Wednesday, 24 February 2010

Why do the Noses in My Portraits Look Like Inverted Spoons?

Painting portraits is considered to be the artist’s last frontier, but the beginner may make the mistake of paying insufficient attention to noses in favour of eyes and mouths because noses have the same skin colour as the rest of the face. Furthermore, the artist’s dilemma of dealing with the nose’s foreshortening effect may result in a nose that looks lopsided or having edges that don’t exist

Common Mistakes in Painting Noses

The most common error the beginner in portraiture and figure painting is delegating the nose as virtually invisible, in preference to the other facial features. When the portrait is finished, however, the artist may discover the importance of the nose, in that it holds the rest of the portrait together. The artist may make the mistake of thinking the eyes or the mouth is wrong, where in fact, the problem lies with the nose. The following practices should be avoided:

  • Painting the nose as a tubular form with two nostrils at the bottom
  • Illustrating the nose in a linear way and giving edges to the nose that don’t exist
  • Painting the nose as pointing to the viewer, whereas the rest of the face is at an angle
  • In an attempt to illustrate the nose’s extension when in foreshortening, illustrating the nose as side-on, despite the face facing the viewer, making the nose appear wonky
  • Painting the nose as central to the face, even though the face is at an angle, making it appear to be off-centre
  • Painting only the bottom of the nose, forgetting the bridge of the nose between the eyes
How to Paint Noses in Portraits

In order to get to grips with painting noses, the following exercises and practices will help:
  • Practice painting or drawing long objects in foreshortening, which means pointing straight at the viewer. A finger, a clothes peg or spoon would be ideal. This exercise help the artist override the temptation to illustrate the length of the object, even though it cannot be seen
  • Pay special attention to nostrils. Far from being two round holes, they can appear flattened, or tadpole-shaped. Nostrils are not always visible from certain angles.
  • The contours of the nose should never be illustrated in a linear way. The nose is often merely a series of vague and subtle patches of light and shadow
  • Take note of different nose shapes. They can be thin, tapered, conical or bulbous. An ideal nose doesn’t exist
  • Some noses have a slightly different hue to the rest of the face, particularly at the base
  • Pay special attention to the bridge of the nose between the eyes. Some artists make the mistake of thinking the eyes are wrong, where in fact the shadows around the bridge of the nose might need tweaking. Deep shadows often reside in this area if the light is oblique and can give the portrait expression
  • Resist falling into the trap of painting the nose as full on, where the rest of the face is at an angle
Paint Tips and Techniques for Noses

If the artist wishes to produce a portrait from a photograph, a clear and good quality image is essential. The facial features must not be bleached out by a flash or bright light. In fact, side-lit will bring out the contours of the face, particularly the nose. Never use lines to illustrate the nose, but abstract shapes in tone and colour. If the portrait is not working quite right, turning the photograph upside down and completing the painting upside down too, will help reboot the brain and see the image in a new way. Remember to turn the image the right way up again now and then, to make sure the portrait is working as planned.

Essential Art Materials for Nose Painting

Basic skin colours can be achieved from burnt sienna, burnt umber, permanent rose, ultramarine and white. However, other colours will often be seen on flesh. Because the nose is often the most reflective surface, it may exhibit highlights or reflections from neighbouring objects, such as clothes. The shadow beneath the nose is not always merely black, but can be neutrals and even greens. Good quality artist brushes such as Kolinsky sable sizes 0, 3 and 6 will suffice for portrait painting, including the nose.

Links Relating to Portraiture

Advice on brown pigments
Oil painting books on portraiture
Flesh tones in portraits
How to paint children from a photo
How to paint figures

Tuesday, 23 February 2010

The Eyes on My Portraits Never Look Right

Painting eyes within a portrait may instil fear in the beginner, causing a diffident approach. Eyes may end up lacking colour or shading, except in the irises and the pupils, resulting in a blank look. The slightest inaccuracy around the eyes may result in a portrait that does not look quite like the subject. How does the beginner tackle painting eyes for the first time?

