Jan 6, 2017

Part 2: Creating Figures That Look Dynamic, Not Stiff


Do you struggle to create figures that look dynamic and not stiff? When you commit to painting a studio figurative work, you know it will be a time investment, so you want to get it right. There are few things more frustrating than spending hours upon hours painting a figure, only to step back and realize the pose looks forced, faked or stiff.

Today, I'll share some tips for making your figures look dynamic and full of life.

1. Don't Fake Action Poses

 

This little girl's parents commissioned me to paint their daughter (Jenna) dashing across their patio. The last thing I wanted to do was say to the girl "OK, act like you're running. Now, hold that pose and let me take your picture." My painting would have ended up looking like a posed mannequin!

Instead, I actually had her run through the patio again and again in a circuit. Each time she ran through, I had my camera ready (set to a fast shutter speed) and took as many photos as I could before she ran out of view. Fortunately, Jenna had lots of energy and enjoyed running in circles!


2. Don't Pose Your Model Too Much


Has this ever happened to you? You have a great idea for a figure painting. You have a clear mental image of how you'd like the model to pose, and maybe you've even drawn a few sketches from your imagination. But when the model arrives, and you try to get her to pose like your sketch, she looks awkward and uncomfortable (maybe even a bit pale).

First, get your model a nice cold glass of water. Then, suggest you take a break to relax. After a few minutes, your model will probably have relaxed into a very natural-looking pose. Often, the pose a person assumes when they're not trying is better than the one you invented!


3. Practice Gesture Drawing

 

Yes, I said the "P-word"—practice. Sorry about that. But this kind of practice is OK—gesture drawing is fun! Furthermore, gesture drawing can sharpen your eye for accuracy while helping you infuse your drawings with movement and energy.

I discussed gesture drawing last time in "Creating Figures that Look Dynamic, Not Stiff." Now, I'll give some tips for practicing gesture drawing successfully.

  • Set a time limit for each gesture drawing.
    Warm up with a few 1- or 2-min sketches.
    Then do 2 or 3 5-min sketches. Then try a 10-min sketch.
     
  • Frequency and focus are key to improving. If you're just starting out with gesture drawing, I recommend practicing  30 min/day every day for 1 month. After this period, practice at least once a week.
     
  • During the gesture drawing, check your drawing by applying the "4 Actions for Accurate Proportions" with your eyes.
    After the gesture drawing, double-check your drawing by applying the "4 Actions" with a measuring tool.
     
  • Draw from life as much as possible, but if you don't have access to a model, there are many online resources that provide photo slideshows for drawing. Or make your own by hiring a model for an afternoon and taking lots of photos.
     
Practicing gesture drawing can help you loosen up and create figures that look dynamic and not static. But maintaining accuracy while gesture drawing can be a challenge. Next time, I'll share an important tip for maintaining accuracy in your gesture drawings in "Drawing a Head In Proportion to the Body."

Until next time,
Adam

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Dec 12, 2016

Creating Figures That Look Dynamic, Not Stiff


Hi there,

Do you struggle to create figures that look dynamic and not stiff? Maybe
you've applied those "4 Actions for Accurate Proportions," and have measured and re-measured. Everything seems to be accurate. And yet, in your drawing, the figure still looks stiff as a board!

The 4 Actions can indeed help you achieve accuracy. But accuracy and liveliness are sometimes 2 different things. At the end of the last lesson, I mentioned there is actually kind of a 5th action—the gesture line.

Practicing gesture lines is a key to creating figures that look dynamic and not stiff.

 

What Gesture Lines Are
And Why You Need Them

"Gesture lines" are simply lines that communicate the implied movement or "rhythm" of a person's pose (see the examples below).
Even when a person is holding still, the human body naturally tends to have graceful, flowing lines that imply movement. This implied movement is what the gesture line does a great job of capturing.

Typically, gesture drawing is done from life, and under a short time limit. Each example above represents about 2–3 minutes of drawing. Below, I've spent just a couple more minutes on each drawing.




In the extra time spent on each drawing, I simply built more specific shapes on top of my original gesture lines. If you use your initial gesture lines as the foundation for a drawing, they can help your drawing retain some of the energy of those gesture lines.

