At our February meeting we were treated to a wonderful demonstration given by SSWRAS member Veronica Davies. Thanks also to Veronica for the comprehensive handout:
“To prep my canvas, I use two or three coats of gesso sanding between each coat. Then I apply a base colour of gesso mixed with yellow ochre acrylic and black acrylic paint (or grey gesso) , watered down and wiped off so it’s not too opaque. This creates a nice mid-tone and gets rid of any white canvas showing through.
Using a grid helps me keep my proportions in check, and proportion is a key to likeness. I use thread to mark my grid on the canvas securing it down the sides with green painters’ tape. It is important to remove the threads while the paint is still wet, smoothing out any ridges. I like squares of 1.5 inches.
Using burnt umber, I do an underpainting. The underpainting is important because it is like a map. I block in my angles, emphasizing apexes. I like to let this underpainting dry completely.
To start, I work through the lights. It is important to keep the lights a mid value—starting too light will make skin tones chalky and highlights won’t stand out. I add in changes of colour and value as I see them.
Once my lights are in, I put in the hair and background to get an idea for my shadow values. Cast shadows create a sharper edge, while form shadows should be kept very soft. I am mindful to create strong shadow contrast at the shadow edges, this is sometimes called the terminator line. I look for three tones for each feature and to describe the planes. Generally, moving down the face and away from the light should get darker and cooler (could be warmer depending on your light).
When painting hair, look for shapes and patterns, rather than trying to paint strands of hair. Be sure to keep the edges soft, including the eyebrows. The lip lines should also be kept very soft, to avoid looking like lipstick. Start with a skin tone for lips and warm it up gradually. Generally the top lip is in shadow and the bottom lip catches the light. The nose can be really warm, keep nostrils with some red in them (rather than pure black). Same with the tear ducts, keep them really warm. For highlights, often the brightest highlight is cool with the body of the highlight getting warmer.
Try to paint against the form—strokes following the form can appear flat and uninteresting. Making edges a bit darker can create a rounding form.
For the eyes, never make the whites of the eyes pure white, this makes them really flat and unrealistic. There is value and shadow in the whites of the eyes. Often you can attach the eyelashes right to the pupil. Make sure you create value and shadows in the iris too. Eyelashes come in clusters so avoid painting them too individually.
Be sure to step back, squint, turn the painting upside down and check it in a mirror. I also take photos and check them for anything that stands out.”
Mixes to create a palette: 1Titanium White; 2Titanium White + Yellow 3Ochre (cream); Yellow Ochre; 4Yellow Ochre + Cad Red + White (flesh); 5Colour 4 + Mars Black (dark flesh); 6 Cad Red; 7 White + Mars Black (grey);
8 Colour 7 (grey) + Yellow Ochre (light green); 9 Yellow Ochre + Mars Black (green); 10 Yellow Ochre, Cad Red + Mars Black (brown); 11 Black + Cad Red (dark brown; 12 Mars Black
When mixing, add Cad Red and Black slowly, they are strong colours. Create ‘strings’ with 4,5,6 and 8. An additional colour mix that is good to know is 7 (grey) plus Cad Red and a bit of 9 (greenish) for a shadow tone.
Veronica mixes ‘strings’ of colour for her portrait painting. (See mix recipes below.)
She prefers to use neutral grey ground in her Masterson palette as the paints show their true colour and value against the background. She uses a limited palette of only four colours: Cadmium Red, Yellow Ochre, Mars Black and Titanium White. She prefers Anders Zorn oil paints.
Products I like: M. Graham Walnut Oil; M. Graham Walnut Oil Alkyd;
Gamvar picture varnish; Flat brushes; Jagged tipped brushes (Rake);
Grey/Midtone Palette and Masterson Palette Seal
Contemporary Artists I admire: Mary Jane Ansell, Agnes Cecile; Casey Childs; Rose Frantzen; Jeff Hein; David Jon Kassan; Malcolm Liepke;
Jeremey Lipking; Adrienne Stein; Emma Uber; Mary Whyte;
Workshops I’ve taken: Lalita Hamill: lalitahamill.com; Martinho Correia: martinhoart.com; David Goately: davidgoatley.com; Suzanne Northcott: suzannenorthcott.ca; Kerry Dunn: kerrydunn.com
posespace.com (reference for artists, life drawing models)