Thursday, December 22, 2016

Putting the New Colors to Work

In my last post, I talked about two new colors for my limited-paletted experiments.  They were Gamblin's Chromatic Black and Naples Yellow Hue.  I suggested that there would be future blog post about using them for caucasian skin tones.  Well, this is that post.

I've been looking at the work of Nick Alm a lot lately.  Nick is a young Swedish figurative painter.  His figures are light-skinned, and getting those light skin tones has driven me bananas.  You can't just add a lot of white to your basic mixtures of cad red, cad yellow, and a touch of a blue, and expect to get a skin tone that doesn't look like chalk.  But if you go easy on the white, you get a darker and stronger color.  What's an artist to do?

Try different colors, for one thing.  And copy Alm's work to try to reverse-engineer his methods.  Same thing you'd do when you're trying to understand any artist's work.

Here's one of Alm's portrait sketches:

Beautiful, isn't it?  I greatly enlarged it on the computer screen so I could get a better idea of some of the colors, strokes, and structure.  I discovered that the black is a very cool color and that there's more green in the skin tones than were immediately apparent.  The figure seemed to be built up from a muted warm green underpainting, with pink lighted areas on top.  The greens remain in some shadowed or darker areas, such as on the neck, around the mouth, and on the forehead.  Nick uses very high value contrasts in his paintings, so most of the colors here are extremely dark or very light, with not much in the way of mid-values.  This helps increase the drama in the picture.

Here's my copy of it:

As you can see, I still didn't come close to his skin tones.  Mine have much more yellow and white.  I used Chromatic Black and Naples Yellow, as mentioned above, and Terra Rosa for my red.  Chromatic Black is actually a dark blue, Naples Yellow is a very muted yellow, and Terra Rosa is a slightly cool muted red.  So I had the ingredients for a good copy but missed it.

I toned the surface (gessoed paper) with a green, like Alm did, but then didn't let that green show through in the final image.  The black worked out very well.  I mixed in a bit of burnt umber in order to try to tie it in with the warmer colors of the face, but in retrospect that wasn't necessary, and Alm sure didn't do it.   I drew the face to place all the features, then did a grisaille (black and white rendition) on top of the green, then laid in the warm skin tones using Flake White, Naples Yellow, and Terra Rosa.  I could see that Alm used little or no yellow, but I just couldn't go that far and my results show it.  

That being said, these skin tones are still pretty good compared to what I have been doing.  I think I need to do another copy to pay more attention to the underpainting and dragging the lighter warms across the cooler darker ground.  

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