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Painting tips from Karen Sperling

200509bc_sperpnt The trick to painting hair

When turning photo portraits into paintings in Corel Painter, photographers frequently wonder how to paint hair. The trick is to keep in mind three traditional art concepts:

1. Simplify. The difference between a photo and a painting is that a painting has less detail. The natural tendency when you first start painting is to paint every strand of hair you see. Instead, simplify. The way to simplify brings us to the second art concept.

2. Paint areas of light and dark. Instead of painting each strand of hair, identify the areas with the highlights, midtones and shadows, and paint those.

3. Use the colors in your color scheme. Another difference between a painting and a photo is that a painting has a chosen color scheme. Paint hair using the colors in your color scheme instead of the colors that are in the photo.
Painting ©2005 Karen Sperling

200509bc_sperphot_1 Image ©2005 Mary Wynn Ball

Notice in the photo on this page that there are distinct highlights at the top of the head and also about 3/4 of the way down. The rest of the hair is mostly shadows. It's these highlights and shadows that I painted.

First, I chose File: Clone. This creates a copy of the photo and leaves the original intact.

I painted directly on this clone. I painted out some of the detail at the part and at the side of the face using the Chalk's Square Chalk variant. I set the Saturation slider in the Property Bar at 0%, removing color from the brush. I set the Bleed slider in the Property Bar at 40%, which turned the brush into a blender.

200509bc_sperhairdet Next, I added colors from my color scheme. In this case, I was going for a Rembrandt-style painting, and I used the colors I observed in many Rembrandt paintings, namely red, yellow and green. I chose the Acrylics' Captured Bristle variant and painted with lighter values of my color scheme where I saw highlights in the original photo. Then I chose darker values of my color scheme and painted where I saw shadows in the photo.

Last, I painted the midtones. Although this variant does suggest strands, I was still painting areas of color based on highlights, midtones and shadows, rather than strands of hair.
To add some texture to the hair, I painted using the Photo Brush's Add Grain variant.

Painting ©2005 Karen Sperling

Artist, author and photographer Karen Sperling is the original Painter expert. She wrote the manuals for the first several versions of Painter and authored several Painter books and many Painter magazine tutorials. Sperling teaches Painter to artists and photographers at movie companies, design firms, universities and professional photography organizations. She currently publishes Artistry Corel Painter tutorials and Artistry Tips and Tricks newsletter, and leads Artistry Corel Painter Retreats, all of which include information about art concepts in addition to Painter instructions. She paints commissioned portraits, and her Painter art has been displayed in several group shows. Karen's art, and information about her tutorials and classes, can be found at