But your drawing will only be as strong as your foundation. That's why—even when you're gesture drawing—you still need to apply "The 4 Actions for Accurate Proportions." Because of the limited time-frame of a gesture drawing session, it may be impractical to always use a measuring tool to apply the 4 Actions, but you must still apply the 4 Actions using your eye.


How This Applies
To You as a Painter

You might be thinking, "That's great for drawing, but I want to paint." Well, it's a funny thing… a disciplined practice of gesture drawing can lead to a command of the gesture line, which in turn can help your figure paintings look more dynamic. I'm not 100% sure why this seems to be the case, but I think it may go something like this:
  1. Gesture drawing can give you familiarity with
    (and therefore greater confidence in) drawing
    the basic shapes of the human figure.
     
  2. This confidence can help you break free from
    a slavish adherence to static photo references
    when painting a studio work.
     
  3. With practice, the energy and liveliness of
    gesture drawing can be wielded in harmony
    with the objectivity of the 4 Actions to create
    figures that are both accurate and artistic.

I'll share more tips next time in "Creating Figures That Look Dynamic, Not Stiff (Part II)."

Until then,
Adam

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Dec 5, 2016

The 4 Actions for Accurate Proportions



One of the most valuable lessons I learned at art school was the 4 Actions for Accurate Proportions. With just 4 actions, you can draw absolutely anything under the sun… with the correct proportions! Yes, I'm being serious.

Before I get into the lesson, I want to thank those who answered my question "What is your biggest struggle with figure painting?" Your reply was a huge help to me as I'm writing this series of art lessons on painting the figure. I can't reply to every email, but be assured that I read your answer at least twice and am carefully considering it as a topic for a lesson on figure painting. And if you haven't answered that question yet, please feel free to do so by sending your answer to Contact@AdamClague.com.

OK, now for those 4 Actions for Accurate Proportions that will enable you to correctly draw absolutely anything (yes, even the human figure)…


  1. Compare distances
  2. Copy angles
  3. Check alignments
  4. Consider negative shapes

Now I'll demonstrate each one…

Note: In the following illustrations, I measure
the proportions of a painting. However, in real life,
I would measure the proportions of my subject first,
and then measure my painting to ensure the proportions
of my painting matched the proportions of my subject.
 

1. Compare Distances


A. Hold out your brush handle (or pencil, etc.) against your subject. Close 1 eye so you don't see double.
 


Choose any 2 points on your subject. Mark off the distance between these two points using the tip of your brush handle and the tip of your thumb. In example "A," I've marked off the distance between the top of the girl's hair and the bottom of her chin.

B. Now, see if this distance compares to any other distance in your subject. In example "B," I've discovered that the distance between the top of the girl's head and the bottom of her chin equals the distance between the bottom of her chin and the bottom of the bowl.
 

 
Why this is awesome
Now that I've found where the bottom of the bowl goes,
I will be much less likely to make her arms too long or
too short as I draw them between the head and the bowl.
Continuously comparing distances like this will
help you achieve correct proportions, no matter
your subject's shape or size.


2. Copy Angles


Compare a horizontal or vertical brush handle to an angle in your subject to determine how much the angle is tilted. In this example, a horizontal brush handle makes it much easier to tell how much the girl's eyes are tilted.
 




3. Check Alignments


Use your brush handle like a plumb line to find 2 points that align to each other. In this example, I've discovered that the corner of the girl's mouth (A) is directly below the edge of her eye socket (B). Finding this unexpected alignment greatly helped me to draw the tilt of her head correctly!
 



4. Consider Negative Shapes


Let's say I've been drawing and re-drawing the arm, and it still doesn't look right. But then, I shift my focus and look at the negative shape–that triangular shape of air between the crook of her arm and her side. I focus on drawing that shape correctly, and suddenly—viola! Her arm looks accurate too. Often, correctly drawing a negative shape will automatically improve a positive shape.
 

Now, I know I said there are just 4 Actions for Accurate  Proportions, but there's kind of 1 more–the gesture line. I'll talk about that next time in "Creating Figures That Look Dynamic, Not Stiff."

Did you find this lesson valuable? You can have lessons like this one delivered directly to your inbox when you sign up for our Email Newsletter below (Be sure to check "Free art lessons").

Until next time,
Adam

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Nov 23, 2016

My Simple Method For Mixing Any Skin Color


Hi there,

Do you find it difficult to mix good skin colors?

