Guilt is a cruel partner. I don’t seem to be able to find a good block of time for painting anymore. And I feel pretty guilty about it. Too busy with stuff, I guess, and the weekends seem too short for all I try to cram into them. Ah, welcome to life.
I did do a little painting toward the end of March, on Sunday afternoon. I painted the floor on my portrait of Emilia, just the white squares. Since it wouldn't show up as much different than the other photos, I decided not to blog it at the time, thinking I’d be painting again really soon and fill in with that entry. Only it’s now almost the end of May.
The floor will have to be done again, at least the white part. The subtle shadows are too subtle. I guess I wasn’t standing back far enough or something. The good part about taking so long with a painting (this one is almost a year in progress) is that the mistakes show up before you’re done with it so there’s still time to correct them. I just wasn’t bold enough.
I decided to tackle the hair yesterday. First I had to set up the studio somewhat. I had taken my gear into the kitchen while Nelson was in Utah and it didn’t get moved out until earlier this month. So after setting up my easel, taboret and painting box, I set to work laying out my palette.
It consisted of Windsor Newton (W.N.) raw umber, Rembrandt (R.) Van Dyke brown for the darkest darks, R. Naples yellow light, W.N. Titanium white for the lights, Williamsburg (W.) Italian burnt Sienna, Daniel Smith yellow ochre, W.N. jaune brilliante, W. cadmium red vermillion, W.N. viridian, W. king’s blue.
I studied the photo and the under painted hair for quite a while. I guess I didn’t really know where to begin. When in this kind of quandary, I usually start by laying in the darkest darks and see where that takes me. Then of course there were corrections, rubbing out, and establishing general highlights that I missed in the under painting, I used raw umber, burnt Sienna and white, on the cool side, not the lightest lights, I’d put them in later. Then I did the various mid-tones, using a combination of Van Dyke brown, raw umber, burnt Sienna and yellow ochre, adding a bit of white to lighten it or Naples yellow light, if the white cooled it too much. I was trying to balance the warm and the cool. Some of the highlights were cool and some were warm, same with the mid-tones.
I started out with a bristle filbert brush, I can’t remember the size, but it was about 3/8ths inch wide. I also used a smaller bristle filbert that was long. I have a fat sable filbert for blending and I used a W.N. series 7 number 2 watercolor brush for details. I was able to salvage some light background color from my dried palettes, cutting into the larger gobs and thinning a bit with turpentine to reshape the hair where the under painting was too loose.
Gradually, it began to come together. I mixed a pink out of white, vermillion and jaune brilliante, then I subdued it with viridian where her part shows through the fine baby-like hair. I used a darker version of this in the middle, between the part of her swept-to-the-side bangs and the hair gathered up into the barrette. That’s the core shadow, like in the face. Remember your shadows give the head form, though the hair can be confusing with it’s various curls and highlights. So the part is where the shadows need to work. In this case it was rather simple, but I think it added a lot. I also used some of this darker mixture to blend the line of the face where the dark hair is on either side, to blur it slightly, to keep the roundness of the face from seeming flat, which hard edges can do.
The barrette is a different blue from her shirt, though not visible on the photo. I put in the barrette and the shadow below it. I used the fan or the fat filbert to smooth things out then I went back in with the number 7 to bring out individual hair highlights, this time with a warmer version of the highlight mixture.
One thought that plagues me is “How could I miss that?” I notice a shadow where it shouldn’t be or the lack of one that should. A photo is a shame to work from, so hard to feel your way around. I still remember the color and these cool photos are nothing like the real thing. But I might have missed more than a little shadow if I had tried to do a child from life. Did you know that the great Winston Churchill had a photographic memory? He was quite a good painter. I can remember color, even if I can’t remember all the shapes. My own photos are miserable, and no amount of Photoshop can correct what this camera does to my work. So here is my disclaimer. The hair is only slightly reddish along the bangs and by that downy bit of hair at the right top of her forehead. The rest is a kind of mousy, baby brown, with occasional slightly golden highlights.