Problems with Eyes in Portrait Painting

How to Paint Eyes
The eyes are the focal point within any portrait, and are therefore the most crucial. Unless the eyes have been rendered accurately, the portrait may lose its likeness to the subject. Common problems with eye painting may be due to the following practices:
  • Painting eyes with the simplistic belief that they should always be rendered as follows: they are almond shaped, are surrounded by eyelashes, have a circular pupil and part of a half-moon iris in view
  • Dividing eyes into three main colours: blue, green or brown, and using one of these colours to paint irises
  • Painting a round black pupil in the middle of the visible white eyeball
  • Similarly, always painting the eyeball white
  • Forgetting that eyes have contours and shadows around the eye itself, as well as on the eyeball, and painting the skin colour as merely beige or pink.
  • Not rendering the ridge around the eye, but illustrating it as a simple line, making the eye appear two-dimensional
  • Pointing every eyelash and brow hair in the same direction
  • Illustrating contours around the eyes as linear
  • Forgetting to look at the photograph when painting eyes, but subconsciously painting what the artist believes an eye should look like
How to Paint Eyes with Realism

By addressing the problems with painting eyes, the beginner could see improvements in portraits when addressing the following:
  • Forget what eyes “should” look like, but view them as abstract areas of shadows and colours
  • Forget the eye-colour labelled to the subject. A person with brown eyes may have irises that contain other colours, including gold, yellows and greens
  • Never paint the whites of the eyes as simply white. Dark shadows can often be seen below the eyelid, and again could contain definite hues, such as blues and earth colours
  • Eyelashes never point in the same direction. Depending upon the viewpoint, the hairs may appear to point in diverse directions. Similarly, illustrating each hair could result in a harsh representation of eyelashes. Hairs close together will appear as a dark area
  • Reflections over the eyeball and the pupil are not always merely white, but can be many colours
  • The shadows and contours around the eye are crucial. Dark shadows can often be seen below the eyebrows and beneath the eyes
Tips on Painting Eyes

It is advisable to paint eyes last in a portrait. Getting the colours and the shadows accurately on the face and around the eyes is crucial in making eyes work. This means sensitive observation on light and shadow. When painting eyes, the following tips will help:
  • Eyeballs are rarely just white, but may have deep shadows. A little ultramarine and burnt sienna will kill the artificial white
  • Look out for colours within reflections over the eyeball and the pupil
  • Rather than illustrate each follicle, half close the eyes and simplify the area into tonal areas
  • Look for a multitude of colours within the irises, not just white
  • Take extra care over the shape of the eyelid, as too much either way could give the subject a sleepy or surprised look
Essential Art Materials Required for Painting Eyes

Good quality thin sable brushes are crucial. Size 0 or 1 for detail and highlights are ideal. Size 3 and 6 are good for applying small areas of light and shade around the eyes. Blending the colours will add softness to the eyes.

Satisfactory skin colours can be found in burnt sienna, permanent rose, burnt umber, cadmium red and white, although other colours will be seen. Avoid paint tubes exhibiting “flesh tint,” as the resultant flesh colour will look artificial. Lamp black is good for pupils, but use sparingly. To retain a smooth finish, a little linseed oil can be mixed into the colour mixture. Completing the portrait in layers will add depth to the colours of a portrait.

Links Related to Portrait Painting

Monday, 22 February 2010

My Flowers Look Garish in My Paintings

The beginner’s floral artwork may portray flowers as having bright colours such as pinks, oranges and reds. The flower heads look flat and idealistic, the same flower head shapes echoing throughout the painting. In an attempt to give the flowers form, the artist may introduce black or dark brown into the colour mix, resulting in dirty colours.