Well, I mentioned in the last lesson that mixing good skin colors does not depend on memorizing infinite color recipes (See
"A Better Approach To Mixing Realistic Skin Colors").

Also, remember that before you attempt to mix the color of a shape in front of you, you must first consider that shape's value and temperature (For value, see "Making Your Flat Portraits Look 3-D" and for temperature, see "Avoiding Muddy & Chalky Skin Tones")

But this lesson is about color. So without further ado, here is My Simple Method for Mixing Any Skin Color…

Step 1: Simplify

Flesh can contain hints of every color of the rainbow! When I'm mixing skin colors, I often find myself dipping into every color on my palette.

This is why I find it best to keep things simple in the beginning. When I start mixing skin colors, I think of each color on my palette as belonging to 1 of 3 categories:
  1. Reds
  2. Yellows
  3. "Nudge Colors" (I'll define this in a sec)
I find that simplifying my colors like this is an efficient approach to painting any skin color under almost any condition…

Of course, there are
always exceptions
Let's say you're feeling adventurous, and you light your model
with a bright blue LED light. Your model's skin tones may just
appear blue, without much influence of red or yellow. But given
that your model is under natural light or under an artificial
 light of typical color, you are probably safe to assume
your model's skin color will contain some balance of
red, yellow, and a nudge color.



Step 2: Mix Up Big Piles of
Average Colors

Now, by "average" colors, I mean colors that generally represent the colors in the subject as simply as possible. I know you can see dozens of colors in your subject. But in the beginning, keep things simple and don't try to match every color you see right away. You can mix more specific colors later with those "nudge colors" I'll talk about.
At the start, I mix up just 2 big piles of average color–1 average color for the lit side of the head and 1 average color for the shadowed side (above, you can see these two colors applied in broad, blocky shapes).


Step 3: Nudge as Needed

First of all, just what is a "nudge color" anyway?

Well, mixing just red and yellow together can produce some pretty intense oranges that may not look natural as flesh colors. For this reason, it's usually necessary to "nudge" your mixture toward one color or another by mixing in other color(s)–"nudge colors."

Below are a 2 examples of average color mixtures I often start out with. In both cases, white is used as a nudge color. The white both lightens and cools the original orange color.

Example 1: Lemon, permanent alizarin crimson & white.


Example 2: Yellow ochre, permanent red medium & white.


Now, although I often start with the above mixtures, I certainly also mix in various other nudge colors as necessary. Sometimes your subject will dictate a nudge toward green in places. Or blue. Or violet. In fact, Any other color on your palette is a candidate for a nudge color.


So, How Do I Know Which
Reds, Yellows and Nudge Colors to Use?


Excellent question. My best answer is let your subject be your guide. Choose colors that are appropriate for the values, temperatures and colors in the subject.
In the end, observe your subject with care and faithfully paint the colors you see before you. Formulas only help you know what to look for and prepare you for what you might find–nothing more. Much more important than any formula is the process of training your eye to observe and paint faithfully.

I hope you've enjoyed these lessons on painting the portrait! Starting next week, I'll delve into the exciting realm of Figure Painting.
I have a question for you, and your answer will help me write the upcoming lessons:
What is your biggest struggle with figure painting?
Just email me your answer at Contact@AdamClague.com. Thanks, I really appreciate your help!

Did you find this lesson valuable? You can have lessons like this one delivered directly to your inbox when you sign up for our Email Newsletter below (Be sure to check "Free art lessons").

Until next time,
Adam

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Nov 4, 2016

A Better Approach to Mixing Realistic Skin Colors


Hi there,

If you were to ask me to recommend one instructional resource on painting, it would probably be the book Alla Prima: Everything I Know About Painting by Richard Schmid.

However, when I first flipped through its pages as a newbie painter, I admit my expectations were met with some disappointment.

At the time, I had been laboring over one of my very first commissions—a double portrait of two young children. I had hoped Mr. Schmid would provide color-mixing recipes for everything under the sun, including what I needed–color recipes for Caucasian skin tones illuminated by flash photography and other vague indoor lighting.

To my dismay, I could find no such recipes.

Of course, my disappointment had nothing to do with any fault in Mr. Schmid's book, but rather with my own misunderstandings of color.

