Wednesday, 2 May 2012

The Colours in my Tiger Paintings are Never Vibrant Enough

Mixing bright, vibrant colours for an oil painting featuring tigers or other big cats might not create the effect desired. The artist might be disappointed if garish or dull colour mixes result. What is the best way of achieving vibrant colour mixes for tigers?

Mixing the Best Colours for Tiger Art

How to Paint the Tiger
 Junglerealm Rachel Shirley
As can be seen from my painting, I have used bright colours to express the ferocity of the tiger rather than portray realism. But bringing out bright colours for such fierce creatures will help create focal points to the tiger. Firstly, the artist needs to highlight colour mixing practices at fault, which could be any of the following.
  • Making generalized assumptions about the colour of the tiger. For instance, all tigers are yellow and black with alternating stripes that appear perpendicular to the tiger’s spine.
  • Applying a premixed pigment straight onto a white art surface in alla prima fashion and spreading it over in uniform brushmarks, resulting in a poster-paint effect to the oil painting which lacks depth.
  • Mixing white with a translucent pigment such as lemon yellow to increase its opacity, resulting in an insipid yellow.
  • Darkening a bright colour with black or dark brown. For instance, expressing shadows on a tiger’s fur as yellow mixed with black.
  • Mixing any red and yellow in the hope it will result in a vibrant orange. Not all red is a primary colour and neither is any yellow. Read my article on colour theory for clarification. But if attempting to obtain a warm orange in the tiger’s fur, cadmium red (deep) would not be ideal, as it contains a lot of violet. In effect, cadmium red (deep) and yellow would be like mixing red, yellow and a little violet, which will result in a cool orange (but which can also be found in tiger’s fur). Cadmium red or vermillion might be better choices as these are more biased towards orange.
Covering Power of Oil Pigments

Some pigments are more translucent than others by nature. This means various amounts of linseed oil (the vehicle in which the ground pigment is coated) is needed to make the pigment flow. Permanent rose, lemon yellow and burnt sienna tend to be rather translucent. Cadmium yellow, cadmium red and cerulean are more opaque. Apply a layer of neat alizarin crimson onto a white surface and it appears to be almost blood-red. Mix a little white into it, and it appears more brownish-red.

In order to create vibrant colours, a little knowledge of pigment translucency is required.

Glazing Colours for Vibrant Painting

Glazing is one of the best ways to create visually eye catching animal art as it reinforces subsequent layers. For achieving bright yellows for tiger’s fur, the following steps might help.

Rather than paint the final colour mix straight onto a white art surface, apply a layer of underpaint. This will bring depth to the overlying colours of the tiger. I use a slightly darker colour than the final colour of the tiger’s fur. I can than work into the highlights with progressively vibrant yellows. In this instance, I will mix a little burnt umber into cadmium yellow and apply this sullen-yellow onto the yellow areas of the tiger.

Apply this colour thinly, so that detail can be worked on top. I will then work a dark colour onto the stripes. Burnt umber and pthalo blue or permanent rose and pthalo blue will create interesting and variegated darks. Don’t worry about detail at this stage.

How to Paint Tiger’s Fur

Watch out for the pale underbelly of the tiger that contains any yellow. For this, I will mix a variety of china blues and greys, which might consist of a little pthalo blue, permanent rose and burnt umber with lots of white. Good visual resources are vital for these areas, as these subtle colours will bring out the bright colours. Tiger’s fur often contains tufts, which can take a regular pattern on certain areas of the tiger. Look out for these patterns and simplify them by blurring the vision.

Painting the Tiger’s Face

Beware of impressing human features onto the tiger, a common error. Observe the tiger’s face sensitively. The eyes will often be overshadowed by the brow-fur. The tear ducts will often appear prominent and seldom exhibit the whiteness of the eyeball. The irises will often possess a dark tidemark on the outer edge.

Take every opportunity to express highlights in the eyes, which will bring the tiger to life. Be equally sensitive of the tiger’s snout, which though does not form the focal point can easily ruin the painting if portrayed inaccurately.

Look out for moist areas around the nostrils and mouth and also look out for blues and violets within any soft tissue exhibited. The tiger’s face will also possess a surprising amount of blues, greys and white around the main features.

Painting Detail on the Tiger

Allow the paint to dry over 2 or 3 days and then work into a little detail. To achieve bright yellows, I will use predominantly cadmium yellow with varying amounts of burnt sienna or burnt umber for the base colour of the fur and then lemon yellow with white for the highlights.

In certain lighting, the tiger’s colours may appear sullen – more brown. In such cases, burnt umber might be introduced into the colour mix. With a fine sable, reinforce the detail over the tiger’s face, sharpening up highlights in the eyes and increasing the crispness to dark outlines.

Further elaborate on shadows or contours on the tiger. This is the beauty of glazing, it does not matter if the first layer is imperfect.

Oil Painting the Tiger

A third glaze may be applied by allowing this colour to dry and then applying a more opaque colour mix consisting of cadmium yellow and white for the fur. Introduce a little linseed oil into the colour mix to create sharp lines around the tiger’s eyes and markings on the face. Move the paint in the direction of the fur. As the paint is dragged from the sable, the paint will grow progressively fine, the ideal effect for expressing stray fur from the tiger’s ears, tail and whiskers.

Links on Colour Mixing and Oil Painting

Tips on painting leopards
How to paint sunflowers
Build confidence in oil painting
All about alkyd paints and Liquin
Paint a landscape in 100 strokes

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