This project will walk you through painting a preparatory study – that is, a painting to prepare you for a more complete painting. This study is what I would typically aim to produce in a single sitting and will provide many valuable lessons.
If you’d like to follow along exactly to practise, you can copy the charcoal drawing below – but I would encourage you to use your own sitter. You might also try painting a self-portrait, as this is a good way to study skin tone closely.
The proportional drawing you make on the canvas should not be too embellished but should take into account the angle of the head, its placement on the canvas, the width of the face in relation to its length and the positioning of the features.
If you are working from your own study or doing a self-portrait for this exercise, make sure that light and shadow can clearly be seen. You will see below that I have indicated the corner of the face in shadow, establishing that the light is coming from the left. Do bear in mind that the drawing will be totally obliterated with broad brushwork as you progress, so don’t get too fussy with it – see it merely as a starting point and concentrate instead on getting the skin tones right.
You will need…
•Brushes Filberts, sizes 2, 4, 6, 8 and 10; soft filberts, sizes 1, 2, 3 and 4
•Oil paints Burnt Sienna, Ultramarine Blue, Alizarin Crimson, Titanium White, Raw Sienna, Yellow Ochre and Cadmium Yellow Pale
•Prepared medium (one-part dammar varnish, one-part stand oil, five parts turps)
•Turpentine or white spirit
•Rags and paper towels
STAGE 1: SHADOWS We work from dark to light. In this case, the model’s dark hair gives an easy-to-see dark note: it is black on the shadow side of her hair. The dark note can be used to compare with how dark to paint the other shadows. This is one of the few times I use a medium to keep my dark areas at wet strength. You can see from the steps that I slosh the paint on with broad strokes; almost carelessly. My only consideration is the dark note at the right-hand edge of the face where the ear would be.
Once the dark note of the hair is in place, the next step is to mix the shadow at the corner of the face. For this, we mix Burnt Sienna and Ultramarine Blue with a little white and place it next to the dark of the hair. Stand back and focus totally on the relationship between the dark of the hair and the shadow.
•Identify the dark note
• Establish the shadows on both hair and skin
• Avoid refinement –work loosely and quickly
1 Place Burnt Sienna, Ultramarine Blue and Alizarin Crimson on your palette, along with Titanium White.
2 Using the medium quite liberally to allow it to flow – and importantly, to keep it transparent – mix the three colours together to create a rich dark.
3 Use this mix to paint in the hair with a size 10 filbert.
4 The same hues in a person’s hair are always present, to a greater or lesser extent, in their skintone, so we use much the same mix for the areas of skin in shadow, adding just a hint of Titanium White to vary it. Don’t treat the skin, neck or hair as completely separate – it’s all part of the broader portrait. Add some hints of light on the hair using a similar mix as the skin.
STAGE 2: MIDTONES
When satisfied that the values are correct in the darks we can move on to the halftones. Start with the light halftone which describes the cheekbone – this is normally the strongest colour, and easier to see than more subtle areas. For this, mix Burnt Sienna and Alizarin Crimson with white and judge the value and hue against the already established shadow areas. This mixture sets us up for the next stage, painting the light side of the face with a lighter version of the mixture.
•Establish the mid-tones on the skin
•Create distinction between the left and right sides of the face
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