Learning How to Paint in Oils by Elaine Ostroot

Archive for the ‘portraiture’ Category

EDGES


           

         One way to spotlight this subject is to do a small demonstration.  So pick a subject – an apple, a vase, any object.  Set it in front of you and really look at it.  Hopefully, you’ve set it on a table next to your easel and it is lit, by the light from your window, more on one side than the other.  In my new studio, I have three windows facing due north and two windows facing east.  I will close the mini blinds to limit the light from the east side.  If I leave the east windows uncovered I would have a light source from two sides, which would make my project confusing.  Note the side lit by the light and compare it to the side away from the light.  My object’s lit side seems to have a sharper edge.  The side away from the light seems softer.  Also the turning edge seems to feel softer.  So – edges are important.  If we paint them correctly, our object will appear three-dimensional. Softening or hardening an edge or “losing” the edge completely, we give the illusion of form.

 I have chosen to paint a portrait of my granddaughter Caity.  I am using a photo that I took outside in the bright shade.  Caity loves pink so I will surround her with various shades of it.  I plan to do this small portrait in a relatively loose and painterly style.  I will start by painting her in not more than three values of each area.  Then I will modify and adjust the values and colors as needed.  I will also pay particular attention to the edges.  This first photo of the work is the initial lay-in. 

Note the soft edges on the left side of Caity’s face near the hairline.  Also as her cheek turns away from the light the edge softens.  That edge makes her face look more three-dimensional. Now I will adjust the values (see the posting on values to refresh your memory).  Notice that Caity’s face has many different edges.  The left side starts very softly shadowing into her hair – a “lost” edge.  It dosen’t firm up until it reaches the right side of the jaw line.  This edge and the line of  her adjacent neck are probably the hardest edges in the painting.

The bright light on the left side of her hair has a nice crisp edge.  The lost edge on the right side of her hair blends with the background.  All these various edges add volume and form to the portrait and add reality.

To summarize:  edges are important.  They help define and add shape and form.  They create the illusion of three dimensions.

using photographs – part one


Photos are wonderful!  I do not know any other thing that has been as helpful.  I could not go to Kenya, but I had friends and students that did.  Another pair of good friends traveled a lot and I was the recipient of many of their photos from Mexico and Central America.

There are a few problems we must keep in mind.  The camera “sees” differently.  It flattens objects.  It distorts.  The shadows are usually too dark and it records EVERYTHING.  An artist friend said that the only problem he had with photos is learning what to leave out.  If it doesn’t contribute to the painting or what you are trying to say in the painting, leave it out.

  So in my new series of paintings about Native Americans, I will use Edward Curtis’s photos as I would a photo I took myself – selectively.  I will begin by showing you the photo I am using and detail how I plan to use it.   I will lighten the shadows on our chief’s face and open his eyes a little more.  I will put an evening sunset behind him; the lightest yellows low, gradually deepening to orange and rose colors ending with the darkest around his ceremonial bonnet.  I will change the stick with the scalps – I will make it a Calumet (a “peace”  pipe).   I will also remove the shadow on his hand.  I will also edit out the curve of the cape below his bonnet as well as the metal buckle on the saddle blanket. 

Curtis “staged” a good many of his photos.  He acquired a sizable wardrobe of clothing, bonnets and other artifacts to assist him.  The man was an artist – I have no objection to his methods, but I don’t have to use all of his details in my work.  If you copy a photo exactly – what are you saying?  You are “saying” what the photographer said.   Where is your input?  I want to “say” something different.  I want you to look at that wonderful face.  I want you to see the nobility of a God created creature, created in His image.  I do not want you distracted by a bunch of “details” that do not contribute to that goal.  Curtis had a different goal – so do we all.  Choose your goal for your painting and stick with it.  Don’t let someone else’s idea change your plan.

 We begin as I always do by selecting the size of the canvas.  I think a 24 x 30 will do nicely.  I want this painting to be the centerpiece of the series.  This size is large and it will command attention.  Now I will take a smaller photo and place my grid on it and the canvas and do the drawing (just as we did in “Portraiture One” post back in October).  I will not use a toned canvas for this, as I want the white of the canvas to help illuminate the  colors.  I will start with the sunset, my pallet will consist of white, lemon and cad yellow, cad and permanent red and maybe some quinacridone rose (quinacridone colors are relatively new and worth trying out – so far I like them and this particular rose is beautiful).

I plan to show you a different method from the one in “Portraiture One, Two and Three”.  In those posts I did a value study.  In this painting I will paint the face and figure directly.  I will paint the entire painting with an underpainting.  I will start with a “local” color.  To get this color, I usually squint my eyes to obscure the details of light and shadow.  What’s left is the basic color of the object.  Since we have no color in this photo I will simply use what I think the local color would be and paint that in.  It will look like a poster with a  little shading, but hang in there we will model all these objects with light and shadow.  This is simply another way of organizing a painting.  I will get the sky and some of the local colors and take photos as I go so that you can see the steps.

