Monday, 20 September 2010

My Portrait Painting has Teeth like Piano Keys

The portrait artist painting teeth for the first time may end up with pegs that look too teethy or goofy. The teeth look too square, white or harshly defined, creating an unwanted focal point to the portrait painting. How can the artist paint teeth that look natural in portraiture?

Problems with Painting Teeth

Oil Techniqes for Teeth
Rachel Shirley
Before making changes to faulty practices in painting teeth, the portrait painter may take stock and address the causes of an unconvincing teeth painting, which could be any of the following:
  • Allowing generalisations about teeth to leak into the portrait painting, such as the following: All teeth are square in shape, the gaps between the teeth are black and equal in width and all teeth emerge from red gums in equal measure from the top and bottom of the mouth.
  • Using only white to represent the enamel colour of teeth and then darkening the colour with black or grey.
  • Treating teeth as separate entities to the rest of the portrait.
  • Painting teeth as equal in size and shape
  • Not altering the tone or colour of each tooth, but using the same hue for each, resulting in flat-looking teeth.
  • Forgetting to check the photographic reference when painting teeth.
How to Paint Teeth in Portraits

The following tips on painting teeth will help contribute to the overall quality of the portrait painting and create a more desirable focal point along with the eyes.
  • Teeth are rarely just white but other pale hues. The colour of teeth can vary from ivory to tea-coloured. Even teeth within the same mouth will often vary in colour, whether locally or through shadows. Look out for blues, browns, violets and beiges in teeth.
  • Look out for shadows on various areas of the teeth, such as that cast from the upper lip and where the back teeth retreat into the mouth. Shading will also define the shape of each tooth, particularly where the edges round off.
  • Take notice of the different shapes and sizes of teeth. The bottom teeth are often a little narrower than the upper teeth. The two front incisors will often be the most prominent. If necessary, count the number of teeth in view on the photograph and echo this in the painting.
  • The colour of gums is often subtle rather than bright red. The divisions between teeth and gums are also soft and require a little blending to prevent harsh lines from drawing the eye. Shadows will often darken the gums almost to black. Highlights can often be found on gums too, which provides a great opportunity for the artist to make the gums look more convincing.
Take extra care when rendering outlines to teeth, which will easily look harsh and make the portrait jar. It may often be necessary to blend outlines with a soft clean brush. Similarly, it helps to view the lips around the teeth as an extension of the teeth, rather than as separate entities. Observe how the lips and teeth relate to one another in the painting, for example, how the tonal values of the teeth compare to that of the mouth.

Techniques for Painting Teeth

Fine sable brushes are crucial when painting detail around teeth. Start from the pale colours and work to the darks. This will prevent a neighbouring colour from contaminating the pale hues of teeth. Half-close the eyes to gauge the tonal value of teeth. Avoid loading the brush with too much paint or this will make the detail hard to manage. Wipe off excess paint onto a rag and mix a little linseed oil into the paint for the detail. Don’t use black to express outlines and dark areas. Instead, introduce a little violet into the pale colour and blend any gradations in shades. Apply the darkest areas and highlights last. If a mistake is made, blot the paint off or soften it with a clean sable.

The Colour of Teeth

Winton Oil Color 200 ml Tube Titanium White
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I often mix a little burnt sienna and ultramarine into my white to render teeth. With just the right amounts, this will result in a pearly colour most often found in teeth. Gradations in shades can be provided by adding a little burnt umber, or a mixture of ultramarine and permanent rose, which results in a cool violet, ideal for shadows beneath the upper lip and the back of the mouth. The finishing touches often are highlights, provided by dragging a little neat white paint onto selected areas of the teeth.

Links Relating to Portrait Painting


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Portrait Painting

Sal Casley said...

Woah! That's really a unique painting tutorial. Dentists should know those tips and tricks too! They're not painters but they could use the knowledge when choosing paintings for their offices! Well, it would be fitting to put beautiful teeth paintings inside dental clinics, right?

Sal Casley