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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Oct 5, 2016

Making Your Flat Portraits Look 3-D

*|MC:SUBJECT|*
Last week, I gave 3 Steps to Starting a Successful Portrait. If you haven't read it yet, I recommend you read it before reading this lesson.

I had an embarrassing moment a few years back.

I had the opportunity to paint for a week with a master artist I really admire. The first day, we painted a young girl outside. She had beautiful sunlight rimming the back of her golden hair and reflecting into her face. The lighting was anything but "flat."

And yet… I managed to make her head look as flat as the plains of Kansas (we live next door in Missouri. I would know).

When the artist saw my problem, he very kindly suggested, "Adam, why don't you paint the darkest dark and lightest light first?"

I couldn't believe my mistake. If there had been one mantra repeated over and over at art school, it was "paint the darkest dark and lightest light first." I had known better. But that didn't change the fact that the artist was absolutely right… I had managed to neglect this important step. And as a result, I had painted the shadows and lights too similarly, and my painting looked flat.

Do you struggle with portraits that look flat? If so, you are not alone–painting the shadows and lights too similarly is one of the most common difficulties.

The first step on the road to making your flat paintings look 3-dimensional is to paint the darkest dark and lightest light very early on.

Step 1:
(Yes, I'll Say it Again)
Painting the Darkest Dark
And the Lightest Light


In the last lesson, I left off with a drawing that looked very similar to this one. But this image also shows the next step. I've painted two very dark shapes under the hair and scarf, and a very light shape on the cheekbone.

These simple shapes represent the very darkest and the very lightest shapes in my subject.

TIP: To establish the widest range of darks and lights in your painting, make the very lightest shape as close to pure white as possible. Likewise, make the darkest shape as dark as possible.

Step 2: Creating the Illusion of Light…
With Just 2 Shapes


It is usually a good practice to illuminate your subject in a way that gives a definite lit side and shadowed side.

First Shape: First, look at the shadowed side of your model's head. Envision this shadowed region as one general shape. Then, ask yourself this very important question…

How much lighter is this shape than the very darkest shape?

Paint the shape accordingly. Also, paint the shadowed side of the head as one general shape, and with one average color. You can add the variations inside this shape later. For now, just focus on laying a simple, strong foundation of light and shadow.

TIP: The shadowed side of the head is often much darker than you might expect—even if the model has fair skin.

Second Shape: Now, look at the lit side of your model's head. Envision this lit region as one general shape. Ask yourself, How much darker is this shape than the very lightest shape?

Paint the shape accordingly. Also, paint the lit side of the head as one general shape, and with one average color
.

Step 3: "Fleshing Out"
the Form With Mid-Tones
(Pun Intended)


The mid-tone region provides a beautiful segue between the lit and shadowed sides of the subject.

Ask yourself, How much lighter and darker are the mid-tones than the shapes I've already painted?

Answer this question in your mind, and then mix up one average color for the mid-tones. Paint the mid-tones as large, general shapes.

Even after Step 2, your portraits will start looking less flat and more 3-D. But painting the lit and shadowed sides accurately can be very difficult without first painting the very darkest and lightest shapes for comparison.

So far, my portrait above has very hard-edged shapes. I'll talk about how to soften these edges next week in Making Your Flat Portraits Look 3-D (Part II).

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