We all have our pet subject areas – the ones that we love and the ones that we deeply desire to pour our effort into and improve at. Mine is in the area of portraiture and figurative art and at first it was a case of ‘getting a likeness’ in graphite, on paper….Then it became chalk and charcoal on pastel paper, sepia and white chalk, monotone, eventually evolving into black, red and white on grey paper….and then Conte pencil on pastel paper, full on colour with all the joy and struggles that brings. Conte Pencil remains and is starting to grow small branches or roots into the areas of softer Pastel sticks, different papers.
But, there has always been a box of Acrylic paint tubes, lurking in the background, used for years for other subjects, never really used to seriously attempt people. The time had to be right. The time was not right, for a long, long, time. I did a couple of figurative paintings that worked out quite well in the light of my growing technical knowledge, but small and distant faces were not so fun, the skin tones were a HUGE struggle – trial and error seemed like a long and arduous climb up a mountain or a glimpse at the tip of the iceberg.
One day, whilst searching online, I stumbled across the website of a nice man called Will Kemp (http://willkempartschool.com/). An Englishman, teaching acrylics but in the style of an oil painter – Lots of talk of cups of tea, cake and biscuits – Just what I needed!
I got his Colour Mixing and Portraits in Acrylics courses – special deal, just in time for Christmas (a bit more than a year ago, 2015) Spent some time in early 2016 sorting out the gaps in my knowledge. Learned about colour bias and how (mostly) not to mix mud. Then, the portraiture course…..this took my newly refined understanding of colour mixing and straight away set about simplifying the whole business of achieving a believable skin tone. Will Kemp informed me that Anders Zorn achieved such beautiful work using only 4 colours (Ivory Black, Yellow Ochre, Cad Red and Titanium White)….Aha, aha, lights went on in my brain…remember that black, red and white drawing in conte pencil?…very similar theory….simplify the palette! If you simplify the palette, the probability of you achieving the colours you desire are greatly improved.
So, long story short, I did the portraiture course – last year – and ever since, in between other projects and detours (because I like to use my art to do stuff, y’know, for other people, whenever the opportunity presents) I have been returning, again and again to practicing the skin tones and applying what I have learned about that, glazes, scumbles background tones, blending, retarding the drying, etc. to my own references.
This picture above is my most recent work – in progress – started in January, put down for other things, and now, picked up again and MOVING ahead! Up until about 4 days ago she was nothing but a pencil outline on a Burnt Sienna toned piece of canva paper. Then she was a Bistre (tonal underpainting) and now she is slowly gaining dimension, likeness and yes, delicate, soft, skin. Her hair is vague and scrappy and she might be a bit pale – But, I painted the background using Ivory Black and Titanium White and (wow, who knew how blue that was going to turn out!) she really started to pop out and feel like we were getting somewhere! If I can keep up the pace, she might be done by next week ~ and then, I will start the next one. Many artists have tricks and games that they play with themselves to try to keep themselves showing up and doing the work they feel they need to. The rules I told myself for this exercise is that I wouldn’t do an actual canvas until I have done 10 practices….I am only at 4, so far…rules are made to be broken….If I get a definite urge, I might just crack out a nice sized canvas….We’ll see!
Thanks for reading – I wish you all the best in whatever creative endeavours you are endeavoring to create!