Monday, January 11, 2016

Furs, Part II

Posted by: Kate

I left off at the colour wash-in last time (above).  After this stage, I can tackle just about anything I feel like in whatever order I feel like without regretting too much too much, but all the same, I like to think through my strategy.  Some things need to be feathered softly over top of other things (like fur over top of her blouse and hair, and hair over top of her blouse).  One thing I did differently from usual is I did a quick pass in pure paint (no medium) over her eyes.  Usually the eyes are the last part of the face that I paint, which can be fun in a saving-dessert-for-last kind of way, but is also kind of disappointing in a saving-dessert-for-last kind of way.  Actually, it can be kind of lame because a portrait just doesn't look right until the eyes are perfect, so leaving them off until the end just means your painting looks like a steaming pile of mediocrity until the last day.  Here's the painting with a quick pass over the eyes:

Below you can see the start of the blouse.  This is the third time I've painted it so it's practically cheating to keep using it in my paintings.  It came out pretty quickly, and once it was out I went back and pushed the warm/cool dither by teasing warmer colour and cooler colour in here and there.

I circled back to the face and started it the way I usually do, by laying down some warm darks in the jaw area to give me what I call "value context."  If I can get my darkest values in first, everything else snaps into place.  I also try to push this dark value as warm as I can to keep the face looking, you know, alive.  With oxygenated blood running through it.  Just a personal preference, but kind of important with a subject with really fair skin posing under a cool light.

The face was laid in with a combination of Silverbrush bristle egberts and Rosemary mongooses.  It was pretty much all one go, including one more quick pass on the eyes, which went really easily with the foundation from the previous pass already established.


And now the painting looks like this:

Below the hair has been laid in using a combination of Rosemary mongooses (of different sizes so that the tendrils don't look monotonous) and Rosemary Ivory flats.  I'm always waffling between soft, transparent hair, and really graphic, ribbon-like hair.  The latter is really fun to paint, although the former often sits back and integrates a bit better with the rest of the painting.  I indulged in some linear, ribbon-like hair this time.

And now we come to the fur.  While I think that good brushes are essential for good painting, I also think that for most tasks, good brushes can be pretty interchangeable.  I've painted faces with big bristles, tiny soft brushes, sharp synthetic flats...and they all end up looking like they were painted by the same person.  Me.  But, when painting textural surfaces, I do think having just the right brush is important.  It's the difference between creating something that looks fresh and effortless and in reality took a small amount of time to do, and creating something that looks labored, painful, and in fact took forever to do.  Below are the sorts of brushes I usually gravitate towards for painting fur.  The trick is to find a brush whose natural brush stroke creates the effect of fur.  There is no painstaking drawing of each strand of fur in my studio.  If you look at the range of bristles below, you can see I have super soft, wispy Rosemarys, a springy and sensitive egbert from Silverbrush, and coarse and ratty brushes from the hardware store.  This gives me a range of texture for creating many different fur types.  I often use all of them in one painting.  Note that in each category of brush, I try to have several sizes and shapes.  This prevents monotony of brush stroke, something that is lethal to textural effects because it makes the viewer aware that the texture was created with a tool of limited range and expression and not by the hands of invisible angels.

Below is the fur hat.  I used some Velazquez medium to beef up the lightest notes and I think you can see pretty well in this photo that the the lightest wisps of hair stick off the surface of the painting.

And below is the muff.  I used the coarse hardware brushes for the sable fur on the left hand side of the muff (her right)--the area where you can see that the base of the fur is light coloured and the tips of the fur is dark brown.  They were exactly what I needed to lay down a sparse smattering of impastoed dark hair.  Most of the work on the right was a combination of bristles and mongooses.  When painting fur I generally work just like a landscape artist.  I paint the fur farthest away first (usually that means the fur around the edges) and then work my way forward, being careful that everything in front overlaps everything behind it, and not vice versa.  It helps to have a think about which area should get painted last, and then resisting the temptation to work on that.  Incidentally, the area that gets painted last is often the most interesting, because it's the portion of fur that is sticking straight out at you and therefore you can see it clumping and parting.

To be continued...

