October 10, 2006


I've decided to do a series of oil portraits exploring the use of color. This piece is from a photograph taken by an artist friend who used to work on a cruise line and had access to subjects I wouldn't have. This photo had a lot of dark shadows and I decided to use them for strong contrast and still work them in using color so they weren't just black areas. I also wanted to have color harmony and contrast working in the same piece, so this has been a consideration in color choices.

I also have been having issues with motor control lately due to fibromyalgia...this means repititious movement of my shoulder is painful and holding a brush more difficult due to numbing. It's also hard to stand at an easel for long. I love oils, so decided to figure out a way to use Paintstiks rather than brushes for this piece. I'm using a combination of drawing and blending with fingers and tortillon working wet on wet when I blend, but allowing some layers to dry as a base for the next layer. So I'm combining what I learned with oil pastels and oil painting with, so far, great results. Since Paintstiks have a wax/linseed base I don't need to worry about it degrading archival watercolor paper and that is what I'm using, 9x12 size.

Palette so far:



titanium white

cadmium orange





titanium white

raw umber

burnt umber


cadmium orange

ultramarine blue

ultramarine blue


First step was to do a freehand light vine charcoal sketch to establish basic contrast and alignment of features. I pay careful attention to horizontal angles and lining up vertical feature edges with other features.


Next I did the background. Since the skin is going to have an orange cast I decided for harmony to use some in the background. I then used white to establish the tonal transitions and then worked turquoise over that. This was done with very light additions with a finger as needed. I then used ultramarine to start working in my darkest darks.



This is the final underpainting sketch. At this point there is a lot of areas that still allow some of the underlying paper to show. I let this dry over the weekend so I could control the next stage...completely covering or allowing some of the blue to work for me. The skin is dark and warm but I wanted a hint of coolness in the shadows and some color to contrast the oranges.



ahhh...the first color stage is really doing what I want! I went over the darkest areas with scribbles of raw umber using the Paintstik directly. Then I added asphaltum to the lighter areas. Then used a tortillon to blend the edges of the two to keep a 'hair' effect. I used raw umber again on the darkest part of the eyebrows and the eyes them selves, the tip of the ear, and at the base of the shadow falling on the shoulder. Then I switched to burnt umber for the rest of the very dark shadows. This gave it a touch redder and lighter cast. I then worked asphaltum next to these darks and blended the edges with a finger. I allowed some blue touches to show in the large cast shadow at the edges and in the eye area also.



I added a touch of cad orange to white and established the lights and then blended a touch of asphaltum into that as needed.

You can see how I've treated the edges in this close up. I'm purposely leaving it 'fuzzy' so it works into the background to give it depth. I could get a smooth hard line if wanted with the tortillon but sharp edges draw the eye whereas it just wants to slide over unfinished areas. I sometimes work light to dark but switched with this one as I don't want anything but vivid color in the shadow areas.


This closeup shows how painterly the effect is up close and shows a hint of light going into the eye area for form. Due to the heavy shadowing there is no light in the eyes but I still want them to be compelling.


I'll work my way across the face, leaving the lower body since I'm still trying to decide whether to include a bit of a raised hand. I used to have a very difficult time getting strong contrast in portraits for several reasons. One being that I like a lot of transitions and it's easy to overwork colors and another was from working darks over lights or vice versa...I would get a milky/chalky result. Now I butt the colors up next to each other and blend lightly only at the transition points. And I spend more time thinking and studying before doing.





Well, calling this one done. You can see there were a lot of refinements done using the color and tones to reshape the face. I'll be doing more of these color studies, so stay tuned!