a Monet painting.  He got 10 points from the judge, but when it came to putting the image into the calendar, Matt could not accept that it was  photography.  “It’s digital art” and “I’d rather have a real photograph in the calendar”.

Personally I am not quite so dismissive.  The beginning point for this type of imagery is always photography.  You don’t usually get a good result from bad photographs.  As in all photography the image is successful when it creates impact with the viewer.  I don’t get so perturbed about the methodology that leads you to that point.


The first program I used was a plugin for photoshop by Redfield called Fractalius.  This program is quite heavy on memory and very slow to run.  It analyses the image, creating a simplified form with white (or black) lines enhancing the edges and resultant fractals.  I find the images intriguing with the fractals  bristling from the objects like static electricity.  I prefer the white lines to the black. At the end of the day this program is quite limited in what it has to offer, and you can quickly tire of the fractalius look. Nevertheless it is an interesting effect and worth a mention.

Red Horse - Fractalis 1

Tomatoes Fractual.jpg

Shrimp - fractalis

Can you tell what this is?  In the original picture Tom held a prawn in his outstretched hand.

Digital Auto-painter

DAP for short is a program produced by Mediachance.  This program literally paints a picture in front of your eyes.  It uses brush strokes lifted from famous paintings, along with the palette of colours used by that artist.  The paint strokes start broad, painting a broad swathe, then reduce down to finer strokes for detail.  There is a broad selection of different artists or styles to choose from, and users can add their own styles.  On many of the styles a refining process will adjust the detailed parts of the image closer to the original photograph.  You may be asked to select where you want the detail to lie.  Eventually the painting comes to a pre arranged end point after a set number of brush strokes.  There are heaps of options to adjust the settings, even direct where the program is going to apply it’s next strokes.  Perhaps the key step is to stop the process before it goes too far and you lose the  effect.

Here are some examples of what’s possible;

Aquarell gives a gorgeous watercolour effect, along with borders that resemble the masking tape used to hold the paper on the board.

Pears and border_DAP_Aquarell

I love the starry night style that is modeled on Van Goghs iconic painting.  It works well with brighton jetty at dusk.

Jetty 3_DAP_Starry

Of course no collection of Van Gogh paintings would be complete without including his lesser known “Combine Harvester”.

Harvester 3_DAP_Starry

One style replicates roughly drawn pencil or felt tipped markers.  It is a wonderful style to watch, giving inspiration to using pencils more expressively.

Hopper ant_DAP_Pencil

Abstract expressionism gives a very broad swathe where you would hardly recognize your picture.  However another style,  portraitist allows you to select out a few features in which to preserve detail, creating very expressive results.  In the example below I protected the eyes nose and mouth, the jaw line and hair line and the fingers on the mug.  Personally this is one of my favourite styles.  Other styles like Sargent and Klimt use the selective detail features to good effect.  It takes a while to get the knack of selecting not too much, just adequate detail to allow the style to be most effective.

Tom's Coffee_DAP_Portraitist

Of course there is a brush that is made entirely of different pieces of fruit.

James Vegetables 2

David Douglas Martin has written an article on this program previously in Camera Clips.

Deep Dream Generator

This program is run by Google and is very heavy on memory.  It is based on an algorithm devised by Alexander Mordvintsev using a convolutional neural network.  Essentially  an image is redrawn in the style of a second image.  The first image gives the form and the second image is creating the style.  Perhaps it is similar to DAP in its functioning, but in comparison this is very slick and intuitive.  Fortunately the hard work is done on the Google server.  You submit your image onto the webpage and then download your result some 5-10 minutes later when it is complete.  You can even do it on your phone, with the relavent ap.  The results do not have the brush strokes or canvas textures that you get with DAP.  They are true fusions of the two different images.

I generally have more luck using the given styles, or using popular styles from other users than when I select my own style.  They do not all work out.  A lot of the successful source images are fractal images.  However it can be a lot of fun exploring different styles.  I love using the paintings from the various art galleries, but have also had fun with quilts and tea towels and even text.  Have a look at some of the results below.


The two images that were used to make this image are included below.


The zebra was blended with an image of coloured glass


Sam was blended with a mosaic


The train wheels with a fractal image in blues and greens


The PS Oscar was merged with a black and white woodcut.


The train was merged with an abstract painting from the art gallery of NSW.

Well I will finish there.  Follow the links to the respective programs and give them a go.  I would be interested in your feedback.  Are you offended or fascinated by these photographic manipulations? Whether you like it or not, the technology exists and these images will be made.  Are they Good? I will leave that to your judgement.