Confession: I am a complete sucker for what I like to call “scattery bits”. I have a hard time passing them up if they’re included in a kit. Sort of like “glittery bits”. So you can imagine the froth I work myself into when I have “scattery glittery bits”.

In my soul I’m a very carefree spirit and adore when pages have a windswept, unstructured look. It seems as though it would be effortless enough to achieve, and perhaps it is for some people, but when I sit down to create it the obsessive compulsive inside me screams “nooooo, things must be lined up!! LINE IT UP!!” If I’m being completely honest, I consider it “wild and crazy” when I take a composition and rotate it about 5 degrees. Hold me back! What’s next? Dancing on bars?!

In paper scrapping if I wanted to create a random scatter of items I’d probably just take a handful of stuff and throw it at my page, then glue things down wherever they landed. Photoshop could seriously benefit from a “Throw Crap At The Page” Tool. Can you imagine? In my mind’s eye I can picture it. I’d be able to select a couple of items via a file browser, set up a few parameters, and then click a “Throw This Crap At The Page!” button.

Maybe in CS6?

For now, in order to create seemingly effortless scatters I was left with no other option but to devise a completely regimented way to achieve a totally non-regimented look. It forces my inner obsessive compulsive to swallow a few mood tranquilizers and allows my free-spirited hippie soul to dance around with glee.

Note: You can click on any of the screenshots below to open up a larger version.

Step 1: Select a basic round brush and increase the size to about the dimensions of the items you’ll be scattering on your page. I’m going to be scattering little paper flowers, so I chose 250px.

Step 2: Create a new layer on your document for your brushwork, and now we’ll tweak the brush settings in the Brush Palette. You can access your Brush Palette by clicking on the bucket full of brushes over by your layer palette (if enabled), via the toolbar at Window < Brushes or by pressing F5. Copy the following settings as your brush specs:

Set brush Spacing to 300% for our purposes, you can fiddle with this number to make your scatter more dense or sparse.

Shape Dynamics Settings: Move the Size Jitter if you’re going to want to have “bits” of different sizes throughout your scatter. If you want all your elements to stay the same size, leave this at 0%, if you want a lot of variation then move it up higher. The Minimum Diameter setting just sets how low it’ll go, I have my Size Jitter set at 60% because I want a lot of variation, however I don’t want any teeny tiny elements so I bumped the Minimum Size up to 15% to keep them from getting too small.

The Scattering tab controls the settings for how far your circles will stray from where your mouse is. It’s what puts the “random” in this whole system. Make sure the “Both Axes” box is checked (so that it will scatter both above and below the path of your mouse, and also to the left and right) and then tinker with the slider – trial and error – until you get where you want to be. The higher the number, the less Photoshop will follow the actual path of your mouse. If you choose a lower number your “bits” will stick closer to your mouse. Think of it like having an untrained dog on a leash – the longer the leash, the further they’ll stray.

Step 3: Now you can sample a brush stroke on your page. Try clicking and dragging your mouse across the page in a straight line from left to right and see where your dots fall. No two scatters are ever alike, so sometimes I will Undo (CTRL+Z) a few times and try again until I get a scatter that I like.

Step 4: Now I’m ready to drag my elements onto the spaces I’ve mapped out with my scatter brush. Just open and drag them on like you normally would, resizing them to the approximate dimensions of the circles in your Scatter Brush (and rotating them slightly as you go, if you’d like).

Step 5: All that’s left to do is delete (or hide) the layer that has your brush stroke on it, and shadow your elements. (For tips on creating realistic drop shadows, you can visit my Drop Shadows: The Basics post.)

So there you have it! A way to overcome your obsessive compulsive tendencies and create a windswept look on your page. You could adjust the sliders in your brush palette to create an infinite number of scatter variables. I didn’t touch on it here, but if you use a square brush (instead of a round one) you can also mess with the Angle Jitter in the Shape Dynamics tab to distribute your elements at pre-defined angles. You can also create multi layered scatters by distributing one element, using your scatter brush again, then scattering a different element.

It’s no “Throw Crap At A Page” but it’s pretty close!

Now here’s the part where I shamelessly promote myself:

Paper and flowers are from Abide by One Little Bird (that’s me!)

You can visit my Mind-Blowing Drop Shadow Tutorial for my tips and tricks on shadowing in Photoshop.

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