What I didn't understand was this: For us painters, color mixing has little to do with recipes, and much more to do with our response to the subject.

Now, it's true that your artistic interpretation can also influence what colors end up on your canvas. But I like to let my subjects be my primary blueprint. Therefore, for the most part, I interpret the colors before me based on how they truly appear. This type of faithful response to your subject can (with practice) help you achieve color that is more realistic than any color recipe.

Now, responding faithfully to the colors before you is made easier when you understand why the colors in your subject are there…


3 Factors that
Affect Color


1. The light on the subject
The skin colors of a model under warm sunlight (as in the first image below) will appear dramatically different from the skin colors of the same model under cool window light (as in the second image below). These ladies are sisters, but they have a similar complexion.


2. The local color of the subject
"Local color" is the named color of a subject—for example, a blue shirt, a red apple, etc. When mixing skin color, the inherent qualities of the subject's flesh must be considered. We are blessed with beautiful diversity–some skin tones are lighter, some are darker, some lean more toward red or yellow or olive.

3. The reflection of surrounding objects
In the example below, notice how the model's bright green shirt reflects into his face.



As you can imagine, these 3 factors provide practically infinite color possibilities. It would be an impossible task to memorize a color recipe for every potential situation! Fortunately, we don't have to…

Next week, I'll share My Simple Method for Mixing Any Skin Color.

See you then!
—Adam


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Oct 24, 2016

Avoiding Muddy & Chalky Skin Tones


It's happened to all of us who have ever attempted to paint a portrait…

You've been painting that cherub of a child. You've been carefully trying to match the colors of that perfect, unblemished skin. You think you've nailed those rosy cheeks, that fair flesh, that sandy blonde hair.

But then you stand back from your work and… wow. Those cheeks are definitely rosy… like the red soil of Arizona. That skin is exactly as fair as chalk dust. And that hair is sandy, alright. Just like… well, sand.


If only you had a chart of "skin-tone recipes" written by some Betty Crocker of the art world that would tell you exactly how to whip up big batches of "Satin Skin" and "Ethereal Epidermis" instead of the "mud," "dirt" and "chalk" currently on your palette.

Fortunately, the cure for "muddy" or "chalky" color is not an unobtainable fantasy. In his book Alla Prima: Everything I Know About Painting, master artist Richard Schmid sheds light on this topic…

"'Muddy color'… is simply a color
that is inappropriate in temperature
"
—Richard Schmid

"Muddy" and "chalky" color is not so much a color issue as it is a temperature issue. So let's talk temperature...

Temperature Basics


The first thing to understand about temperature is that there is no such thing as "warm" and "cool." There is only "warm-er" and "cool-er." It's relative–a color is only cool-er or warm-er compared to another color.

Therefore, a "muddy" or "chalky" skin-tone is a color that is either too cool or too warm compared to the surrounding colors.

 
Side-Note: A color might also look "muddy" or "chalky"
if it's the wrong value. For example, a shape that's too dark on
a portrait will look like just that–a dark smudge on the face.
But given the value is correct, the reason a color looks "muddy"
or "chalky" is that it's either too warm or too cool in comparison
to the surrounding colors.

But of course, this information is useless unless you can make your muddy colors "UN-too-warm" and "UN-too-cool…"  


2 Ways You Can Make A
Color Warmer Or Cooler


1: By Moving Around the
Color Wheel Like a Clock

 

First, however, here are 2 important things to know: 1) the red-orange-yellow side of the color wheel is considered "warmer" than the green-blue-violet side, which is considered "cooler." 2) Most consider either bright yellow or yellow-orange the very warmest color. Blue is considered the coolest color (However, there's an exception that I'll mention in a bit…)

Now, imagine you're traveling around this color wheel like the hand of a clock. The closer you move toward the cooler side, the cooler the color will become. The closer you move toward to the warmer side, the warmer the color will become.


2 Examples:
  1. Let's say you're standing on that very warmest color–a bright yellow-orange. You take one step clockwise toward the green. Now, you're standing on a yellow that's tinted with a hint of green. This yellow-green is cooler than the yellow-orange because you've moved closer to the cooler side of the color wheel.
     
