Wednesday, 10 November 2010

How do I Paint Ginger Hair in My Portraits?

Painting a portrait of someone with red hair may spur the artist to reach for orange or red oil paint in the belief that the pigment will closely resemble the color of red hair. The result is likely to be a garish color or a carroty hue that fails to convince. What oil pigments can the artist use to paint realistic ginger hair in a portrait painting?

Portrait Painting with Red Hair

How to Paint Red Hair
Rachel Shirley
The portrait artist may review the problems that have occurred during the portrait painting of someone with red hair to achieve realistic ginger hair. The following issues may need addressing first:
  • Using any red oil pigment at hand to express red hair because both have the same color label.
  • Using the “one size fits all” approach to the colour of red hair and using the same color mixes for anyone with ginger hair.
  • Darkening the color of ginger hair with black for darks, resulting in dirty colors.
  • Expressing highlights found in ginger hair by simply introducing white to the red color, resulting in unwanted pinks.
  • Not suggesting any variation in the tone or thickness of the red hair at the hairline, the result being that the hair appears to “bleed” at the scalp.
  • Not thinking about the background to the portrait of someone with reddish hair, with the possible result of clashing colors.
How to Paint Realistic Ginger Hair

Sensitive observation is the key to producing a realistic painting of red hair. Good photographic reference will also help. Flash photography will make the hair area look flat or create an unwanted cast. Artificial light in particular could create a jaundiced hue. Natural daylight is best.
  • Dispel preconceptions about the color of red hair. Violets, blues and creams can often be seen in red hair.
  • The thickness of ginger hair often varies between crown and scalp. The best way to suggest this variation is to mix a little flesh color with the red color at the hairline, and then to apply a little detail over this pale color. Fine strokes from a thin sable would be ideal. Sometimes, the color will vary on one strand of hair.
  • Avoid using black with red. It is better to introduce a little complimentary color to the ginger mix to darken it. In the case of a red color, this will be blue or violet.
  • Look out for unexpected hues in highlights. Depending upon reflections or the lighting conditions, blue or purple can be found in highlights.
Take care to select the most suitable background for a portrait with ginger hair. Avoid peaches, pinks or yellows, which could clash. Dark, cool colors will compliment the subject matter. Forest green, midnight blue or rich earths will bring out the red color of the hair.

Hair Color Ideas for Portraits with Red Hair

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Red hair can encompass a wide array of hues, from honey to auburn. The secret to capturing reddish hair in a portrait is close observation, as discussed earlier. However, portrait painters may use the following color mixing guide for the base color of a particular red hair shade. The following list begins with the largest quantity first.

Auburn or chestnut hair: burnt umber, a little permanent rose, burnt sienna and white.
Very red ginger hair: Cadmium red, burnt sienna a little burnt umber and white.
Golden brown: Burnt umber, burnt sienna, a little cadmium yellow and white.
Honey or gold: Burnt sienna, white and a little burnt umber for darks.
Strawberry blonde: Burnt sienna, a little permanent rose and white.

My Youtube video might be of some interest, which shows my speed painting Sandro Botticelli's The Birth of Venus. The subject matter, Venus, has ginger hair. The hair element of the painting commences at 1.26 minutes into the video. The colour mixes used here were white, cadmium yellow, alizarin crimson and burnt umber.

Techniques of Painting Hair

Suggested color mixes for the highlights found in red hair are burnt sienna and white for creamy hues, or the addition of a little cadmium yellow to suggest spun gold. White with a little ultramarine is ideal for cool highlights in ginger hair. The introduction of a little permanent rose is ideal for pale violets.

Rather than use fine brushstrokes all over the hair, suggest detail by applying fine strokes on selected areas of the hair area, such as around the highlights or stray strands Create focal points at areas where the red hair is lit up from behind. Ginger hair or auburn hair can appear to have the lustre of gold when backlit or illuminated by sunlight.

Related Links on How to Paint Hair


GFM Painting said...

Hi. Greetings. This post is really good and blog is really interesting. It gives good details.
oil painting

Blue said...

Wonderful information! Thank you!

Greg said...

This is exactly what I needed. I’m not (sadly) a painter but I’m working on a series of stories featuring one and I need some occasional technical info to make that element realistic. I may be visiting this site often. Thanks!