Troubleshooting Floral Art

The culprit of an unsatisfactory oil painting of flowers will often result from the following practices:

  • Painting flowers with the preconception that flower heads always contain bright colours
  • Representing the foliage around the flowers with one green pigment, or a mixture of one blue and yellow throughout
  • Trying to darken a bright colour with black
  • Painting flowers with preconceptions about the shapes of the flower heads, resulting in an idealised flower shape
  • A profusion of too many bright colours may rob the painting of any focal points
  • A cheap artist’s selection box that does not contain the true primary colours is often insufficient to create all the colours required for flower painting, resulting in inferior colour mixes
  • Trying to paint flowers from memory, if the resource at hand is insufficient
The Secret to Painting Flowers with Realism

Dispelling beginner’s mistakes as described, will take the floral artist a long way towards painting more satisfactory botanical art.
  • Never try to darken a bright colour with black. It is better to darken a colour with its complimentary colour, which is the opposing colour on the colour wheel to a given colour. The complimentary colour of red, for instance, is green; the complimentary colour of yellow is violet.
  • Flower heads often contain sombre colours, such as dark earth colours and neutrals which can be seen if the flower heads are in shade
  • Fluorescent colours often seen when sun shines through petals can be emphasised if the background around the bright colour is dark
  • Applying a neutral-coloured wash of diluted acrylic paint prior to painting flowers will help the artist measure the tonal values of flowers, as opposed to applying bright colours straight onto a white painting surface.
  • Observing flowers out of their normal context, such as next to rusty tools or from an unusual viewpoint, such as from above, will help the artist get a fresh view of flowers.
  • Sensitive observation of the shape of flowers will often surprise. The robust shapes found in a painting of sunflowers, or the graceful loops found in the clematis deserves exploration
Oil Painting Mediums for Painting Flowers

Experimenting with different artist painting mediums will provide a multilayered feel to a painting of flowers. Mixing linseed oil into a colour mix and applying it over a dry area of paint will provide an effect like tinted glass. This oil painting technique is known as “glazing.” To emphasise texture, impasto medium can be mixed with the oil paint and applied onto the flower heads to make them appear to stand out of the painting.

Essential Art Materials for Floral Art

The primary colours must be included within the artist’s palette when painting flowers. These are labelled differently according to the paint manufacturers. Some include the word “process” or “permanent” with the hue name. In oil paint, permanent rose, cadmium yellow (pale) and pthalo blue will provide clean secondaries such as orange and violet hues.

White with a hint of burnt sienna will provide brilliant creams often seen in bedding plants. Viridian green, a garish green on its own, will provide beautiful greens if muted with burnt sienna, burnt umber or permanent rose. However, keen observation will reveal that any colour can be found in flowers, some of which will surprise.

Links on Painting Flowers

What do I do About Backgrounds in My Paintings?

The background to a painting is often a forgotten element when a composition is set up. An empty and featureless area could be a problem unforeseen until the completion of the painting. This could ruin the artwork, regardless of how well the objects have been painted. How does the beginner overcome the problem of empty backgrounds in a painting?

How a Background can Ruin a Painting

The following practices are often the causes of unsatisfactory backgrounds in painting.

  • Giving sole consideration to the objects within a composition, without thinking about the background shapes, for exmple when composing a still life setting.
  • Viewing non-solid objects, such as clouds, reflections and shadows as incidental
  • Using a neutral or pale colour for backgrounds. Similarly using one colour to represent a background within a painting, such as green for landscapes or blue for the sky
  • Having too much going on in the background, causing loss of focal points within a painting
  • Painting the background from memory, resulting in an idealised background which will fail to convince.
Background Colours to Painting

