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...


  1. Kate - thanks so much for sharing the progress on this work! I found it particularly helpful since I paint animals and picked up some new tips and tricks to add to my arsenal.

    Quick question - when painting fur or hair do you paint it mostly in one go alla prima style or do you paint it in a few layers? It just seems that some of your darker or lighter final strokes might get diluted or muddied if painting wet into wet.

    1. I generally do a washy pass to lay down colour shapes and cover the white of the ground, and over top of that, I go in for the kill and paint it all to a finish in one go. But there's no reason why you couldn't break it down into more stages if it seems a bit of a stretch to you to do it all in one go.

      As for muddying, I find that having a careful touch takes care of things. If you are making just the right mark with just the right brush, you won't find yourself reworking things and the muddying won't happen (so premix your colours for accuracy and get a good selection of brushes out). That, and I think the consistency of the paint helps--Lead White and Cyprus Umber Dark are both pretty viscous and hold their brushstrokes well without intermixing too much.

      Good luck!

    2. I meant to say, Lead and Cyprus Raw Umber Dark were two of the main colours I used to paint the fur above, along with a bit of Orange Ocher, Ultramarine Blue, and Cyprus Burnt Umber Warm. Obviously, use whatever colours you need for whatever fur you're painting.

  2. Thank you for taking the time to share your process. So appreciated. Love your work.

  3. Lovely painting, and I enjoyed seeing the progress. Thanks so much for sharing.