Sunday, January 3, 2016

Furs, Part I

Posted by: Kate

My final project of 2015 has ended up being my first completed project of 2016, thanks to a nasty cold laying us both on our backs for a week.  I've had comments that my new painting, "Furs," is "very Russian," which I take to mean the model looks like she's cold.  Or pickled in vodka.  Either one.

As usual, I started off with a charcoal and white chalk drawing on toned Strathmore paper.  I've probably said in previous posts that I use Canson, but it turns out I've been living a lie.  That stack of paper in my paper cabinet is actually Strathmore.  It's a bit smoother than the Canson, so I get a better hatching effect.  As usual I draw straight from my laptop monitor, which took about year for my brain to reprogram to in 2013, but is pretty easy now and saves a ton of money in photo printing while providing a truer colour reference.

After completing the drawing I knocked out a few little vellum colour studies.  That wildly orange background is a giant, old-fashioned carriage house style door with studs.  It was in the original shoot, but I realized that as much as I love that door, it would kill my subject's skin tones.  So I putzed around with some green and blue and found that the colour arrangement on the far right was best.

Next came the head study.  Usually I paint directly onto a plain white acrylic ground, but this time I had a panel toned with a bit of grey.  Having a coat of paint, however thin, provides a surface that grabs subsequent layers of paint a little more effectively, and the soft grey itself is pretty easy on the eyes and doesn't scream to be covered up with paint the way that a white ground does.  I really need to paint on toned grounds more, but I'm just so lazy, and sadly there ain't no cure for lazy.

Something about the stage below had me saying, "Do you see?  DO YOU SEE?"

By accidentally making her nose too long I gave Maddie a very grown up look, I think.  She didn't actually age three years since the last painting.

Because the toned grey worked so well in the study, I toned the panel of the painting proper to match.  I traced the drawing I had done with some vellum paper (which is sturdier than tracing paper and lies nice and flat), applied a thin coat of umber paint to the back with a bristle brush, and then transferred the line drawing by drawing over top of the lines of the drawing.  I like to cut out the figure instead of keeping it embedded in a big sheet of vellum (although if you do this, it is absolutely necessary to have a plumb line somewhere in your drawing so that you don't rotate the drawing accidentally and transfer the drunk version).  It helps me appreciate the positioning better, although I do still manage to mess it up the first time around almost every time.  I had to wipe and retransfer this before I was satisfied.

Because the days have been short during our dark, Canadian winter, I had a daytime project going for about four or five hours a day, which I would chase with this, my evening project.  It can be a little challenging working on the same project in varying lighting circumstances.  Natural daylight is very different from fluorescent, even if the the fluorescent is very up on itself for being full-spectrum.  I found the painting looked very flat when I worked on it during the evenings, but came to life in the daytime.  I've heard that one reason for this transformation is that natural light is generally so much more intense than artificial, and since oil paint is essentially a transparent smear of colour on a white ground, a more intense light will penetrate those transparent layers, hit the ground, and bounce back out again with a little more pizzazz than will artificial light.  When looking at a painting under natural light, it's like looking into a transparent pond where you can see surface scum, pond water, and pond bottom all at once.  When looking at the same painting under artificial light, it's like looking at the same pond filled with silt and the effect is that I'm only seeing the upper layer of paint.  I don't know if this is true but it sounds damn poetic so I'm going to go with it.

Below is the colour wash-in, or ébauche.  The colours have been applied in a general manner with plenty of Gamsol to help the paint spread, creating a lean paint layer that will dry rapidly.  I used to be very particular about my edges and my drawing in this stage, but more and more these days I realize it's not so hard to get the drawing back later on, and it's really fun to knock this stage out quickly before parts start to sink in, which happens a lot quicker than usual when working with OMS in your paint.  It's nice to be able to stand back and take a good look at the overall effect of the colours without the sinking in affecting it.

And below is a close up.  It looks like I kept things very rough and simple at this stage, but I actually put a lot of time into nudging her features this way and that so that the drawing, no matter how rough it may seem, is accurate.  One thing I made sure to push were the vivid reds in the folds of the eyes, the nostrils, and the mouth.  These accents are so hard to establish and easy to lose, so I try to force them in right away.

To be continued...

Furs, Part II