A good composition in painting can be achieved if the background is given equal importance as the foreground. These two elements to a composition are known as “negative” and “positive” shapes. Positive shapes are the objects themselves. Negative shapes are the spaces in between. The following suggestions on what to do with negative shapes may help solve the problem of what to do about the backgrounds in paintings.
  • As well as looking at the shapes of the objects within a painting, give equal consideration to the shapes of the spaces between the objects. Look out for an imbalance in distribution. For instance, is there a large area of negative space within one area of the composition? If so, rearrange the objects or shift the viewpoint.
  • Look out for any linear echoes which may jar the painting, such as too many vertical lines which may remain unnoticed in the background until the painting is completed.
  • Simple elements make effective backgrounds, such as a pebbledash wall or crazy paving. Rustic wood, brick, climbing ivy, particularly under oblique lighting, add a textural element to a painting, which can be achieved by a painting technique known as Sgraffito.
  • Use backgrounds to create contrast in hues, as well as texture. A background containing a cool palette adds interest to a foreground consisting of warm colours
  • Juxtaposing complimentary colours such as violet and yellow, or blue and green will create a shimmering effect and add focal points to a painting. Introducing neutral colours will tone down a background that might be too garish
To heighten awareness of backgrounds, examine photographic snapshots and look for background elements which the photographer may not have been aware of. Use the same practice when deciding on a background for a painting.

What Makes a Good Background in Painting?

Non solid elements within a painting could create effective backgrounds if given equal consideration to solid objects. Textures in clouds, reflections in water and dappled shadows could provide a focal point. Further ideas for backgrounds for paintings could be clouds formations, such as a mackerel sky, a silhouette on a curtain or a foliage cascade.

Links on Oil Painting Advice

My Shadows Look Like Black Splodges

Painting shadows may tempt the beginner into darkening the colour with black or dark brown. The resultant effect may be a painting that appears to contain solid black pools beneath trees and foliage. The beginner may represent shadows in the same way, making each shadow appear to repeat throughout the painting with a jarring effect, taking the eye from the intended focal point.

The Causes of Poorly Painted Shadows

The problem with shadows is that because they are not solid objects, the beginner may not treat them with as much importance. The following practices will often spoil a painting containing shadows:
  • Using black or dark brown on its own, or mixed with another colour to represent shadows
  • Darkening a colour with black
  • Using one colour for all the shadows within a painting
  • Illustrating shadows as having a definite shape with harsh outlines
  • Assuming that all shadows point the same way from a particular viewpoint, making shadows appear to “sprout” from objects at the same direction throughout the painting
  • Forgetting to take shadows into account within a composition, resulting in a painting with shadows spilling off the edge of a painting
  • Trying to paint shadows from memory
  • Using shadows as a gap filler within an empty area of painting
See my Youtube clip on painting autumn shadows before reading the following tips.

How to Paint Shadows

More realistic shadows can be achieved with the following tips on painting shadows:
  • Put the black paint in the bin
  • Darken a colour by introducing its complimentary colour. Green for instance, can be darkened with any colour containing red, such as red itself, violet, burnt sienna, Indian red or permanent rose
  • But shadows also contain a host of different colours, depending upon reflections and lighting conditions. Unlikely colours, such as greens, earth colours and violets can often be seen in shadows
  • Shadows contain varying tones, from pale to dark. Part of a shadow, for instance, may reflect a summer sky, making part of it appear a pale blue. Another part of the same shadow will appear darker
  • Shadows have different types of outlines. Shadows cast from far objects will appear diffuse; shadows cast by nearby objects will have sharper outlines. A shadow from a tree, for instance, will have different outlines depending upon the height from which the shadow was cast
  • Shadows will appear to point in different directions if the viewer is facing the source of light. Similarly, shadows spilling over a wall will change direction according to the contour of the surface
Make Shadows Interesting in Painting

Color Mixing Bible: All You'll Ever Need to Know about Mixing Pigments in Oil, Acrylic, Watercolor, Gouache, Soft Pastel, Pencil, and Ink
click to buy from Amazon
There are lots of opportunities for making shadows more interesting in a painting. A shadow spilling over different contours, such as a brick wall will create a focal point. Dappled shadows on a bright day or lengthening shadows over a lawn in the evening cannot fail to draw the eye. Viewing shadows from unusual angles, such as pointing directly at the viewer will make shadows the focal point within a painting.

