I couldn’t find any information online about how using a blue underpainting for a portrait was done, but I’m basing this off of what I saw Leo Stevens do while recreating Raphael’s “La Fornarina”. Leo used a green underpainting, and while I’m using blue, I copied his method of only putting it on the contours of the face. I did this over a grisaille.
In the later stages of painting this, I noticed that some of the darker parts of her skin had taken on a violet tone. I was puzzled as to what could have caused this, but I should have known that would be the result of glazing color with red mixed into it over something that was blue. Maybe next time, if I want to give someone a rosy glow, I'll add some yellow into the skin, or yellow ochre, if I'm glazing it over blue, to prevent the violetization of the skin. Yes, I just made up a word there.
If I was going to try this method again, I would not mix red directly with the flesh color, at least not for the parts I intended to paint over the blue. That’s how I got the violet. In doing this, I accidentally mixed a color by glazing. Mixing color intentionally by glazing can look beautiful, but it's kind of annoying when it happens against your wishes.
So, does using a blue underpainting give a more realistic result? I don’t think I can say conclusively yes or no. First off, it may depend on the subject’s skin tone. I have a feeling this technique works better on subject’s with lighter complexions. This was a renaissance technique apparently, and most subjects of paintings back then were Caucasian as was the subject I chose for my piece. In fact, the reason I specifically chose the subject I did is because she reminded me of someone who might have been in a renaissance portrait. The skin of Caucasian people is thinner than those of people of other ethnicity and so the veins tend to show more through the skin, which is where the blueness comes from. Extremely dark skin also tends to have a bluish cast to it, so this technique might also work if your subject has that type of skin tone.
Regardless of your subject’s skin tone, I believe glazing, ie, applying color in light layers, in this of the flesh tone over the blue, is the key to making this work. Surprise, surprise, glazing was also a major technique of the Old Masters.
So that is my experience doing a portrait with a blue underpainting. Here are some pics of the process.
Drawing eyes in profile and three quarter view is different from drawing them head on. At these angles, certain things like the waterlines, and the setting of the eye in the socket will be emphasized. The eyes may even appear to be different shapes.
In summary, start with a sideways "V", pay attention to how the waterline curves and follow it, keeping in mind that it may be more visible at certain angles. In quarter view, the setting of the eye in the socket is more visible, and the eye is usually more curved on top and flatter on the bottom.
In this post, I'm comparing Liquitex Basics Cadmium Red Deep with Amsterdam Standard Series Carmine.
My goals were to
For my comparison, I chose to paint this rose. My conclusion is that both are excellent paints and I would recommend both. Both paints are very transparent, so they glaze beautifully. They also won't life when other layers are applied on top. Find out more in the video below.
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.
A while ago I took a class in portrait drawing in which I picked up some tips that I think make drawing accurately proportioned faces fast and easy. They involve drawing basic shapes and then refining them and using lines to show where particular features will go. In the video below, I walk you through the process of drawing both a face looking straight on and one with a tilt, so you can see that even a slanted head doesn't have to be intimidating to draw.
I followed along with one of Lachri Fine Art's live streams to paint these grapes. Using a combination of glazes and opaque layers, I achieved the frosty look you see. After going over the background with titanium white, I painted a couple layers of red, let them dry, and glazed a thin layer of yellow over it. During the live stream, Lisa reminded us to pretend we'd had too much coffee when doing the beige highlights on some of the grapes. This translates to "wiggle your wrist like crazy". Indeed to paint many of the dots and squiggles of red and pale purple, I did this, while holding my brush at the very end of the handle. Holding the brush in this way meant I had absolutely no control over my strokes, which was exactly what I needed.
After working on this painting for a while, it became clear to me that much of the glow in the grapes came from placing cool, blackish purple against warm red orange. In other words, cool against warm. If your grape is looking glowy enough, you probably need to darken your purple. I ended up putting more layers on my purple areas several times when I thought they were done.
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.
I drew her face using techniques I discussed in this video. I’m looking at the first picture in the gallery and at this stage of the drawing, here eyes look like those on demon children in movies, because they’re surrounded by darkness, but inside, they’re totally white. Her lids are heavy, so I made sure to draw the shadows they were casting.
I left part of her bottom lip unshaded and drew the lines in her lips, with the side of my pencil, not the tip. After I finished drawing those lines, dimension in the lips appeared before my eyes. Adding the shadows under the bottom lip helped to further push them out from her face.
When it came to her hair, I started with the highlights. Although her hair looks black in the photo at first place, I didn’t want to jump in with the black right away as I thought this would look too harsh, so I started with my 9b pencil and added the black in later in the form of small streaks, using my one of my carbon pencils. I started off with my 2b carbon pencil, but I switched to my 4b when the 2b didn't show up well enough.
