To say that photographer Richard Ramsey is highly regarded in his native Tennessee is almost an understatement. Ramsey has been awarded Tennessee Professional Photographer of the Year twelve times! Part of the reason for his success is his ability to transform his photographs into striking, artistic digital paintings. Odwin Rensen, a portrait artist from The Netherlands (profiled here), learned some of his technique from tutorials Ramsey has issued on DVD. As a digital portrait artist, I work with professional photographers who choose to outsource their Painter work. I was very impressed with Ramsey’s work. Since he has been using Painter and Photoshop successfully with his clients, I thought it would be worthwhile exploring his technique, so I ordered one of his DVDs, titled “Painterly Faces.” Not only is Richard Ramsey a fine digital painter, he’s also a good teacher. His DVD was a pleasure to watch. Here’s a brief review of “Painterly Faces.” (By the way, this is an unbiased, unsolicited review. I get no commissions on sales of Mr. Ramsey’s DVDs.)
Before we get started, you may want to browse through a gallery of Ramsey’s work. He has posted quite a few paintings on the Corel Painter Magazine website’s member gallery, here. This is a good way to see if you find an affinity for his style and approach. If you don’t like his work, then you probably won’t find his DVDs helpful.
The focus of “Painterly Faces” is just that: how to turn a portrait photo into a painting. As Ramsey says, most photographers and digital artists balk at painting the face. They have no trouble with backgrounds and clothing. But hair and faces are the stumbling block. This DVD aims to help you get over that hump, and it succeeds admirably. Ramsey uses a portrait of senior boy for this tutorial. I find that men (and older boys) are easier to do a “loose” painting of: rough brushwork tends to look good on men, but not so good on women. I would have liked to see how Ramsey manages to get a painterly look while maintaining a smooth, feminine look.
Ramsey begins by using the LucisArt plugin, which he acknowledges has become prohibitively expensive in recent years. (This is why I haven’t reviewed it here on Digital Image Magazine. I can’t recommend any Photoshop plugin that costs $600. That’s pretty much what Photoshop itself costs.) With that in mind, Ramsey recommends the much more reasonably priced Topaz Adjust, which basically does the same thing as LucisArt, for only $50. Ramsey uses this filter to bring out details and grain, which helps during the painting stages to come. (A free alternative is the “Draganizer Action” available here.)
I won’t give away all the details of Ramsey’s technique, for obvious reasons. I will give a high-level overview, though. After running the filter, Ramsey opens the image in Painter X. He paints with the Captured Bristles Acrylics variant, using it at 90% opacity. This really moves things around, leaving lots of visible brushwork. With Painter X, the Photo Burn tool has made its way to the toolbox, and Ramsey uses it to add drama and contrast. He also uses another Photo variant, Saturation Add, to boost color strategically. He then brings out the Sponge brush and Tiny Spattery Airbrush to add painterly texture. This was really neat to watch.
Ramsey uses the Captured Bristle on the hair, and then adds back in some detail using the Real Bristle Real Round, which I have never tried. It’s a clever approach, and one I’ll be using in the future, I’m sure. He also shows how to paint the eye, which can be tough for some of us. One of the best things about this DVD is that, if you follow the instructions and copy it first to your hard drive, you’ll find the QuickTime movie is sharp and clear, with no stuttering or hesitation. You can clearly see the cursor painting. The benefit here is that you really get to see just how fast Ramsey’s brush is moving. His strokes are quick and assured. Ramsey mentions how important it is to not worry over the details. Break up the edges, use short, fast strokes, and be bold: that’s the key. Though he jokes that watching someone paint is like “watching the grass grow,” it’s a pleasure to watch this pro at work.
Ramsey goes on to show how to paint clothing, and then he gives a great demonstration of how to use a background on a separate layer. This is a technique I use all the time, and I’ve written about it here. You’ll learn how to use Layer Masks in Photoshop to combine objects on different layers. Once you learn it, you’ll find yourself using it all the time.
The DVD comes with a bunch of nice extras. Six backgrounds are included, as are a set of custom Photoshop brushes. The tutorial itself clocks in at 1:15 hours, spread over three .mov files. There are also three bonus movies. These cover how to control color management between Photoshop and Painter, a quick review of the brushes used in the tutorial (this was a nice addition, I thought), and lastly a movie showing how to use the included PSD file containing six backgrounds on layers. Ramsey includes the photograph used in the tutorial, so you can follow along. Altogether, it’s a nice package, and it’s nicely done. Ramsey’s soft Southern accent is clear and easy to listen to. If you’ve got questions for him, he even welcomes you to give him a call.
Ramsey could have titled this DVD “No More Scary Faces,” because after you’ve viewed it, you won’t be afraid of faces anymore. Highly recommended. Painterly Faces is available from the author, here.