Essential Art Materials Required for Painting Shadows

The following pigments will prove invaluable when painting shadows and can be used as a base colour: burnt sienna, burnt umber, ultramarine blue, permanent rose and white, although other colours will be seen within shadows. A good photographic resource or still life setting with shadows is also invaluable. Keeping it simple is the key for the beginner.

But great satisfaction can be sought from painting shadows outdoors from life, in which case, the changing lighting conditions will need to be taken into account. It is advisable to paint the shadow element of a painting simultaneously, before they shift direction too much.

Related Articles on Painting Shadows

Why do My Greens Look Artifiicial?

The colour green in landscape painting often poses big problems for the artist, because it is found in abundance within trees, grass and foliage. The beginner may fall into the trap of using just one green to express what should be an abundant variety of greens in nature. The resultant painting may fail to convince the viewer.

How To Mix Greens for Landscape Painting and Botanical Art

The problem with green is that is it often viewed as a colour of convenience for backgrounds, or for when the artist runs out of ideas of what to do with a particular area. The following practices are the culprit of unconvincing greens:
  • Using only one green to paint foliage within a painting, merely lightening the colour with white, and darkening green with black or a dark brown
  • Again, using only one blue and one yellow to mix green and using it throughout the painting
  • Failing to observe the subtle varieties of green which may contain reds, violets and earth colours, resulting in a harsh representation of chlorophyll on flower paintings and landscapes
  • Using a thin brush to illustrate every leaf and twig within a painting, resulting in highly illustrated and harsh feel to foliage
  • Forgetting to look at greens of real life, painting what is imagined rather than what is real
Tips on Mixing Greens for Painting

The following tips will help improve green mixing when painting nature
  • Natural greens are surprisingly muted, containing other colours such as earth colours, crimsons, pinks and violets. Viridian green, for example, is a harsh colour on its own, and will spoil a landscape painting, but when mixed with another colour, beautiful greens will result
  • Including blues and yellows with different colour temperatures within the palette – warm and cool, will add variety to greens in painting
  • Greens also have varying tonal values as well as variations in hue. Green can be darkened by mixing green’s complimentary colour, red, or any colour containing red, such as crimson, violet or an earth colour, which is better than using black. Greens are surprisingly pale in the distance, often muted by an earth colour and white
  • Observe greens in real life. Autumn leaves contain cadmium yellow and burnt sienna; unripe apples contain lemon yellow and pthalo blue, both greens contrasting sharply. Greens can differ as much as the colour spectrum if observed closely, and will raise awareness of how greens actually look.
  • Begin a painting with the green aspect, to avoid falling into the trap of rushing the painting at the end, and not giving proper thought to greens
Essential Art Materials for Painting Greens

Painting natural looking greens can be achieved by widending the green palette. This can be achieved by including two yellows, two blues, viridian and white within the colour selection. Ultramarine blue is a warm blue, and can often be seen on shadows on lawns. Pthalo blue is a cool blue, and can be seen in pine trees. Cadmium yellow is a warm yellow, which can be seen on autumn leaves. Lemon yellow is a cool yellow and can be seen on young willow trees. Viridian adds punchiness to a green mixture, but in nature, green is often surprisingly muted.

Burnt sienna, burnt umber, permanent rose and violet are ideal for muting greens to express misty weather or to darken green. Using good quality bristle brushes such as ox hair will help retain an Impressionist representation of green. For detail on foliage, a thin sable brush can be used.

Articles on Mixing Greens

Sunday, 21 February 2010

My Tree Painting Looks Childish

Trees that resemble green-headed lollipops are often the result of a painter with preconceptions about how a tree should look. The greens look garish and uniform; the trunks and branches illustrated by thin brown lines. A green splodge serving merely to fill an empty area within a landscape painting is sure to spoil the effect. How can the artist paint trees effectively?

