Friday, February 25, 2011

Process: Painting "Alone in the Dark"

Monkey here today, for a quick run-down of my process while painting a very recent piece, which I call "Alone in the Dark." In the photo above, the weird blue light coming diagonally across the upper left is just a lens flare.

So for a figurative piece where I want to really convey a specific emotion, I shoot reference. While others might be masters of expressions without reference, I am not, so I got our digital camera, a little work lamp, a sheet of blue acetate, some masking tape, a black cloth, and asked for the assistance of an awesome model, Seal.

If you don't have someone else you can ask to model, you can always do it yourself. I must admit, it is much easier to work with someone else. If you can't afford to pay someone, ask other artists if they might need a model of their own, and do a trade-sie.

So the above photo is primarily the one I worked off of. I like the hand positions in this photo, but I wasn't completely sold on her head position. I skimmed through some other photos I had snapped in our little 10-minute photo shoot, and after doing some Photoshop work, adjusting the levels, adding a very transparent gradient of aqua, I ended up with this:

With this as my reference, I started to paint. I paint with acrylics, and I like using Liquitex Heavy Body acrylics. For this painting, I used my usual palette set-up, which consists of:

titanium white, unbleached titanium (lazy painter's warm white), mars black, yellow oxide, cadmium yellow light hue, burnt umber, cadmium red medium hue, alizarin crimson hue permanent, cerulean blue, ultramarine blue (green shade), veridian hue permanent, and dioxazine purple. I will sometimes add extra colors to the palette if I need a large quantity of a certain color that I don't want to mix (I also keep a tube of magenta and an aqua handy), but usually I just stick with these colors and mix everything.

I also got a tube of ivory black to warm up the black since I was doing a cool light, but you can just as well mix some alizarin into your black to warm it up a bit if you stick with mars black.

I did a direct drawing onto the canvas using watered-down burnt umber. I mainly went for general proportions and gesture at this point. So you can see, I didn't quite hit that target on my first go, but since acrylics dry fast and you can paint over stuff, I decided to fix it later and just start painting.

I laid in a dark black for the shadowy background and mixed up a nice green to really push the creepy atmosphere and emphasize the unearthly lighting situation (which is also coming from below, which you don't see very often and adds to the creep-factor).

I also laid in a green underpainting where the flesh would be. Why? Because I like the effect of laying down a blue-green in my portraits and then layering fleshtones on top, especially if you're putting them in green light.

I then blocked in the lights and darks of the shirt, using a thin black wash to fill in the shirt, as I didn't want to lose the form of the shirt too early, while I was still figuring out the folds and construction and form. If I was a crazier painter, I could probably have gone with some opaque black, but I didn't want to push it, so I took it easy. I hit the light parts with green, since that's the color of the light.

The next step was to paint over the green with some unbleached titanium mixed with a bit of cad red light and yellow oxide. I also added the shadows on the skin, and took a bit of time to carve out the shape of the hand.

So the above photo is taken after about 3 hours of work. I paint fairly fast, thanks to a Quick Studies class I took at Academy, but I had to slow down a bit since I hadn't attempted to do anything even remotely realistic in a while, and sort of forgot what I had learned.

Tthis next photo was taken after about another 3 hours of work. What did I do in these three hours to go from weird chalk-lady to a decent approximation of a scared Eve?

Well, I spent a good two hours or so really studying the folds and buttons on her shirt. For some reason, I get a kick out of painting collared shirts on people, so I ended up devoting a bit too much time to the clothing, but it turned out pretty swell.

I also slowly painted, and repainted, and repainted again Eve's face, working to smoothly blend and capture all the subtle colors that are in her face in the reference photo. I also had a bunch of facial proportions all wrong, so I repainted her nose about three times. The first time it was too small, then it was too low and big, and then it was too high, and then I figured it wasn't worth it to go for a perfect likeness and decided that the nose looked proportional and real to the painting and that was that.

I also took time to start painting the hands. I then realized, while painting, that something seemed funny, and somehow during the painting process I stopped using the photo reference, and fudged the hands quite a bit. After carving a bit away, repositioning some fingers, and generally undoing a lot of the preliminary mistakes I had made, I repainted the fingers.

And after another hour or two, I decided I was finished. During those last few hours, I pulled out some highlights on her hair, softened a lot of the cast shadows on her face, sculpted the eyes a bit more, rendered the lips, added a bit of detail to the hands, and repainted her neck so that the anatomy worked a bit better.

Ta-da! So after about 50 minutes of reference shooting and prep work, and about 9-11 hours of painting, the finished product is here. I saw the painting starting to take a pulp-horror paperback book look early on, and decided that I would try to keep it in that vein as opposed to going for ultra-realism (which I find I just don't have the patience for).

Oh yeah! By the way, I also use Golden brand Acrylic Glazing Liquid (Satin) to thin my paints if I want to sort of glaze over dried paint to smooth transitions or tint parts certain colors. I used a lot of medium while painting the hands and face, due to the high concentration of blood vessels close to the surface of the skin. Due to the green light literally going through the skin, hitting the red blood, and bouncing back, you get this weird mixture of cool pinks and warm greens, with strange transitions in-between.

I hope you learned something from this process post, and feel free to ask any specific questions in the comments. While this isn't the style I'm currently working in, it is nice to bust out a creepy painting that flexes some of my classical realism training that I got in school, and also balances my work so it's also more fun to bust out and do my regular sweaty monsters. Woo!

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