  I will add more shadow and this will shape the body under the buckskin.  I will add the pipe and it’s decorations.  I will also shade and model the feathers and our chief’s face.  I will do this with opaque color and with glazes.  A glaze is a color thinned with Liquin.  Take a small amount of color with your knife and place it on your glass pallet.  Now add a small puddle of Liquin next to it.  With your brush in hand, add the Liquin to your color – a little at a time – until your color is almost transparent.  This is a glaze.  For the face I will shadow it with raw sienna and burnt umber mixtures.  For the feathers, I will use burnt umber and ultra blue mixtures.  For the buckskin, I will use raw sienna, white and burnt umber with a little cerulean blue added in to gray the mixtures.  I will further model all these objects with lighter mixtures of the local color to shape them and to add interest.  My last step will be to add the lights and highlights.  This is my plan.  We will see how it all works out.

First, the basic block in – the sky and the local color of the chief and the objects around him.  

 OK,  now the real work begins.  Modeling the face – get rid of those dark shadows.  I want a clearly defined face.  Those dark shadows on our chief’s face make for a good photo – but I want to focus on the person, so we will use much lighter shadow colors.  As we’ve done before, start with three mixtures, using raw sienna, burnt sienna  and burnt umber.

I will step down the values, using white, just as we have done before, untill I have at least three distinct values.  I will work with these, mixing them as I go to paint our chief’s face.   I will also add a little permanent red to some of the mixtures to bring a little color to our chief’s face.

I have found that using raw sienna instead of yellow ocher to skintone mixtures adds a little grayer tone to hispanic and indian peoples.

I will now start to model the figure’s bonnet and buckskin clothing and start the process of finish work.  This is going to take some time.  So I will show you the painting as it is now. 

There’s much more work to be done.  I will continue and post as I go.  Next time – finish work!

inspiration


Where does inspiration come from?  Where do you get your inspiration? 

My son returned a trio of paintings of Indians (a trip to an Indian pow-wow was this result) that I had given him some years ago (he had decorated his home in the southwestern style).  As time went on he wanted to change the décor so I got my Indians back. Inspiration hit.  Now – I went on line to see if I could find any photos.  I found a treasure trove of photos by Edward Curtis that the copyright had expired.  These photos were taken in the late 1800’s.  So!  I can use them.  I’m off and running.  I also found more photos on a government research archive website.  Whee!!

 Inspiration can come from almost anything – anyone – any circumstance.  Sometimes I feel I have more inspiration than time.

 So, let’s explore where I want to take this new inspiration.  The three paintings I “loaned” my son are focused on the color and excitement of the dancers at the pow-wow.  These paintings do not do much for the faces.  Now I want to take it in a different direction.  The next group will focus on close up portraiture.  I’m going to really look at these people, their culture and their uniqueness as a race.  A look back into the past and the time that made them so interesting.  This is going to be so much fun!

 OK – I have the photos printed.  Most of them are about 3”x 4” to about 5” x 7”.  I need to translate those measurements into a standard canvas or board.  I use standard sizes because it’s just easier to find frames at reasonable prices.  Looking at the shapes of the photos, I’m seeing that the “Chief Sitting Bear” will work well on a 16”x 20. We’ve done this before – the glass with the taped edges, the lines marked in thirds (like a tic tack toe game) the drawing on the canvas (review Portraiture Part One).  Now we will follow the steps, one by one, just like we did before.  I will take each photo and do exactly the same thing. 

 The photos are in black and white so I’m going to have to do a lot of imagining for color.  Most of my research indicates that the American Indian’s skin color is close to the Hispanic.  I will also look at how other artists have handled this color.  Harley Brown’s book will probably be my best bet.

 All this is the prep work to do a reasonably good painting.  In looking at the photos I have, I must now do a little preliminary deciding.  How many paintings in this series?  If I’m going to reveal culture, how to do that?  Why do I want to do this series?  That’s the hardest question to answer.  I want to do this because I’ve seen the American Indian portrayed in so many ways, some downright silly, some in a brutal manner, some in a way that just wants to exploit them.  Who are these people?  I look at these pictures as a portrait artist to find the heart, maybe the soul of them.  There are faces I want to explore – to try to find the person the picture portrays.  As a portrait artist I find these faces interesting, fascinating.  I want to explore these people and their culture.  I can only ask for the Creator’s help and hope I can measure up to the challenge.