Causes of an Unrealistic Painting of Trees

The following practices are often the culprit of common mistakes when painting trees:
  • Having preconceptions about how a tree should look, for example, tree trunks are brown and leaves are green
  • Using only one green, or even worse, a garish green, to illustrate the foliage in trees
  • Not observing the tree sufficiently to make it look realistic
  • Using trees merely to fill an empty area of painting
  • Trying to illustrate trees within an impressionist painting, by drawing each branch and leaf, for example
  • A painting with too many trees ending up as a solid block of green
  • Using black to darken the colour of leaves
My Youtube video provides a simple step by step demo on painting an old Lakeland tree.

How to Paint a Tree Effectively

The following tips on painting trees will help improve any landscape painting containing a copse, wood or forest:
  • Foliage contains lots of different greens, which can be achieved not only by one green pigment, but by including different blues, yellows, earth colours and even reds
  • Try darkening green with its complimentary colour, red. Any reddish hue such as crimson or violet can be used.
  • Apply an under wash of red acrylic paint if the painting is to feature lots of green. Allowing some of the under wash to poke through the green paint will make the painting shimmer with contrasting colours.
  • Tree trunks often contain unlikely colours such as blues and crimsons, as well as interesting textures. Using impasto medium or Sgraffito will emphasise the texture of wood
  • Avoid trying to illustrate every leaf or twig. Viewing trees through half-closed eyes will cut out irrelevant detail and reveal the true essence of trees
  • Observe different trees in different lighting conditions and times of the year. Horse chestnut in late summer contains golden hues, which is starkly different to the fluorescent sapling leaves in spring
  • Similarly, observe the different shapes of trees, a gnarled oak has different feel to a supple willow, or the stately cypress.
How to Paint Realistic Trees

A good photograph of trees will help the artist observe trees in their own right and become more aware of their varying colours and shapes. Trees appear more interesting in bright sunny weather, which adds contrasts in colour. Trees can also be made into a focal point in a painting, as opposed to a gap-filler, by placing it just off-centre of a painting composition. Adding an interesting quality such as one struck by lightning, or placed next to a ruin will encourage the artist to observe trees in a new light.

Essential Art Materials for Painting Trees

Fill Your Oil Paintings with Light & Color
click to buy from Amazon
Trees contain many different greens, which can be achieved by the inclusion of just two yellows, two blues and a green. These are: cadmium yellow, lemon yellow, pthalo blue, ultramarine blue and viridian green. Although viridian is often maligned for its garishness, beautiful greens will often result if it is mixed with other colours. Varying amounts of earth colours or complimentary colours such as burnt sienna or violet serves to tone down bright greens and give a muted feel, often seen in misty weather or in early winter. Good quality hog hair bristle brushes will add an impressionist feel to a painting of trees.

Articles on Painting Trees

The Skin Tones in My Portraits Look Wrong

Capturing flesh colours in portraiture is a common problem. The colour of skin looks artificial or too uniform. The subtleties in flesh colours may be elusive to the painter. Facial contours are illustrated as lines, making the portrait look harsh and amateurish. Portrait painting is often viewed as the artist’s last frontier, the fear of producing an unsatisfactory portrait faring a bigger deal than say, an unsatisfactory landscape painting.

