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