When you're doing a portrait, many times hair will have shades of blue and even purple in it, depending on how the light is hitting it. The key to making this look natural, like it's reflecting off the hair, is to keep the colors muted and the strokes short and thin. I mixed yellow with my purple and glazed a few layers of it over it after the paint was on my canvas to get this effect. I also brought quite a lot of the brown of the rest of her hair into where the purple was.
In the video embedded below, I walk you through my journey of painting somewhat realistic hair with seemingly unrealistic colors.
For the past few years, I've been starting the vast majority of my acrylic paintings with a grisaille underpainting, which is an underpainting done in gray tones. This time, though, I'm testing different types of underpaintings, of which there are many. For this experiment, in addition to my go-to gray toned underpainting, I'm also doing a portrait with a brown-toned underpainting and a green-toned underpainting.
I've drawn the same woman's face three times. I'll be using the same surface colors on all three. The only thing that willc change are the underpaintings. This will show me if the same surface colors look the same or different, depending on the underpainting.
If you're wondering why I use an underpainting in the first place, watch this video from my youtube channel.
Today I finished the last of the underpinnings and so it was time to start the color. I started with a basic mixture of zinc white, because it’s transparent, that’s important, my trusty raw Sienna, and a touch of red. I applied a wash of this color over all three faces, then mixed some more raw Sienna and red for the shadows.
I noticed that the face I'd done with the brown underpainting looked significantly warmer than the other two. I'd been struggling to find a way to paint people with warm skin without making them look sickly or jaundiced, so this was a very pleasant discovery.
The green was significantly harder to cover than either the blue or the gray. I don't think I'll be using a green underpainting in this way for portraits in the future. It's just not worth it.
The darkest shadows were bluish, though, so I mixed some ultramarine into my shadow color, but this color just looked muddy on my canvas. I mixed up some ultramarine and orange so it was muted and painted this on the left-hand sides of each face, down the right-hand sides of each of the noses and around the left cheeks, leaving a whole for the highlight.
Back tracking a bit, before I did this, I glazed a muted red over the whole of all three faces. I kept mixing more water into my paint even after I had it on the canvas to keep it nice and subtle.
Yesterday I added more layers to the green and brown under-painted faces. I adjusted the blue shadows by glazing orange over them because I thought they were too intense.
I've started to add pale purple highlights to the hair. I’ll need to glaze yellow over those highlights. They're too intense. Now that I’ve looked at the piece, I think the gray under-painted face needs another layer.
This is the second half of my attempt at doing a painting mixing all the colors from just the three primaries, plus black and white. 'A couple of things I learned:
1.Sometimes mixing via glazing on the canvas yields better results than mixing on the palette.
2.This is something I already knew, but needed to be reminded of, and that's not all colors are equal in strength. Blue is much stronger than red or yellow and will over power these other colors when all three are used in equal amounts.
To find out how I came to these conclusions and what it was like for me to do this painting this way, watch the video below.
Painter of portraits and wildlife