Common Problems with Portrait Painting

The following practices are often the culprit of a portrait painting with unconvincing flesh colours:
  • Including a painting pigment labelled “flesh tint” or “flesh hue” Within the artist’s palette, creating an idealistic impression of how skin should look.
  • Using black or a dirty earth colour to darken the flesh colour
  • Painting with presumptions about how skin should look, for example by mixing red with white
  • Using delicate tones throughout, resulting in a bleached out or flat portrait
  • Forgetting to observe the subject matter whilst painting, falling into the habit of simply finishing the painting
  • Painting lines to delineate facial features, for instance, wrinkles or cheekbones
Tips on How to Improve Portrait Painting

The following simple measures will help the portrait artist with improving the practice of portrait painting.
  • Skin colours contains the most unexpected hues, such as violets, crimsons and even greens, which can be seen on reflections from neighbouring objects
  • Similarly, skin often contain deep tones, some of which may appear almost black. Adding a cool colour, such as blue or violet, will darken the skin colour more effectively than black
  • Dispense with black altogether except for painting pupils. Similarly, dispense with “flesh tint” or such hues that merely reinforce the idea that skin “should” be beige or pink.
  • Mix the flesh colour from scratch by using no more than three colours and white
  • Prior to painting the portrait, apply a neutral coloured under-wash of thin acrylic paint to kill the off-putting white of the painting surface
  • Paint the skin colours prior to the features, such as eyes and lips, as these colours could contaminate the delicate skin colours
  • Try painting an isolated feature such as the nose or lips, to get to grips with flesh colours before having a go at the entire portrait
  • Complete the portrait in several stages. Don’t try to rush it at the end when tired, or this will ruin the painting
  • Accept that the portrait will make little sense until it is completed
  • Going over the portrait painting two or three times is sometimes necessary to make tonal and colour adjustments
Painting Children and Older People

All portraiture should have the same approach. Facial features often consist of subtle changes in tone and colour, which beginners perceive to be linear. Children’s faces seldom have lines, only subtle shadows and shifts in hue. Similarly, wrinkles are not simply lines, but are subtle marks. Half closing the eyes and standing back from the portrait will help the artist garner the most important aspects of a portrait, as opposed to sitting too close to the photograph and illustrating each eyelash.

Art Demo on Painting Shadows on Skin

My youtube clip below shows how I painted Vermeer's The Pearl Earring via underpainting and then shading techniques in oil on top. Notice the heavy shadows on the near side of the face, which almost equals the darkness of the background.

Essential Art Materials for Painting Portraits

Good quality sables, such as Kolinsky, available from Daler Rowney or Winsor Newton are crucial for portraiture. Round brushes sizes 3, 6 and 9 should suffice. Burnt sienna and white makes a good base colour for skin. The inclusion of ultramarine will take the creaminess off and result in a cooler skin colour. Permanent rose, pthalo blue and burnt umber in small amounts, are also useful pigments to include in the skin palette. Introducing a little colour, as opposed to too much will result in the desired mix. Lastly, linseed oil will take smooth out any unwanted brush marks from the painting.

Links Relating to Portrait Painting

My Skies Look Bland in My Paintings

An oil painting containing skies could end up looking featureless and lifeless if the sky element is poorly observed. The colour blue looks artificial and unconvincing; idealistic cotton wool clouds ruins an otherwise good landscape painting. How can the artist make the sky look realistic within the painting?

The Causes of a Bland Sky Painting

The following practices are often the culprit of a sky sketch that fails to convince the viewer, and which may contribute to an idealistic landscape painting:

Overuse of the blue pigment Ultramarine
Using only one blue pigment with varying amounts of white for the whole sky
Painting with presumptions about the sky: the sky is blue, clouds are white, etc.
  • Not treating the sky element with equal importance as the landscape
  • Using only pale tones for the sky, resulting in a washed out sky
  • Painting the sky element lastly when tired, which will result in a rushed sky that looks completed as an afterthought
  • Lack of awareness of opaque colours and traslucent colours
Tips on How to Paint Skies with Realism