  2. This time, start out on violet. Take one step counter-clockwise toward the blue. Now, you're standing on blue-violet, which is cooler than violet because it's closer to blue and because you're moved further away from the warmer side of the color wheel.
The 2nd way you can make a color warmer or cooler is…

2. By Moving Along Imaginary
Spokes of the Color Wheel
 

Earlier, I said blue is considered the coolest color, but I mentioned there's an exception…

It's true, blue is the coolest color of the rainbow.

However, for the painter, there is one other color so icy, it gives blue frostbite… pure white.

In this particular color wheel, you'll notice there is a narrow ring that contains the main colors in their most saturated forms (1)

The farther you travel away from this ring toward the center of the circle, the more white is added (2).
Adding white will cool any other color… even blue!

Whew, this has been a ton of info!
Just 1 last thing…

…I'd like to share a few "quick tips" to help apply all of this information.

Quick Tips

  • If your shadows look "chalky," you likely have too much white in your mixture.
  • Sometimes you need to move around the color wheel like a clock. Sometimes you need to move across it like a spoke. Often, you need to do both–move diagonally to make a shift in both intensity and color.
  • Red is cooler than yellow.
  • If a color looks muddy, check its value first, before changing its temperature.
  • Usually, it's only a subtle shift that's required to fix a bad temperature relationship.
  • If you are illustrating a child playing in a mud puddle… by all means, use muddy color.

If you're longing for a "skin-tone recipe book" like the one I mentioned earlier, I can't help. But next week, I'll share the next best thing (A Better Approach to Mixing Realistic Skin Colors).

Until then,
Adam
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Oct 13, 2016

Making Your Flat Portraits Look 3-D (Part II)

Last week, I left my poor model with very graphic, hard-edged shapes on her face! Today, I'll talk about how to soften the edges between those shapes.

In the previous lesson, I shared how to accurately paint the lit and shadowed regions of the model's face, as well as the mid-tones in-between. These 3 regions of light, dark, and mid-tone can be seen in this first image.

(Note:
If you haven't read the previous lesson yet, I recommend you read it first: Making Your Flat Portraits Look 3-D).

The image below shows my next stage… the hair, scarf, and shirt are painted with just 2 values* each–1 value for the lit side, 1 value for the shadowed side.
* "Value" describes how light or dark a color is



Now, Let's Address All
Those Hard-Edged Shapes


Even at the current stage, things are beginning to look 3-D. However, value alone cannot completely describe form. To do this, Value needs his trusty co-worker Edge.

"Edge" describes the quality of the boundary between two adjacent shapes.

Together, value and edge create the illusion of form.

 
TIP: Don't be tempted to grab your softest brush and
obliterate all those unseemly hard edges too quickly.
Edges have a delicate hierarchy that must be observed carefully.
There are razor-sharp edges, there are softer edges,
and there is every other type of edge in-between.

All these various types of edges can be difficult to see unless you…
 

Know What to Look For


Generally speaking…
  • Abrupt plane changes have firmer edges
    (For example, the bridge of the nose)
     
  • Gradual plane changes have softer edges
    (Like the curve of a cheek)
     
  • Textured masses (like hair or a fuzzy sweater)
    have softer edges than skin and bone

Now let's get to the fun part… painting!


Two Trusty Guides To
Traverse Edgy Terrain

 
  1.  Identify the very sharpest edge in
    your subject and paint it first

    Painting the very sharpest edge first establishes a
    standard against which you can compare all other edges.

    (In my subject, the sharpest edge happens to be
    the edge between the collar and chest.)
     
  2. Before painting each edge, ask yourself,
    "How
    much softer or sharper is this edge
    than one I've already painted?"
 

Two Ways to Soften an Edge

 

Of course, there are many ways to soften an edge, but here are the 2 main methods…
  1. Drag one shape into another with a clean, dry brush.
    I softened her hair by dragging its shape into the background and the background into the hair.
     
  2. Paint a transitional value along an edge you wish to soften.
    Look at the narrow, grayish-violet shape along the cheek between the lit and shadowed regions. The value of this shape falls in-between the lit and shadowed regions, too.

    Even though I chose not to use additional strokes to soften this shape, our eye automatically "blends" the shape into the adjacent shapes, especially when viewed at a distance.

Next week, I'll share How to Avoid Chalky Or Muddy Skin-Tones.

Happy painting, everyone!
—Adam

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