Posts Tagged ‘portraiture’

From charcoal portraiture to watercolor

Monday, June 1st, 2015

In the process of overcoming six hours of jetlag, I woke at an ungodly hour this morning. Although I managed to convince my body to continue resting for an additional hour, my mind would not cooperate. Soon it was in full analytic mode, reviewing the coursework from the portraiture workshop I had been attending, and attempting to reconcile it with my ongoing painting efforts.

Suddenly the concepts and alternative variations began to click into place, and I gave up my immediate attempt at jetlag recovery as a hopeless cause. It was time instead for note making and some in-depth analysis and strategizing. So here goes…

1505cc Chiara

Realization 1: the charcoal we used at the workshop handles more like oil paint than like watercolor, as, to a great extent, we built our work from darks into lights, using erasers to cut away the medium to reclaim the underlying lighter values. Although I suppose I could do all my portraits in oil, which can be handled in a similar manner, I want to be true to myself and figure out how to apply the lessons to watercolor.

Realization 2: in order to apply the information I had gathered during the course to the watercolor medium, I would have to think outside the charcoal box and adjust the approach to suit a medium that generally builds from light to dark.

Step 1: Pre-sketch lightly to establish measurements and ascertain appropriate proportions.

Step 2: Differentiate appropriate shadow and lighted areas. Locate precisely, and reserve with frisket, all highlighted points. Reserving highlights will require identifying and locating features early that otherwise might not be approached until considerably later in the process. (This would partially explain my struggle with feeling a need to position them earlier than workshop participants were advised to start incorporating “details.”)

Step 3: Wash in a thin base glaze (based on the temperature of the light source, usually warm) to establish the lightest tone slightly darker than the highlight (which will retain the white tone of the underlying paper).

Step 4: Block in the entire shadowed (and other dark) areas as neutral half-tones that can be further glazed to deepen the shadowed values as needed. (This is different from the charcoal/oil approach, in which the shadows are blocked in with a much lower value.) Warm half-tones can also extend into transition areas between light and shadowed planes, but keeping even the lightest shadows darker (and in general, except for reflected light, cooler) than the darkest lights.

Step 5: Continue to build up appropriate values within the lights, using varying hues and temperatures to turn the form and to provide interest and detail.

Step 6: Continue to build up appropriate values within the darks, again varying hues and temperatures to turn the form and to indicate reflected light, while limiting detail within the shadow areas.

Step 7: If it hasn’t already been sufficiently incorporated as negative painting or to provide soft transitions from the subject to the background, pay any additional needed attention to the subject’s environment.

Step 8: Remove frisket, adjust edges as necessary, and incorporate any final details.

Of course, these strategic steps are purely theoretical at this point. I haven’t had time yet to test them out for myself. But at least they should provide a guideline to base my experimental efforts on.

Getting to Know an Old Friend…the Pencil

Monday, December 1st, 2014

The study of art is a never-ending challenge. There’s always something to learn, explore, improve, or build confidence in. This fall I’ve been working toward portraiture. I don’t feel as though I’m really there yet. It involves too many elements that I’m still trying to learn, not the least of which is pencil drawing.

You might think that should be easy, since most of us were experimenting with pencils before we ever started school. Even aside from getting the proportions of the subject correct, drawing demands knowledge of the materials and what they can do. Unfortunately, because I took pencils for granted, I had pretty much ignored the need to thoroughly familiarize myself with them. Drawing also requires lots of practice, but I haven’t taken enough time for that kind of practice in the past.

141021 Tibetan Youth 2

When challenged by a friend to use pencil to recreate an image he had shot while on a recent trip to Tibet, I dug out some 6B pencils (the softest and darkest of my stock), as well as a few slightly harder ones—4B and 2B, and began playing with them to figure out their capabilities and limitations.

I studied the planes of the face I was to copy, and considered what the unusually strong shadows might be concealing. The shapes of any features are always individual to the specific subject, and I knew that if I got the value shapes correct, the portrait would succeed. So my focus was on accuracy of value, shape, and proportion.

Then I unearthed some old black and white family photos to see how closely I could copy them in both line and value. The exercise was humbling and showed me how much work would be required to hone those basic skills.

It took several attempts—some more successful in representing their subjects than others—before I managed to come close to successfully drawing my friend’s challenging subject. I made the mistake of undertaking one study not on a smooth-surfaced paper but on cold-pressed watercolor paper, which has a noticeable texture that interferes with the continuous flow of a pencil line. As you can see in the image above, the paper’s texture made it difficult to achieve the edges and values I was striving for.

141021p Tibetan Youth 2

Rummaging around in my supply kit, though, I came across a tortillon–a rolled-paper smudging stick, which I applied vigorously. It served to fill in the white dips of the paper, to provide transitions from one value to another, and to allow me to make subtle value changes that I’d fought for unsuccessfully before. With a few corrections and refinements, the drawing, “Tibetan Youth 2″ (#141021, above), was finally completed.

Meanwhile, my study of portraiture has barely begun…