Friday, 28 June 2013

Oil Painting Demo of Judith Beheading Holofernes in Oil Glazes

Portrait painting poses challenges, especially when videoing the process. In this case, I opted for the Hebrew character Judith from Caravaggio’s painting ‘Judith Beheading Holofernes.’ This chiaroscuro painting tells a grisly story, but my real focus was Judith’s facial expression set against a somber background.

Chiaroscuro in Oils

Demo of a Caravaggio Painting
Caravaggio’s grisly painting tells the story of Judith’s seduction and subsequent dispatch of Holofernes, an Assyrian general set out to crush the resistance against the Neo-Babylonian king, Nebuchadnezzar II. Judith’s home would become a casualty of Holoferne’s campaign if she had not decapitated him after getting him drunk. As can be seen here, Caravaggio used chiaroscuro to convey the dark atmosphere. Chiaroscuro, one of the painting modes of the Renaissance period is a painting style featuring dramatic lighting against a somber background.

Dramatic Scenes of Renaissance Artists

Judith Beheading Holofernes
(Caravaggio)
Numerous artists have painted this scene, including Lucas Cranach the Elder, Franz Stuck and Cristo Fano Allori. Several etchings and sculptures have also been inspired by the story. In Caravaggio’s interpretation, Judith wears a strangely faraway frown set against a dark background, one of the reasons I chose the painting for my video clip. The part I selected can be seen in the white square.

Oil Painting Shadows on Faces

Delicate yet dramatic chiaroscuro effects require high visual awareness. Even the slightest inaccuracies in the shadows around the nose, mouth or in Judith’s frown will make the face look wrong. When set against a somber background, the portrait also has to exhibit equally-dark shadows or the face will look washed-out.

I completed the painting in 2 glazes and therefore 2 video clips (below). The first clip shows how I conducted the under-painting and first glaze, which will form the foundation for the overlying colors. The second clip shows how the second glaze was completed.

Somber Underpainting for Oils



Here, I applied burnt sienna and pthalo blue in various thicknesses to represent the shadow areas of the face. Being acrylic, the paint dries quickly. I then overlaid the underpainting with oil color. When applying paint in glazes, it becomes possible to modify the painting underneath. I began with the pale colors, mixing white with a little burnt sienna. This pale color was dabbed over the palest areas of the face, adding a little more burnt sienna and pthalo blue for the mid-tones. As the clip shows, I worked the paint generally darker as the face was painted in. Niggles may present themselves, such as the angle of the mouth. This is often due to difficulty in controlling the wet paint. I decided to leave these details for the next glaze.

The Upper Glaze on an Oil Painting



A day or two later, I worked on the second glaze. I added a little linseed oil for added transparency to the paint. White, a little burnt sienna and cadmium yellow were worked over the highlighted areas of the face, which resulted in more depth of tone. A separate brush for darker areas was dabbed over the shadows of the left side of the face. A fine sable was required for the eyes and mouth. Cadmium red and a little burnt umber were applied on the lips. Neat white was lightly brushed over the lower lip for highlights. I was able to modify the angle of the mouth here.

Painting Detail on Portraits

Highlights were smoothly knitted into the darker areas via the midtone with a soft, clean sable. Blending forms an important part of portrait painting, particularly in oil. If a smooth blend cannot be achieved, a little additional oil paint might be needed to make the pigment go further. The portrait was finished off by touching up detail round the earring and the highlights on the hair.

Painting a Portrait Caravaggio Style

Creating depth of tone in chiaroscuro style requires a fair amount of deep colors. In order to set the tone, a dark-colored underpaint was applied. Once dry, I was able to key in the highlights of the face into the dark background. Niggles and rough blends may present themselves on this first glaze, but can be worked over on the second glaze. As can be seen in these 2 videos, the under-painting and the first glaze forms the foundations on which the upper glaze can be built, for smooth tones and depth of color.

More Articles on Painting Portraits in Oil

How to paint shadows on faces
Tonality of colors in painting
How to achieve grisaille effects in painting
How to paint chiaroscuro in oils

Wednesday, 19 June 2013

I Can't Paint Shadows on Portraits

Painting shadows on a face is different to suggesting shadows on buildings or a landscape. The beginner may treat both subject matter the same, expressing facial shadows as definite grey or black shapes on top of the skin color, resulting in dark pools or dirty smudges. How can the hopeful portraitist paint shadows that suggest contours on a portrait?

Why Portraits are Difficult to Paint

Shading Techniques
for Portraiture
Portrait painting is often perceived to be a difficult subject matter to tackle. Little wonder when the face forms an important part of what we see. Our brains are highly sensitive to interpreting facial expressions or judging the character of someone by their features. The smallest deviation regarding an outline or a shadow will affect the overall appearance. In the case of painting, the portrait may no longer resemble the person portrayed. Our brains will not forgive these crucial deviances, and when it comes to shadows and contours, getting it right is ever more crucial.

