Monday, March 26, 2012

Iron Maiden Part II

Posted by: Kate

After letting the drawing languish off in a back room for several weeks the concept is sufficiently ripe for me to go back to my discount lyre easel for a colour study. I have a policy of making my colour study, my preparatory sketch, and my finished painting the same size, which makes everything a whole lot simpler and I waste less breath swearing. The purpose of this colour study is to determine my palette, which, although it is usually only about five to seven colours, changes with every project. I like to know before I start the painting proper that my red will hit the right notes, that my cools are adequately represented by my black (I try to use neutrals mixed from black to stand in for my cools whenever possible), and so on. If I can't quite hit the right note in my colour study, I will have to change my palette a bit. Lately Dave has been talking smack about Cad Red Medium in favour of Vermilion, so I'm taking that colour for a spin in this study. The other colours on my palette are Titanium White, Ivory Black, and Yellow Ochre Pale. Raw Umber makes an appearance for the drybrush.

This is day one on the study. I like to think that day one should just be an attempt to turn the white of the canvas into something closer to what the finished colours on top of it will be.

After working on a painting right way up, it always ends up looking better upside down. I did a lot of this painting upside down so that it would look nice right way up. The flesh tones today have a much better range of warm to cool.

And I know colour studies are like newborns in that nobody finds them as interesting as the people who created them, but here is a close up that I think shows the exaggerated highlights on her nose nicely. At this point I was happy with the colours and ready to move on.

I played around with composition and lay-out in Photoshop before creating tracings from my drawing study and transfering them to my canvas. My preparatory drawing had tiny carny hands, so I slapped my sketch down on a photocopier and enlarged them. Why make things more complicated than they have to be? In the same spirit, the reason I use Photoshop is because thumbnails can be really inaccurate. You can make an arm a millimeter too wide and in the thumbnail it looks fine and dandy but when you try to translate that thumbnail to a full size piece your subject suddenly has big ol' thighs for arms. It makes it really hard to get an accurate picture in your mind of what the finished painting will look like. I prefer to do thumbnails in the earlier stages only. Now, I could have done a full-sized drawing and worked it out, but the powers that be seem to have decided that no drawings shall exceed the size of 20x30" or whatever the standard size of paper is. The little rectangle of white paper is a piece of 4x6" photo paper, which, in absence of a ruler, I used to measure out my canvas so that I could accurately place the head and hands according to my mock up in Photoshop. For some reason artist studios never have rulers (only tape measures) or regular pencils for writing with (only pencils sharpened to a maniacal point that snaps painfully when you try to write down a phone number).

I started with the eyes, which is not normally something I do, but in this case came easily because I had the colour study to guide me. I think she looks kind of like a pulp-novel barbarian priestess a la Frazetta here.

Here you can see that I have my colour study handy to help me. I have my laptop with the original reference photos out too, but I'm hardly looking at them.

Cue creepy clown music. Sometimes when a face begins to peer out of the canvas like this it feels kind of diabolical, even if it is a beautiful woman.

This is where I called it a day. If I had had more time (rather, if I had wasted less) I would have put a little more description into her fingers, probably indicating her fingernails. I didn't actually hit any of my darkest notes today, not even in the eyes. She has black hair, black clothing, and the background will be quite dark, which will make her white skin really pop. I will have to put in some of this before I rework the flesh tones again, but to put it in now would result in a lot of buildup of paint when really I would like to keep the finished look a bit transparent and washy in my darkest areas. I'm hoping this will keep them from looking flat.


  1. Amazing, I love these progress posts from you guys. Really inspiring and educational.

  2. Greate post Kate! And great wip too.

    I've notices that every painter that works with a sort of ebauche use it in a slightly different way (usually, everybody think of it as a washy, scarcely modelled vertion of the final piece; some think more on a planar approach, some others just to cover the white of the canvas or to get a "color/value map", some didn't use white, just more diluted in the lighter areas, some did use, etc)

    What are your goals in this stage?
    I've noticed that you prefer to use a slightly transparent (i.e. "diluted") coat, is that coat rubbed-in?

    ps: sorry my english, I'm trying to improve it! I hope it ok to understand
    ps: this was too hilarius: "For some reason artist studios never have rulers (only tape measures) or regular pencils for writing with (only pencils sharpened to a maniacal point that snaps painfully when you try to write down a phone number)."

  3. Hi Ariel,

    Don't worry, your English is very good. I think the ebauche varies from artist to artist the same way that style varies and materials vary. Artists with vastly different finished styles are going to try to accomplish different things in their ebauche stage. A loose painter will not try to create a solid and blended ebauche, for instance. Also, a painter working on an oil-primed surface (slightly slick) will wind up with a much washier and brushstroke-y ebauche than an artist working on a gessoed surface (absorbent), whether or not they are working with non-thinned paint.

    In answer to your question, I do use some mineral spirits to help the paint spread more easily and quickly over large areas like cheeks, forehead, hair, and background. This results in a thinner, washier paint layer. For detailed areas, like the fingers, eyes, lips, and nose, I use pure paint, but using bristle brushes on an oil primed surface creates a brushstroke-y paint layer that looks a lot like mineral spirits was used. If I am working out some very fine details, like the crease in the mouth or the nostrils, I will switch to a soft brush, which applies the paint more uniformly (no brushstrokes).

    My goals in this stage are to cover the white of the canvas and to make the canvas less slick. This new paint layer is much easier to paint over than the raw canvas. I'm not overly concerned with whether or not my ebauche has a certain aesthetic look. Some artists like the way a washy ebauche looks and they go out of their way to achieve that. I'm just painting in a way that comes naturally, and I think that any artist would benefit by doing what comes naturally.

    Thanks for following our blog!

    1. Great answer!
      Thanks a lot for going so specific, is easier to figure it out the way you work and approach painting

      Best and thanks again!

  4. Oh, beautiful Kate! But the color study looks like a finished painting. What are the main differences between it and the final painting?

    1. Hi Solana,
      The colour study doesn't have to be this finished normally. I did several passes to get it to this level of finish, and while it is still not as polished as the finished painting will be, it is more complete than my colour studies normally are. The reason for this is because I really wasn't sold on my colour palette and so I kept at it to see if I really could hit the right colours. Judging by my first and second pass I thought not, but the third pass came through. Also, I now have a nice study to give to my model.