 I’ve chosen 12 photos that I really like.  The best way to do this is to lay out all of the photos (I have about 40 of them) and start eliminating them until you have a reasonably cohesive group – some men some – women – at least a couple of children.  I found some pottery and a painted deerskin.  So, the tentative number of paintings is about 15 (including the three I’ve already painted.  I may paint them all or I may not.  This is all very tentative. 

 I painted “The Lion of Judah” in the summer of 2002, which was the start of “A Missionary Journey in Africa”.  I had no idea that that “start” would result in 27 paintings of the animals and people of Africa.  That series is in Minneapolis, serving a mission called Agora to immigrants from Africa.  So, you never know what’s in store for the paintings you do when you are inspired.

 I will start with five photos.  Chief Sitting Bear, another man with a buffalo headdress (horns and all!), a lake scene complete with canoe and reeds, a young woman in a beautiful buckskin dress and finally a wonderful elderly chief sitting on his horse.  I will use these photos carefully and with respect toward the photographer who took them so long ago.  He was trying to show these people with respect and true admiration of them and their culture. His name will go on every canvas that I paint of his work.  I only hope I can do him and the work justice.

 So, with the first of five paintings I present “Chief Sitting Bear”

a christmas card


I’d like you to meet someone special.  Her name is Bonnie.  She is a dear friend.  We were talking one day and she mentioned that she had always wanted to learn how to paint.  She is about my age and has a tremor that she felt precluded that endeavor.  I told her to come to the studio on Mondays (I have “open studio” that day) and we would see what we could do.  She agreed and that was the start of Bonnie’s art career.  This woman has an eye for color.  Fine detail was difficult for her so we settled on a style that was loose and very colorful.  I wish you could see the beautiful paintings she has created.  So beautiful that she took first place in painting, best of show, plus viewer’s choice the first year she entered our Labor Day show.  She won enough money to set up her studio at home.  I nearly burst I was so proud of her.  The two judges commented that this woman should be chained to her easel and not allowed to do anything but paint. 

My point is this – it’s never too late to start to learn to do something that you love.  There’s always a way.  This is the reason I’m attempting this blog.  If I can assist another “Bonnie” it’s worth the effort.  I know how much I have been blessed by assisting others to find the joy I get from painting.

We celebrate Christmas because of the  birth of the Son of God on this, the world He created.  We celebrate in thanksgiving that He took on the job of delivering His creation.   I, personally, am so glad  that He did.    So we celebrate His birth and look forward to His return.   I hope your Christmas time is full of joy and renewed faith.   We will get back to the study of oil painting after the new year.  We have much more to cover.   Happy Christmas to you all.

Portraiture – part three


 Finally we come to the best part, the head and hands.  We’ll start with the color mixtures.  You will need the following tube colors:  White, raw sienna, burnt sienna, burnt umber, permanent red Ultramarine blue and cerulean blue.  People are essentially orange.  The temperature of the skin comes in two flavors, warm and cool.  Black skin is cool with blue and violet highlights.  Brown skin is warm.  Asian skin is more yellow.  Look at your subject’s skin carefully (before you take photos).  Does it have bluish undertones? (Look at the inside of the elbow.)  My skin has the blue and I am very pale white.  My husband Gerry has warm skin, much more yellow.  These skin tones determine which yellow I will use – yellow ocher (more warm) or raw sienna (much cooler).

 There are as many ways to make flesh tones, as there are artists.  This is my way.  Take a reasonable amount of raw sienna and half as much of burnt sienna and mix them.   Separate your mixture into two piles.   To one pile add a small amount of cerulean blue. Now we are going to add white to both mixtures and step down the values as shown in this photo.  Please note that my palette’s color has changed.  Because I am working on a toned canvas, I have placed papers under the glass that has a mid value.  (Jack Richeson & Co., Inc. –  Grey Matters Paper Palette)  The reason is it’s easier to see how your paint mixtures will look.  

 These color mixtures are what we are going to use to paint Bruce’s head, arms and hands.  We will also add a very little red to make the warmer tones of his skin.  Bruce’s skin tones are generally very fair.  He’s outside a good bit, so he has a lot of color in the lower half of his face.  In Caucasian skin, there are three bands of color across the face.  The center band adds red to the ears, cheeks and nose.  The upper band adds more yellow to the forehead.  The lower band, in women and children, is in between.  In men the beard adds a blue cast to the lower chin, which we may not need as we have a blue undertoned value study to work with. 