Portrait Painting Tips in Oils

The beginner may experience difficulty in suggesting subtle contours on a face; a harsh dark shadow inhabiting the edge of the nose looks like a blotch; cheekbones appear as dark hollows making the person appear gaunt. The portrait may otherwise appear flat, with wishy-washy shadows that fails to inform on the facial contours. How can the portraitist paint convincing shadows on faces in oils? Well, firstly, the problem needs to be identified. This means stepping back and evaluating the method used in portraiture.

View my shading technique when painting this angel from Da Vinci's The Virgin on the Rocks.


View how the first glaze of this oil painting was completed.

How not to Paint Shadows on a Portrait

The following art practices in painting facial shadows are likely to result in an unsatisfactory portrait painting:

  • Applying ‘skin tone’ or ‘flesh tint’ over the prevailing areas of the portrait painting and then overlaying a dark color on top, to express shadows, creating the illusion of dark pools over the face.
  • Introducing black to a flesh color and using the resultant murky color to express darker areas on the face.
  • Perceiving shadows as having definite edges. Expressing this view on the painting will make the portrait appear unnaturally harsh.
  • Failing to observe how the edges of shadows blend into darkness, creating an unwanted patchy appearance to the face.
  • Forgetting to check the portrait against the photographic resource, resulting in idealized notions of how shadows behave in portraiture. An example of idealizing is simply shading in one side of the face in an illustrative way.
  • Taking a prosaic view of shadows, treating them as simply dark without looking for definite hues or reflected light within. Light is light; shadow is dark.
  • Not standing back from the painting periodically during the painting process.

Tips on Shadow Techniques on Faces

The following tips might help the artist improve shading techniques on portrait painting.

  • Take an overall view of the face and see how the shadows fit into the mid-tones and highlights like a jigsaw. See shadows as an extension to the other tones rather than as isolated areas of dark.
  • Notice the nature of shadows’ edges. Some are abrupt, such as on the bridge of the nose; others are gradual, such as the cheek-bones and brow.
  • Look for colors and reflected light within the shadows. Reflections from clothing or a nearby surface will cause light to reflect back into shadow.
  • Shadows may appear definite on a photograph, by may actually comprise the most subject shift in hue. Introduce the dark color into the white when color mixing rather than the other way round.
  • Shadows can in fact be suggested by simply cooling the color down as opposed to darkening it. Is the tone darker, or is the color simply cooler?
  • Use a resource with high resolution that informs visually. Using a poor photograph with insufficient information could force the artist to fill in the blanks.
  • A problem with the shadow area could be due to an incorrectly-illustrated highlight or mid-tone. Address all areas of the face to successfully diagnose the shadow problem.

Basic Shading Techniques for Shadows on Portraits.

There are various ways of suggesting shadows on a face painting. The following tips might help.

A basic method of darkening skin tone is by introducing a conflicting color into a given color (cool into warm colors). For instance, a little burnt sienna mixed in white is great for suggesting warm highlights. Adding a cool color will tone it down or make it appear darker. A little burnt umber, pthalo blue or ultramarine can be added to this cream color to create subtle shadows, preferable to adding black or dark grey. Additional burnt sienna or a little alizarin crimson will enrichen this highlight color for a deeper hue.

Glazing Effects for Shadow

Applying two or more glazes over an oil painting forms an important part of oil painting and is great for deepening tones, softening blends and perfecting detail. Soft shadows can be suggested by the application of a translucent mix of oil paint onto the areas where shadows exist via soft sables. Blending out into the prevailing color is achievable by making the color mix more translucent. The addition of linseed oil will flatten out brush marks and retard the paint’s drying time, making it workable for longer. Clean sables are great for blending soft shadow areas.

Advanced Shading Techniques for Faces

Deep shadows on a face can be suggested by chiaroscuro effects as seen in the old masters. Caravaggio and Durer were early exponents of this technique which simply describe dynamic shadows juxtaposed against dramatic highlights.

Chiaroscuro Effects
(after Caravaggio)
If the face possesses high contrasts in light and shadow against a dark background, apply a dark color over the background to form part of the under-glaze first. Once dry, apply a more translucent wash of the same color over the under-drawing of the face (make sure the drawing is sufficiently dark to show through). Applying under-glazes in this fashion makes it easier for the artist to key in the tonal shapes of the face. This is because the true tonal value of a given color is more obvious against a toned ground than a white art surface. This can be seen in the left image. I use acrylic paint for my under-glazes, as it dries quickly. Applying chiaroscuro effects means applying hues with high tonal contrasts, not taking a diffident approach. Lots of pales and darks will be seen against one another.

Shadow Effects in Portraits in Oils

Another technique is sfumato as seen in Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa. Sfumato is soft, smoke-like shading effects on the face with no lines. Sfumato can be achieved by dry-brushing a small amount of paint over selected areas of the portrait. Simply dust the tip-ends of a soft, but firm bristle brush. This dry brushing technique is great for refining shadow effect on the face on the closing stages of the portrait.