The following practices and thoughts will help improve sky painting, and will in turn help create a more interesting landscape painting:
  • Skies can contain the most bizarre colours, such as violets, greens and crimsons, which can be seen in sunset paintings or mackerel skies
  • Again, skies are not only pale, but contain contrasting tones
  • Complete a series of paintings with only the sky, which will improve awareness of the sky
  • If a sky looks boring, look for an alternative photograph as a painting resource which contains interesting clouds. Ensure the angles and lighting conditions are consistent with the landscape
  • Use larger brushes than would normally use, to give the sky an impressionist feel
  • Consider using impasto medium, which will add body to the paint, adding a textural element to the sky
  • Resist the temptation to brush out any colour streaks on the painting. Allow brush marks to remain, which will add life to the sky painting
  • Observe the sky sensitively before putting the paint down
Essential Art Materials for Painting Skies

Fill Your Oil Paintings with Light & Color
click to buy from Amazon
Although ultramarine is an important colour, and can often be seen on the zenith of a summer sky, other blues such as pthalo blue, cerulean and cobalt can be seen near the horizon, and will provide interesting additions to the artist’s palette. Bright colours, such as permanent rose and cadmium yellow can be seen in sunsets. Burnt sienna, ultramarine and varying amounts of white often make a great colour for cloud bases. Good quality bristle brushes and impasto medium will create an Impressionist sky.

External Links on Painting Skies

Saturday, 20 February 2010

Why are My Colour Mixes Dirty?

Colour mixes in oil painting could end up looking dirty if the colour theory is poorly understood. The most common problem occurs when painting shadows, silhouettes or trying to darken a bright colour. The resultant colour mix ends up looking muddy and lifeless which could ruin a painting. How can muddy colour mixes be avoided, and how can this problem be put right?

The Causes of Muddy Colours

Understanding the cause of dirty colours will help find a solution. The following bad practices will create dirty colour mixes:
  • Trying to darken a colour with black
  • Using more than four colour within a colour mixture
  • Overworking a painting or fiddling too much within a particular area
  • The inclusion of too many earth colours, ochres and greys within the artist’s palette
  • Introducing too much dark colour in a colour mix at once and trying to lighten it again with white, causing the colour mix to lose life
How to Avoid Dirty Colour Mixes

The following simple tips on colour mixing will help prevent muddy colours:
  • Dispense with black altogether
  • Try to use no more than three, or at the most, four pigments to attain a colour mixture
  • Darken a colour with its complimentary colour instead of black or a dark colour. The complimentary colour is the opposing colour on the colour wheel to a given colour. Red’s complimentary is green; yellow’s complimentary is violet
  • Try not to overwork the painting. Allow streaks of colour to remain in the brushwork to retain its vibrancy
  • Don’t over-mix a colour, or it will end up as a solid lifeless block
Darkening Colours for Shadows

A summer’s sky will appear darker at the zenith than at the horizon. Darkening blue can be achieved by introducing a little violet or even crimson into the blue mix, as red is an opposing colour to blue on the colour wheel. Introducing this complimentary colour in increments will help get the best result. Similarly, darkening green foliage can be achieved by introducing a little red.

Painting shadows as pools of black or dark brown is a common mistake and will kill the life out of any painting. Looking closely will reveal a multitude of colours within shadows, including crimsons, greens and violets.

A Cure for Dirty Colour Mixes with Tonking

A muddy splodge on a painting cannot be put right. The best thing to do is start again. This does not mean starting the painting again. The area can simply be wiped off or carefully blotted out by a process known as “tonking.” This is an oil painting technique where the oil paint is lifted off by placing a newspaper over the area concerned, pressing it down and lifting it off. This can be repeated several times until little of the paint can be lifted from the painting.

With the paint lifted off, the area can be wiped gently with a clean rag to rid of any oily residue, and allowed to dry over a day or two. The area can then be begun again.

Essential Art Materials to Prevent Dirty Colour Mixes

Oil pigments in primary colours, which will be labelled differently according to the manufacturers. In oil, this will be pthalo blue, permanent rose and cadmium yellow (pale). In other mediums, this could include the word “process” or “permanent” with the colour label, such as “permanent yellow.” Winsor & Newton and Daler Rowney are established and trusted manufacturers in oil painting pigments.

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