Block in with Burnt Umber
My canvas is prepared with a mid-tone greenish grey ground, using white acrylic gesso tinted with a bit of acrylic Yellow Ochre and a little Mars Black. I let it dry thoroughly then sand it before beginning the underpainting. Using oily, viscous paint, thinned with linseed oil, I mark in the basic proportions first. Measuring the proportions to get the drawing accurate, I compare the width of the head to its height. Then I mark in three equal proportions from the chin to the bottom of the nose; bottom of the nose to eyebrows; and eyebrows to forehead. Because her head is tilted down, the top distance (from the top of the head to the hairline) is about an equal proportion to the thirds of the face. Next I block in the big forms and shadows in Burnt Umber. By “drawing with the shadows” I am able to establish the placement of the features quickly and accurately by judging the shapes and distances of the shadow patterns on her face.
Color Lay-In and Big Form Modeling
I begin laying in the color by establishing a basic color for the light side of the face. I am leaving the “real” shadows (the cast shadow on the neck and the cast shadows under the eyebrows and nose), alone for now so that they don’t get mixed up with the lights. I will go into them later. I tint the base color in the light side of the face as necessary, such as in the plane change where the forehead bends up towards the light. Also, the light side of the face gets slightly darker and cooler as it moves down the face (away from the light) so I make sure my colors and tones reflect that change. At the edges of the face it also gets darker and cooler. This helps to establish the “big form modeling” of the head, rendering the head like an egg by darkening around the edges, and turning the form to give it dimension.
Describing the Smaller Forms
I complete the color lay-in by blocking in a basic color for each element of the painting. For the shadow side of the face I tint the base flesh color with a mixture of Viridian Green and Cadmium Red Light to create rich shadow colors. I continue to establish the big form modeling, making sure that the hair reflects the egg shape of the head, and the head and body have a cylindrical nature. I paint the hair with a “Grainer” brush, which has some long hairs and some shorter ones. I lay in distinct brushstrokes in the hair and try not to mess with is. This creates wonderful hair-like texture. Using a 1” synthetic bright brush, I block in a loose background, letting a bit of the under painting show through. I also suggest the sheer nature of the shirt in a painterly fashion. Once the key elements are established, I define the smaller forms of the features, defining the planes of the cheekbones, none, chin, etc.
Final Rendering and Edges
At this stage I thin my paint with a bit more linseed oil as I continue to refine the features. Focusing on the description of the planes of each feature, I make some final refinements. I also make the different textures (i.e. skin, hair, cloth), look like the material they’re made of. Final highlights are added to areas such as the nose, forehead and hair. I also refine the edges, softening edges where the form turns as it meets the background, and sharpening areas that are bony, or where I would like to draw more attention. Edges are an area where an artist has a lot of artistic license. The way edges are treated can really effect the mood of a painting. I like to contrast soft, “lost” edges (where you can’t really discern where one thing ends and another starts), with sharper edges.