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Interview With Digital Illustrator, and Character Artist, Oscar Ramos


Hi Oscar, thanks for taking the time to chat with me today. I am a huge fan of your work, and really enjoyed working with you on that tutorial last year. Can you begin by telling our readers a bit about your background? Where are you from? How did you get your start as an Illustrator?

When I decided that I wanted to become an illustrator, over 20 years ago, there actually weren’t any places here in Santiago de Chile that taught illustration. So I decided to study graphic design, instead. 

After school, I had the opportunity to work with a leading illustrator in the advertising industry, whom I admired. He taught me the basics of how to create art with a high level of detail and impact. Back then, we worked with airbrushes on traditional illustrations. That had a huge influence on my later work.

Speed painting video for tutorial done for Tuts+.
Create a Clueless Racecar Driver Illustration in Photoshop.

When I look through your portfolio, one of the first things I notice is how you portray emotion in your work. Your characters are so amazingly expressive, and this seems to be an essential part of your illustration style. How did your style develop over time? Have you always felt that it was important to include so much emotion in your work or was this something that took you some time to realize?

I always liked to draw characters, especially faces. I began to create very expressive characters when I started working on 2D animation projects, for children. During that time, I got to play with many different characters, and had the freedom to exaggerate their expressions. In animation, you learn a lot about the faces that people make when they experience emotion. This helps to give your characters, “character,” so to speak, and that has influenced my work quite a bit.

Animals Chery.

Can you offer our readers three tips to help them create more expressive characters?

  1. Keep it simple and avoid ambiguity. If you are drawing a complex character, try to boil the expression down to its simplest form. It can help to make quick sketches of the expressions that you are trying to create.
  2. Play with extreme expressions. While it is great to be subtle with expressions, there is no harm in exaggerating. Test how far you can go with an expression.
  3. Characters communicate with their entire body. While the face is very important, make sure that the body is also helping your character express the type of emotion you are trying to portray.
When drawing a complex character, boil the expression down to its simplest form and make quick sketches of the expression that you are trying to create.

The second thing that I notice when I look through your work is the incredible amount of detail that you include in your illustrations. How do you know when one of your illustrations is finished?

Well, detail is something that I am a bit obsessed with, but for me, it’s not really about saying ”OK, that's enough detail, time to stop”. For me, I stop when I feel that the full illustration has enough of a “story.”

1:1 crop of Ramos' Nutriboost illustration.

What would you say are the three most important things that an artist can do or learn to help them create more detailed artwork?

I don’t think that level of detail is necessarily a good thing. In fact, too much detail can be unnecessary, and at times, counterproductive. Too much detail can divert attention away from the primary message, and can weaken the illustration, as opposed to strengthening it. With that said, if you want to learn how to add more detail into your illustration I can recommend the following tips:

  1. Develop a taste for observation: Observe the shape, volume, color, and textures of your environment, and incorporate them into your illustrations.
  2. Simplify your story: Portray the most important details and leave out the rest.
  3. Be efficient with your time: Prioritize the level of detail that will have to go into the different parts of the illustration. Create layers of detail so when you finish illustrating, your artwork contains a consistent level of detail throughout.
Plant Bottle Coca-Cola.

Artists often have to compromise their artistic vision in order to meet their clients’ needs. What tips can you offer our readers to help make this interaction go a bit more smoothly?

This is a terrible dilemma that many artists face. Most artists are passionate about their work, but all of us have different visions of what we consider art. In many ways, illustrators are very similar to restaurant chefs, we all have different ideas about what makes a good meal.

Some types of illustrations give you more flexibility and creative freedom to develop your own style, but not all styles are commercially viable. In advertising, we have to meet several demands including production deadlines, quality of work, and even creative restrictions.

To make this bearable, I suggest doing your best to improve the quality of the work that you create. The better your work is, the more freedom your art directors are likely to give you to propose your ideas. With that said, you should always be open to the idea of being flexible with your clients and artistic vision to make the process more comfortable for everyone.

1:1 crop of Ramos' Family Chery illustration.

I noticed that you often work with a team of other artists on a project. How is working with a team of artists different than it is working on a project by yourself? Can you offer any tips to help this process go a bit smoother?

Working with others can be challenging. I usually figure out what I want to do rather quickly, but I find that communicating my ideas to others can be complicated. When I do work with a team, however, I have learned to recognize the roles that everyone plays on the project, and try to give them as much information as I can. Then, I give them some space to do their work. Overall, I believe that adequate and timely communication is the best tool to help teams work more effectively.

As a freelance artists, it is often difficult to pull away from the projects that you are working on. What do you do when you’re not working? Can you offer our readers some tips on how to balance work and life?

It is hard for me to not get obsessed with a project, and leave it alone on my days off. I work from home, and that makes it even more difficult. Nothing is better for a project than leaving it alone for a while, however.

Usually I spend my free time with my family, which is always refreshing. I love doing carpentry work, binding, or other manual labor. I'm always thinking about making handmade things, I’m having a lot of fun at the moment learning how to weave.

Everything you do will enrich you, and being obsessed with work is not good. Try doing something completely opposite from what you do on a daily basis.


Are you working on any exciting projects at the moment that you can share with our readers?

Well, I've been working with an Australian company that produces toys, and it is quite fun. I really enjoy it! Toys have plenty of details! And there are many pieces, so I hope upload them soon to my portfolio.

Also, I've begun to develop some personal pieces, with a much more painterly style. I’m trying to develop a style that moves away from caricature but is also more dramatic. With a theme of street demonstrations and police repression...but is still a work in process.


Thanks again for taking the time to chat with me today. Do you have any advice that you would like to leave our readers with?

If you want to improve your level of style, illustration, or painting, you must work really hard, especially with the quality of ideas that you produce. Remember, there are many people out there doing the exact same thing. Try to make your work stand out and be unique.


Oscar Ramos on the Web

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