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.
For her skin, I mixed green and red, with a little more emphasis on red. I laid down masking fluid on the bridge of her nose, the tops of her cheeks, the tops of her brow-bones, and the center of her chin so those parts wouldn't get paint on them. Then I painted the first layer of color on her skin using wet on wet.
For her hair, I mixed purple into some yellow that was already on my palette, then some more yellow into that. As with her face, I applied the first layer of color to her hair using the wet on wet technique.
Later I went back to her face and painted on the first shadow using the same color as I did for the first layer, just with less water.
I decided to the shadows on her face needed some blue in them, which I layered on top of the main flesh color. I also painted darker layers on her hair.
My goals for today were to paint another layer on her hair and to paint her eyes. I'd been thinking that my second layer on her hair was too yellow, so I mixed more purple into it to make it browner.
Her eyes had highlights and rims around the irises that I really thought would add something special to the piece. Before I started painting, I laid down masking fluid in the appropriate places to preserve my whites their. Now, I was pretty happy with the way the right eye turned out, but I felt like the left eye was a fail. I'd painted the pupil without waiting for the iris layer to dry completely. In my experience, small details in eyes, pupils, rims, etc, are always best painted using wet on dry, and oftentimes its even best if your brush isn't very wet. I know this, but I get impatient. Anyway, I went over the left eye with white acrylic paint and started over.
I needed something to do while the first new layer of paint on my subject's left eye dried, though, so I painted her mouth using some mixed red paint I already had in my palette.
Using my liner brush almost dry and some black paint, I painted her eyeliner and lashes on her left eye.
Today I made some good progress on her left eye.
Her blonde hair needed some blue shadows. I thought the orange on my palette was a bit too bright as it was, so I added more orange it. Note to self: If you want soft edges, make sure the part of the paper you’re painting on is sufficiently wet.
Her top is a very brownish red color, so I started by adding brown to the red that was already on my palette. It was too brown, though, so I added more red. Adding a bit of green, the compliment to red, was what really did it.
Her eyeliner and lashes on her left eye still need some sharpening up and I worked on that today. I also saw that the left side of her face needed some more blue shadows, especially along her jaw. That was after I worked to soften the edges of the blue shadows I’d put in her hair. I used wet on wet to paint these shadows.
I painted the pink in her cheeks today and finally was able to get enough black paint on my brush to make a bold line above her left eye. While I was working, though, I realized I never painted a line on the bottom of her right eye. ‘Cant forget that.
I started to paint her guitar, first using the same brown I’d been using for her skin for the side. I did a wash of wet on wet first, then used a smaller brush and the same paint with less water in it for the texture lines. I mixed yellow and purple into this color to paint the top part of the guitar.
I thought I was done with her top, but I saw on the back there were some folds. I mixed more green into my red so it to tone it down again, since I’d been using it for her cheeks and so had added red to it. I took a small brush and, with very little water mixed in the paint, I painted folds in the form of darker shadows along the back of the woman’s top.
Today I painted some blue gray streaks in the background using a small filbert watercolor brush. As always, I started with the lightest shade, and, after waiting for that to dry, I layered darker colors on top of it, using the same color, with less water.
1. Have a dedicated workspace, or if you can't have a dedicated workspace, at least keep your supplies organized so you can grab what you need quickly. I admit, I'm terrible at this.
2. Keep a loose wrist, accept when doing fine detail. I've talked about this a lot recently. When your wrist is loose, you can make fluid strokes in a matter of seconds. This also results in a higher quality painting because you don't end up with those stop and start makes that you would get if you were painting with a tight wrist. So, win, win.
3. Trace your subject
4. Use gridded paper. I don't recommend trying to draw your own grid. I tried that and it did not work out.
I learned about this trick from my friend Shana Rowe Jackson. You can check out her youtube videos here.
5. Work distraction free. This won't necessarily cut down on the amount of hours a piece will take, but it will help you get those hours in in less time. I also think painting and drawing becomes a more enjoyable experience when you do it without distractions like your phone.
I understand if you're reference photo is on your phone. Mine is. Just turn on silent/do not disturb, and consider blocking social media apps or deleting/offloading those from your phone during the time you want to focus.
6. Use a blow dryer to dry wet paint so you can go on top of it right away.
7. Paint wet-into-wet. Bob Ross famously painted in this style and he finished an entire landscape in the time it took to do a half-hour television episode. Painting can go by a lot faster if you're not waiting for your layers to dry. Apparently, Mr.Ross never spent more than two hours on a painting.
8. Work on smaller surfaces. If you really want to get something done quickly, don't go bigger than a 9x12. I've seen canvases and boards that are as small as 4x6.
These are all ways to be more efficient with your time as an artist and I recommend the first two for everyone, regardless of your style or medium. But, understand that making a quality piece, particularly in realism, requires you to put a certain amount of time in. I don't necessarily recommend prioritizing getting a painting done as quickly as possible.
I want to bring your attention back to this eye.
I probably spent as much time on this eye as have doing some entire faces and it's because of the time I spent, that I got the results I got, which I'm very proud of.
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.
I've been watching some Authortube videos from a woman named Kate Cavanaugh and I hear her talk a lot about "first drafts". That's a reference to the way authors write a first, second, sometimes even third draft of a story before the come up with the one they end up publishing. In other words, they don't put pressure on themselves to get things right the first time.
Contrast that with artists, who tend to think that whatever color, whatever stroke we put down, that's it. We have to get things right the first time because there's no changing things. This is a mindset that can hold us back from actually creating.
When I'm feeling indecisive about a piece, I tell myself to just put something, anything, on the page. There's a saying that goes, "The best decision is the right decision. The second best decision is the wrong one. The worst decision is no decision at all". This quote is about life in general, but we can apply it to art. Making any piece is a series of decsions and honestly, not all of them will be right.
I thought about this a lot while I was doing my dog eye painting, the last one of which I'm working on now. Here's an excerpt from my post about painting the golden retriever eye.
It was at this point that I my attention was drawn to what looked like some big white patches in the dog's fur.
I didn't want to add patches of pure white, but the leaving the fur as it was didn't feel right either. I mixed
burnt umber with a little bit of titanium white to see how that would look, and I was very pleased with the results.
I would like to move even more quickly in the future when it comes to making decisions about what to do in my pieces, even when I'm feeling unsure.
and I was very pleased with the results. and I was very pleased with the results. and I was very pleased with the results. and I was very pleased with the results.
Painter of portraits and wildlife