Saturday, 30 October 2010

The Brown Hair on my Portrait Painting Looks Like Tawny Wool

The artist assigned to paint a portrait of someone with brown hair may reach for any brown pigment to represent the follicles in the hope that it will do, the result being the hair looks flat, dull and more like wool than fine strands. How can the artist paint brown hair realistically?

How to Paint Brown Hair on Portraits

Painting Brown Hair
Rachel Shirley
The artist may reflect upon what went wrong when painting hair in order to make changes to how the oil painting was completed. Any of the following painting practices could be at fault:
  • Making blanket assumptions about the colour of brown hair, using any tube of oil paint labelled “brown” to represent anything from brunette to auburn.
  • Illustrating every strand of the hair in a linear fashion with a fine sable, resulting in a synthetic appearance that resembles a wig rather than real hair.
  • Allowing harsh dividing lines to remain between tonal areas, making the hair appear solid or plastic rather than divisible strands.
  • Mixing the brown colour with white to represent highlights, or black to darken it, resulting in dirty grey colours.
  • Treating the hair area as a separate entity to the rest of the face, by omitting to illustrate how the hair casts shadows over the brow and cheeks, resulting in a cut out appearance to the brown hair.
Tips on Painting Brunette

The observant artist will notice that brown hair is a mere blanket label for a diversity earthen colours, including brunette, ochre, auburn, coffee, toffee, bronze tan, chocolate and russet that require different colour mixes to achieve. With this in mind, the following remedies may help the artist paint brown hair realistically.
  • Avoid using generic brown paint to represent the whole head of hair. The brown colour will vary between individuals and even between strands.
  • The key to suggesting the soft texture of hair is through blending. Look out for harsh divisions in tonal areas that could draw the eye. Use a soft sable for achieving smooth gradations.
  • Highlights are not merely white, but other colours. Some brunettes exhibit blue highlights, others show pinks, violets and even red.
  • Avoid using black to darken brown hair. Warm brown hair can be darkened with a little pthalo blue and burnt umber; cool brown hair can be darkened with a little ultramarine and permanent rose.
  • There is no need to draw every strand of the hair. It is better to blend the colours of hair and to suggest detail with a fine sable on selected areas of the hair, such as highlights and stray strands.
Pay special attention to the outline of the hair, particularly strands that fall over the face or catch the light.

Illustrating local shadows over the face can be effective at creating an almost photographic representation of hair and making it look as though it belongs to the subject.

Backlit hair will create bright russet colours, pinks, golds and bronzes, with tones similar to bright translucent autumn leaves. Take advantage of these opportunities to create a striking portrait.

Colour Mixes for Shades of Brown Hair

Color Mixing Recipes for Portraits: More than 500 Color Combinations for skin, eyes, lips & hair
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Lots of browns and earth colours are not needed for every shade of brown. I use burnt sienna, burnt umber, ultramarine, pthalo blue, permanent rose, cadmium red and titanium white for all my brown hair paintings.

The portrait artist may find the following pigment mixtures helpful when trying to capture a particular colour mix for brown hair. The pigments are suggestion only, as in real life, more colours will be seen in highlights, reflections and darks. Varying amounts of white will be required in each case to express paler tones.

Ash brown hair: burnt umber, a little pthalo blue with white.
Auburn hair: burnt sienna, permanent rose and ultramarine.
Russet hair: burnt umber, cadmium red and a little ultramarine.
Toffee hair: burnt umber, cadmium red and a little ultramarine.
Dark coffee hair: burnt umber, pthalo blue and permanent rose.
Almost black brown hair: burnt umber, pthalo blue and a little permanent rose.

Oil Painting Techniques for Painting Hair

Glazing and dry brushing are great for suggesting realistic hair. Such painting techniques are explored on my articles via the links below and also via the links on this site navigation.

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