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.
I started by putting my sketch on my paper using tracing and transfer paper.
I wanted her skin to have a slight pinkish tone to it. I thought I'd just mix red and green for that, but I ended up having to mix some yellow in to. The red and green I was mixing ended up getting too purple. Anyway, I painted the skin and hair, which is a combination of yellow and purple, using wet on wet for the first layers.
Here I've added some darker tones to her hair. I was careful to place them in the right spots because that's what's eventually going to give her hair the texture I want it to have. I also used some of my flesh mixture, with just a little less water in it and made some shadows along her arms.
I mixed some burnt sienna into my color for her hair and painted some more shapes for texture.
I've taken a break from painting the woman herself, to work on the background here. I started with a wash of light yellow green and went over that with some shapes using the same color, but with less water in it.
Here I've added some darker shades to the background and painted the blue in the woman's eyes.
I decided I wanted her top to be an ivory color. I went about this by mixing some yellow into the color I'd mixed for her hair and, using wet on wet, I painted this all over her top, then dabbed it with a tissue so it would be as light as possible. I achieved the folds in the top with a combination of masking fluid to keep certain areas light, a medium shade over the entire top and a dark shade painted in thin lines under the lightest shade.
That's it for part one of this post. In part two, I'll be focusing on the bed itself and the flowers on it.
While working on my latest painting, it I learned that, while, as an artist, I use photos as reference, sometimes I have to judge a piece independently of the photo.
In the photo I'm working, from the shadows around this woman's eyes are very dark, so of course I made them that way in the painting. But, as much as I tried to justify it, telling myself it looks that way in the photo, so it must be right, somehow I couldn't shake the feeling that something was off.
Here is a a close up of her eyes as I'd first painted them. I decided to glaze over my shadows with transparent raw sienna and quinacridone red The result is this:
The result, as you can see, is that, while the shading is still extremely dark, now it looks like it's part of the rest of her face instead having like she's wearing eye masks.
So while a reference photo is pretty much an indispensible tool for me in order to create the pieces I do, I ultimately have to judge a piece on it's own merits. Just because something looks a certain way in the photo doesn't mean it's going to look right in my painting.
That's all for now. I'll talk to you again next week.
Painter of portraits and wildlife