Monday, February 3, 2014

Colors on My Palette, Part 2: Painting Dark Skin Tones

"Daniel Jabari", oil on panel, 24" x 24". I wrote about this painting last year on my blog here.  Since that time, the painting was selected as a Semifinalist at the Outwin Boochever Portrait Competition 2016, Smithsonian Institution and was exhibited at the Butler Museum in Ohio.

Talking about it on Facebook led to an artist friend of mine asking me what colors I used to paint DJ's skin color. Since I often introduce new colors or simply switch brands of a color (which can make a big difference sometimes), I try to keep a record of colors on my palette, along with the medium I used, for each painting I do. I talked about this earlier on my blog.
The 'V' next to a color is Vasari; MH is Michael Harding, OH is Old Holland and 'Williams" is Williamsburg. My colors here are: Titanium White,  Brilliant Yellow Light, Rosebud, Nickel Lemon, Yellow Ochre, Vermillion, Capucine Red Light,  Alizarin, Ultramariane,  Dioxazine Mauve, Viridian, Courbet Green, Transparent Oxide Red, Burnt Umber and Ivory Black. (Where is the Ivory black paint smear? I have no idea.)  I also used a Flake White on this painting. The kidney shape to the far right is probably a tea stain.

I based most of the skin tones in this painting on a Capucine Red Light/ Dioxazine Mauve mix. Capucine Red Light is a rich, mid-value opaque red that works well in many face tones. I don't like many of the opaque brick reds that I see, but I do like this one. Like all of the Vasari paints that I've tried, it is fully loaded (i.e., strong tinting strength and highly pigmented). Old Holland is the same way. I don't always use these paints - I like to also include paint brands that are looser and flow easier, such as Gamblin, Rembrandt and Richeson - but this was a rather tightly painted painting with intense colors and these denser brands suited it well.

I approached this figurative painting the same way I approach most, maybe all, of my figurative work; before I start modelling the forms, I decide whether the lit side of the figure will be cool or warm. I often work with cool artificial light or daylight filtered through skylight or window (cool light). This makes the lit side to be the cooler side and the shadow side warmer. These are subtle temperature changes, or at least I try to make them so.

Basically, I'm modelling the forms with warm and cool versions of Capucine Red and Dioxazine Mauve. I'm darkening forms with either another strong color (like Viridian or Ultramarine) or a more neutral paint like Burnt Umber or Black. I saw a lot of wonderful blue/purple and blue/greens in his skin tones. I use orange, but I like to mix my oranges, with various mixes of my reds and yellows.

Does this look alla prima to you? It isn't. I paint most of my work in many layers, so I play around with building up opaque layers, glazing with transparent layers, scumbling cools over warms or vice versa, etc. I love the complexity and depth that comes with working in layers of paint. My goal in this painting was to make the figure seem alive. I don't always go for that effect, but with respect to paintings that are of specific people, that is usually my goal. To me, this means something other than accuracy, it means (among other things) a suggestion of movement and a spatial depth involving texture and impasto. The goal is to include accuracy but to add a certain vivacious aspect which involves judicious paint handling and technique.

You might notice that I lit the figure with a light that is to the east and slightly in front of my subject, which had the effect of lighting up the hands and legs more than if the light were coming from a skylight or overhead light. I liked the drama of this lighting. Besides, I don't like to use the same lighting in all my work.

This painted head is quite small, by the way - 5 inches - I don't much like working this small and whenever I do I vow to never do it again!