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I don’t remember working harder on any other painting, and now, I have to repaint the face – again.

Work in progress.

Work in progress.

Correct skin tone has always been the brass ring for artists. My current painting, a young girl gathering Queen Anne’s lace, is also backlit and foreshortened. Why voluntarily choose such a hard subject? Frankly I want the challenge. I challenge myself to get better.

A painting is like a recipe, whether it’s realism or abstract, it requires basic ingredients: composition, hue, value and edges. I feel confident with composition and edges, but proper hue and values are a traditionally difficult.

Hue: the most obvious characteristic of a color: red, yellow, green, blue, etc.

Value: the lightness or darkness of a color (sometimes called tints and shades.)

Wipe that look off your face.

Wipe that look off your face.

As they say, make your weaknesses your strengths, and therefore my challenge. I’ve religiously done my homework: preliminary sketch, oil study and monochromatic underpainting. As I said before, I drew the girl to practice the foreshortening and painted an oil sketch to rehearse the hue and value. Even though, when I painted her face on my canvas it didn’t seem right. I let it sit overnight to see how it looked with fresh eyes in the morning. Didn’t help so I scraped it off. Plan B was to dig out my viewfinder.

The viewfinder is primarily used to crop a scene to determine composition, but mine also has a small hole in it to isolate a portion of the subject in order to correctly judge your reference’s “true” color. So, I looked at my reference through the hole in the viewfinder and repainted her face. Nailed it. I brought the painting into our living room to proudly show my wife. As I turned it into the light, right before my eyes, the young girl’s skin turned a pale violet. The only thing I could think of was the natural light was different than my studio’s track lighting. Plan C was to replace all the light bulbs in my studio.

I looked online and found that Home Depot® carried daylight bulbs. These bulbs simulate daylight. (The young man working the light department at Home Depot® told me that Cree® bulbs are the best quality. He said they light instantly, are mercury free, have a 10-year warranty and are American made.) I also bought a small clamp-on lamp for my easel and replaced the bulbs in my studio track lights. When I flipped the switch, the young girl’s skin tone converted to the same pale violet that I witnessed in the natural light. It’s still bad, but good to know that my studio lighting now matches natural light.

Why wasn’t this a problem before? I recently overhauled the colors on my palette. I now use only three colors and white. Ivory black is one of those colors. Ivory black, mixed with white, essentially turns into a pale blue. Because I used black and red to mix the dark skin tones in the young girl’s shaded face, it essentially turned her skin tone into a pale violet. The warm lighting in my studio washed a warm glow onto my canvas and hid the value change from me until I looked at it in natural daylight. Case solved.

In the end I did challenge myself, and through detective work, I did learn a valuable lesson. And isn’t that the purpose of this painting? As Colombo, my favorite detective, used to say, “Just one more thing …” I still have to repaint her face.

Links:

Colombo: “Just one more thing.”

Cree® Lighting

Viewfinder

 

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