  So, armed with this knowledge, we’ll start with the eyes.  This is what I do – for obvious reasons, it adds life to the face. Since it is difficult to see, I will do a separate demonstration on painting the eyes.  First mix cerulean blue and a little raw umber to step down the chroma .  Now step down the values by adding white.  Paint the iris – note where I have placed what values.  The upper lid shades the eyeball so the darkest less intense color will be next to the upper lid.  Since Bruce has a darker edge to the iris, I will paint that as well.  Now lay in the different blue values.  Now mix up a little ultra blue and burnt sienna and paint the pupil.  Place the catch light between the pupil and the edge of the iris.  It always looks better to place the catch light at the 10 o’clock or the 2 o’clock positions. Please note that there is a light value of iris color opposite the catch light.  The eye is a ball and the catch light will shine through the ball – just like a glass ball, – and lighten the iris color.  Mix up a little white with a small amount of raw sienna and cerulean blue (more sienna than blue) this mixture is for the whites of the eye.  As you can see if you look into a mirror, the whites are not white.  Only small children’s eyes are white with a little blue added.

 Now paint the area around the eye.  Bruce’s eyelashes do not show as the skin above the eyelid covers them.  His eyelashes are light – so they will not show much.  Paint lashes as a mass rather than each lash.  Lashes painted individually look like a doll face.  

We will start with the lightest tones first.  We already have the darkest values so this establishes our color range.  The hardest part for me is stopping myself to take pictures!  Now that the eyes are established we will start with the lights on Bruce’s face (where we wiped out when we did the value study).

   Think of it this way.  You are tiling a tabletop.  So place small “tiles” (remember our still life of nectarines?)  on the lightest areas of the face.  Now go for the next light area – placing each “tile” in its proper place.  We will add a little red to the next value to bring up the warmer tones of the face.  I will try to leave a little gray-blue showing through as shadows.  That little trick adds a casual note to the portrait.  (Note the neck area.) Keep adding your “tiles”, one on top of the other.  Smoothing as you go.

 Now the arms and hands.  Same idea, paint the lights first then work toward the darks, just as you worked on the head.  Now put your paint on a board, cover it and put in the freezer.  Let it dry for at least a day, and then we will do the finish work – all the lovely little details that will make this portrait come alive.

Finish work!  I love this best.  This is when Bruce will come alive on the canvas.  It is truly, the moment I wait for.  It’s the best part and worth the wait.  First we will find the darkest darks in his face and restate them.  We will then work toward the lightest tones in his face.  Just the opposite of what we did to start the color application.  You will be able to see the progress of the painting as it evolves.  We will restate and correct the warm tones then add our lights until we get to the highlights.

Now we will do the same with Bruce’s arms and hands.  You have most of the mid range colors.  We will accent the darks, make corrections and place our highlights, just as we did with Bruce’s face. 

Clothes, not nearly as much fun, but we need to finish this.  First I will put the highlights on the gold frame behind the chair.  Then we will start with the darks.  Mix up ultra blue and a small amount of raw sienna.  The shirt is navy blue so we don’t want it to turn green – so careful with that raw sienna.  It’s yellow and too much will turn that blue green. Step down the resulting color value with a little white.  We’re after three values of navy blue.  Start with the darkest colors then add each value in turn blending slightly.  Then the lightest colors – where the light is strongest on the shirt.  We are not going to bring these clothes to the same finish as Bruce’s face.  We do not want to call too much attention to them so we will do enough to say, “this is a navy shirt” and no more. 

White pants – we want these pants to look white.  Take a small amount of cerulean blue and add a very small amount of raw sienna.  We’re looking for shadow color for these pants.  Correct values for these white pants are going to be important.  We still do not want to make them too important.  We do want them to stand out from the chair color, so we will try to make them look really white.  I find it easier to add a darker value into a much lighter one by sneaking up on it.  Take a goodly amount of white and add your shadow mixture into one corner of the white.  When you achieve a color value one step down set it aside and go for the next darker value.  When you have at least three values of shadow start painting the pants.  Darks first then the next lighter value and on to the lightest until you come to your highlights.  Now for your whitest whites.  Put them only where the light strikes the strongest.  Our portrait of Bruce is finished.  I will set it aside for a few days, looking at often to see if I’ve missed anything and whether or not I’m satisfied with it.  Then when it is thoroughly dry, at least a week, I will give it a coat of liquin, let it dry another week and call Bruce to come and pick it up

Portraits are a lot more than just a record of someone.  They are filtered through the artist’s mind and feelings.  If all you want is a record you can take a photo.  A portrait says more.  It testifies to the humanity, the courage, and the spirit of both the sitter and the artist.  We’ve talked about this person as carrying the image of God, a one time only individual, never to happen again.  He is all that and a lot more.  His life, his heritage, the people he loves, the path in life he has chosen, all these and more we cannot know.  God does, and He treasures this person.  I as an artist, with the help of the Holy Spirit, must do my very best to portray him as best I can.  No excuses, no sloppiness, no shortcuts.  This is my job, and I must honor it and the work I do or I cannot claim the title “artist”.