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My favorite Photoshop instructor of all time, Bert Monroy, took people on a search for impossible worlds at AdobeMAX.

AdobeMAX: Creating Impossible Worlds with Photoshop

Photoshop Bert Monroy
Photoshop instructor Bert Monroy, took people on a search for impossible worlds at AdobeMAX

My favorite Photoshop instructor of all time, Bert Monroy, took people on a search for impossible worlds at AdobeMAX, at the Los Angeles Convention Center, October 5-7. AdobeMAX brings together users of Adobe software, such as Photoshop, InDesign, Premiere Pro, and Acrobat, with engineers, developers and other people from Adobe’s creative and corporate teams.

Monroy, who started out using traditional illustration tools, has had a long career as an artist and designer. He first encountered computers in 1984 and used the first version of Photoshop (called “Display” and later Photoshop 0.45). Soon afterwards, he wrote the first book on Photoshop.

Monroy Photoshop
Monroy’s digital painting of Times Square in New York. It is 5 feet high by twenty-five feet long, and takes up 6.52 gigabytes of storage
You may have seen Monroy on Tech TV where he was a regular for three years. Until 2010 he hosted Pixel Perfect with Bert Monroy, a weekly Photoshop podcast for He currently teaches on

It is fascinating and amusing to watch Monroy work. Not only does he have a great dry sense of humor, but the reactions he evokes from his audiences are entertaining. Even people who have used Photoshop for years can be seen literally gasping and muttering “OMG” at the tricks Monroy shows them.

That was the case when he demonstrated the flame and tree features in Photoshop, which allow you to use the program’s brushes to add trees and fire, extremely difficult and time-consuming any other way.

His most famous work is his digital painting of Times Square in New York, five feet high by 25 feet long and taking up 6.52 gigabytes of storage. The level of detail is staggering, down to reflections in eyeglasses. This allows him to hide “Easter eggs” in his work, such as famous faces included in the crowds. It took him four years to complete the Times Square project and he said that his next project would be even more detailed.

During the “Creating Impossible Worlds” class, Monroy showed students how to create two illustrations: Haunted House and The Magic Orb.

For Haunted House, he started with a daytime photo of a non-scary house in his neighborhood. He used Photoshop to remove distracting elements such as wires and to “damage” the house by removing roof tiles and breaking banisters. A moon to shine over the house came from a NASA photo. A ghost to appear in a window was shot with an inexpensive camera. Finally, he used the Render Tree feature (found under the menu: FILTER | RENDER) to surround the house with spooky trees.

haunted Photoshop
‘The Haunted House’ is based on a photo of a nice non-haunted house in the East Bay
For The Magic Orb illustration, he again started with a series of unrelated items: a video of a beach, a photo of a rock formation from the U.S. Southwest, a vacation picture of clouds in Europe, some pictures of boats, and the head of a gargoyle from a building in Europe. He combined these and then used a custom brush, made from a picture of a bat taken off the web, to create a cloud of bats surrounding the orb. Finally, he showed how he could take a photo of his own hands with an iPhone, “ogre-fy” them, and incorporate them into The Magic Orb work.

The Orb Photoshop
‘The Orb’ was created by combining photos from around the world

Monroy encouraged the students: “If you can imagine it, you can create it.” He is one of the few instructors I have ever seen to have his classes interrupted by applause. Still, he discounts his technical skill. “I’m primarily a painter,” he said during the class. “Adobe Illustrator is my pencil and Photoshop is my paint.”

Some pencil. Some paint. You can find out more about Bert Monroy and his classes at his website. A Pixel Perfect episode from 2008 is shown below.

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About Leo Sopicki

Writer, photographer, graphic artist and technologist. I focus my creative efforts on celebrating the American virtues of self-reliance, individual initiative, volunteerism, tolerance and a healthy suspicion of power and authority.

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