I chose a peachy color for her skin tone. Note to self: Stop trying to mix skin tone with colors already in the palette. It just creates frustration. Start fresh. Anyway, I mixed yellow, purple, red, and green, using quite a bit more of the yellow and purple than the red and green. The purple and green were there to tone down the yellow and red and keep the overall tone more natural. For the shadow on the right side of her face, I mixed a teensy bit more red into my base color because I saw it needed a bit of rosiness.
For her hair, I did not use straight yellow. Instead, I used mostly yellow ochre and mixed that with a tiny bit of yellow. After laying down strategically placed masking fluid, I painted on my base layer for the hair using wet on wet and my flat brush.
For the darker tones in her hair I added brown to my base color. Starting today, I'm experimenting with putting a thin layer of water down, and I emphasize the word thin, on just the part where I want my paint to go. This is to help ensure that my edges will be soft and even, but that the paint won't go all over the place. I used this method for her the shading on her hair and for the darkest parts of her mouth.
Speaking of her mouth, I filled in with the lightest color first, then painting a darker red around that, allowing the base color to show through as a highlight. This helps to give her mouth the shine it's meant to have.
Today I decided it was time to start painting her cami, starting with a light purple. I also added some black to my base color for her hair and painted more shadows. I thought her mouth needed more contrast to bring out it's shine, so I made the darker shadows even darker.
For the pupil of her right eye, I made a "black" by mixing burnt umber with ultramarine blue. I recommend playing with the ratio of blue to brown until you get a tone you're happy with. It seems to work best if you use a bit more blue than brown, though.
I added still more shadows to her hair. At one point, I had to lighten the shade back up again with red and yellow ochre and then darken it after that with my burnt umber and ultramarine blue mixture. I think adding the extra dark shadows that I did around her face and the roots helped give her hair lift and dimension.
I painted her hair casting a shadow on her chest. Paying attention to details like this goes a long way to making a lifelike portrait.
I love this kind of dark blue background for people with light skin and light hair, so I decided to use it again.
I gave her some nostrils and added some more shadows to her hair. I think I'm going to call it finished now.
Disclaimer: I have very little experience working in charcoal. I'm a graphite user by far, but I'm going to share the differences between working in charcoal vs graphite based on how I understand them.
1. The Form In Which I Use Each
While I own, and occasionally use graphite sticks, the vast majority of the time, I just use graphite in plain old pencils. Graphite pencils come in a variety of hardnesses of the lead, so it's easy to get a versatile look with pencils alone in graphite.
For me, on the other hand, charcoal pencils are difficult to control and I've never been able to get anything other than black(or white, in the case of white charcoal) lines with them.
When it comes to charcoal, I feel like the best results come from charcoal sticks. These are much softer than the pencils. Break them and half and they're even softer. Most of the time, I would use vine or willow charcoal, which are very thin and delicate. For the darkest of darks, when I need something truly black, I would switch to compressed charcoal, which comes in a thicker stick. Willow charcoal can be very nice to work with and offers a tone that's darker than the vine charcoal, but not as dark as the compressed charcoal.
Both graphite and charcoal also come in powdered form, but I've never used those, so I can't give an opinion on them.
2. Blending Tools Or No Blending Tools
Blending tools can be used with graphite and can yield great results. However, graphite also seems to lay down just fine without using blending tools and can be made to look very smooth with the pencils alone.
Charcoal, on the other hand, needs to be blended to push it into the paper. This can be done with a blending stump, or tortillon, a paper towel, and even, if you don't mind getting messy, your fingers.
I found while working on a recent charcoal drawing that blending with my fingers created softer edges, lightened the charcoal and spread it out more and could make an overall hazy effect. When I wanted to keep the charcoal in one place, such as along an edge, and not lighten it a lot, I blended with the stump.
Speaking of getting messy, I want to point out that working with charcoal in inherently less neat than working with graphite, because when you're holding a charcoal stick, your skin is directly touching the charcoal, as opposed to graphite, where you have either a wood or lacquer casing between you and the graphite. I do recommend getting used to blending with your fingers, though, if you're going to choose to work in charcoal. You can get some really neat effects blending this way that you can't get with a blending stump or tortillon. I especially love the look that blending with my fingers in circular motions can give.
Paper For Charcoal and Graphite
Charcoal and graphite also require different paper. Graphite can be used with regular drawing paper, but charcoal needs to be used with, well, charcoal paper. I tried using a bit of charcoal on regular drawing paper, and just from that little bit, I don't think you'd have a good time if you tried to do a charcoal drawing on normal drawing paper. Charcoal paper has more tooth to it, which takes the charcoal better.
I got a lot of the charcoal techniques I shared with you from Skillshare. No this is not sponsored. We all know I'm not big enough to be sponsored, but I do highly recommend Skillshare and I'm going to put a link in this post in case you want to sign up. I'm going to recommend classes charcoal classes, which are the ones I took.
Here are two drawings I did of a fish, one in graphite and the other in charcoal, so you can see the different looks that both give.
Painter of portraits and wildlife