Secrets to Shadow Effects on Portraiture

Painting Children's Shadows
(Rachel Shirley)
But none of these techniques would be of any value if the truth about the shadows is not expressed. Remember to retain a candid view of what the facial shadows look like, and this means the following:

  • What shape are they? Are they angular, rounded, resemble an object?
  • What is their color temperature? Are they warm/cool, are they more or less neutral?
  • What are their outlines? Do they shade out gradually, abruptly, a combination of the two (more likely).
  • How does one shadow area compare to another? Are shadows bluer in bias around one side of the face than the other? Are they deeper in tone?
  • Take care when illustrating shadows on children’s faces, as shadow shapes often appear fuller than those on adults. Shifts in hue and tone within the shadow will often be more gradual.


Ideal Art Pigments for Shadow Colors

I have found the following color mixes useful when mixing shadow colors on portraits. Take into account the issue of translucency/opacity. Remember to relate this color mix with the surrounding flesh colors.

  • Soft neutral shadows. Equal portions of burnt sienna and ultramarine with white.
  • Cool soft shadows: Less burnt sienna than ultramarine and white. 
  • Alternatives are: pthalo blue instead of ultramarine; add a little burnt umber for extra depth.
  • Warm soft shadows: permanent rose, ultramarine and white. Alternatives are: Cadmium red, ultramarine and white or burnt sienna, permanent rose, ultramarine and white
  • Deep shadows: Burnt umber and pthalo blue (a little white might be needed)
  • Or Burnt umber, pthalo blue and permanent rose (a little white might be needed)

Experiment with staple pigments to see how they behave. As can be seen here, I use just a handful of colors to mix an array of shadow colors on flesh. These are: ultramarine, pthalo blue, cadmium red, permanent rose, burnt umber and burnt sienna. Other colors worth experimenting with are: cadmium yellow, alizarin crimson, carmine, viridian and cerulean.

Links to other Articles on Mixing Skin Colors in Art

Color mixing tips for flesh colors
How to paint sfumato
How to paint chiaroscuro
Why do my oil paintings look dull?
Tips on portrait photography
Perfecting glazing techniques in oil painting
My book Skin Tones in Oil: 10 Step by Step Guides
Essential pigments for mixing skin colors

Tuesday, 18 June 2013

Skin Tones in Oil: 10 Step by Step Guides from Old Masters Art Book on Figure Painting

This oil painting guide book on producing figure art contains ten art demonstrations centering upon classic oil paintings from old masters. Each demo contains in depth instructions on how each painting was completed. An invaluable guide for artists wishing to explore flesh tones in art, this book also gives invaluable tips on conducting the underdrawing, the under-glaze and making oil painting simple and manageable within any environment.

Art Book on How to Paint Figures

Now available in large edition, the old master paintings were selected with an art technique in mind. Each chapter is dedicated to one painting. Sections include background information on the painting depicted; explanation of the oil painting technique to be explored, a list of art materials needed and then (on average) 28 images in progress with accompanying instructions.

Skin Tones in Oil: 10 Step by Step Guides
Artists wishing to try out different techniques may do so without feeling daunted about trying something truly challenging. Each stage of the painting is intricately explained and each session broken down into manageable time-frames. Sample images can be seen opposite and below. Chapters are as follows:

1 The Valpincon Bather (1808) by Ingres. Technique explored: grisaille effects.
2 The Mona Lisa (1503) by Da Vinci. Technique explored: sfumato.
3 The Birth of Venus (1483) by Botticelli. Technique explored: sgrafitto.
4 The Sleepers (1866) by Courbet. Technique explored: dry-brushing.
5 Samson and Delilah (1609) by Rubens. Technique explored:  blending systems.
Sample images of Rachel Shirley's book
6 Breasts and Red Flowers (1899) by Gauguin. Technique explored: scumbling.
7 The Sistine Chapel Ceiling detail: The Delphic Sibyl (1511) by Michelangelo. Technique explored: cangiante.
8 Sick Bacchus (1593) by Caravaggio. Technique explored: chiaroscuro.
9 Bacchus and Ariadne (1520) by Titian. Technique explored: fine glazes.
10 The Great Bathers (1894) Cezanne. Technique explored: impasto.

Painting Figures in Oil

This book contains extra features, including: an overview on painting flesh tones; a preparatory guide to oil painting, guide to art materials, troubleshooting problems and a glossary.

Step by Step Guide on Painting Flesh Tones
The paintings were produced via modern art materials and modified techniques, not used in the times of the artists depicted. The aim is not to create a carbon-copy of the painting depicted; background elements have been altered and colors of some garments changed. The aim is make these figure paintings inclusive, promoting art exploration.

Book on Painting Figures

Print book’s dimensions: (large edition) 10x8in and 118 pages bursting with colour images. See screenshot for how the interior looks.

(Pocket sized edition): 8.5x5.5in and 192 pages. Also available on Kindle.

My other book, ‘Portrait Painting in Oil: 10 Step by Step Guides from Old Masters' similarly explores skin tones in portraiture. Artists featured within this book are: Delacroix, Gauguin, Velazquez, Botticelli, Wright of Derby, Jacques-Louis David, Rossetti and Vermeer.