Step Three


I’m focusing on the right hand character right now.  I think I’ve struggled with her more than any of the children in the painting.  Her face is very pale and there are dark shadows beneath her eyes.  I struggled with her hand as well.

To recap, the colors I’m using are Raw Umber for the background.  All of the colors I mention here are Winsor  & Newton paints.  The faces are painted using Titanium White, Winsor Yellow, Alizarin Crimson, Ultramarine Blue, Cobalt Blue, Winsor Violet, Burnt Umber, Burnt Sienna, Raw Sienna, and Yellow Ochre.  I put some of each color on my palette, but I very rarely use Yellow Ochre or Raw Sienna for this painting.  I use them for when I can’t quite find just the right color I’m looking for.

You’re going to think I’m insane when I tell you what brush I’m using.  I have a plethora of brushes, but I like the smoothness I get when I use the Loew-Cornell 7400 Angular.  The entire brush is only about seven inches long.  It’s a brush that I would normally pick for watercolors.  I’m loving it for getting the smooth textures and for softening the edges.  I’ve used larger brushes for laying out my underpainting.  I’m talking just about the detail work when I refer to this small brush.

For the most part on this second face, I take Winsor Yellow and add some Burnt Sienna.  It gives me a nice coppery color.  That’s what I use in the lighter shadows.  The lightest areas are those same two colors with a little white added.  My shadows are the same two colors with more Burnt Sienna and some Raw Sienna added.  When I first apply the color areas, it’s sort of like paint by numbers with hard edges.  I like the look of it and think to myself that I’ll leave a painting like that one day.  Not today though.  I want these children to have very smooth and creamy complexions.

I find, as I paint, that my mind is constantly gauging where shadows should begin and end, where lines do the same and what angle they should take.  I’m looking at the small shadow on the nostril and seeing many areas of shadow within that one shadow.  I’m seeing faint shades of yellow or red or violet where I thought I’d seen simple shadow (as if shadow is a color and comes right out of a tube).  Adding little hints of color to the highlights and shadows gives life to the painting.  There’s so much to think about, but I find myself focusing on just the area I’m working with at the moment.  Not only do I concentrate on it, but I am savoring the time I’m spending on the painting.  It feels good to mix interesting colors on the palette and then see how they look together on the canvas.  It’s great to smooth the paint onto the canvas and push it around until it’s where I want it to be and blended with it’s neighbors just enough.  I know what I want the finished painting to look like.

I’m very nearly done with the faces of these two.  I need to soften a couple small areas yet and the hand needs quite a bit of work.  I’ll use the same combination of colors.  I’ll move on to the two children on the right side of the painting.  I’ve decided to get all of the faces finished before finishing up with the clothing.  My reasoning for this is that I want the faces to be clear and focused, but everything else in the painting to be vague and out of focus.  Also when I do the clothing, I’ll have to be thinking about a path for the viewer.  How can I keep their eyes on the painting, moving from area to area?  I’ll consider that and work it in.

The final decision to make with this painting is a fifth person who is looking down from the area between the two pairs.  I had decided not to paint her in, because she is the only adult and I want the painting to be about the children.  I find myself having second thoughts on it.  In fact, I’m most definitely leaning toward including her, but making her shadowed and out of focus.  The viewer will know there is someone there, but they won’t linger on her face.

I love working on this painting.  It’s perhaps the finest experience I’ve ever had with art.  It’s also my first time to use such a large canvas (36 wide by 24 tall).  My mind is racing with ideas for more paintings.  I’m thinking of doing a still life.  Imagine that!  I want to find out if it’s similar to painting people.  Is it?

2 comments on “Step Three

  1. I’m loving your step-by-step through this painting! I was really interested in your description of shadow. The few amateur paintings I’ve done always seem to be about the bright bits of color – shadow makes me nervous because I don’t know how to use it without making it look flat. I’ll have to try something out of my comfort zone soon and do a painting with more shadows, so I can experiment with adding color and see how it turns out!

    • Hi, Jen. Your comment does my heart good.

      There’s a helpful guideline you can use for shadows. It seems logical that if you’re painting something light green, then the shadow would be dark green. Something yellow might have something orange as a shadow. When painting a face, it might make sense to have the shadow side of the face simply be a darker version of the lighter side. I admit that I do that with faces. I use darker earth tones as the shadow. If I just left it at that, it would look kind of flat and dead.

      Deciding what color to add in to bring it life is where the color wheel comes in. Purple is opposite to yellow. Green is opposite to red. Blue is opposite to orange. When your lighter area is yellow (the flesh tones in my painting are in this range) then pepper your shadows with the opposite color (purple). Those two colors, being opposite, can look loud and garrish together. They can even seem to vibrate. That’s why I pepper with the opposite color rather than saturate the area with it. The shadow side of a face can be an earthy color with the violet or purple added in. When painting a face, I may even pepper the light area with a smidge of yellow. That gives life to the lighter areas just as a little violet gives life to the darker area.

      I have actually made a short video about mixing colors for shadows. I think I’ll use it in an upcoming post. Shadows can make or break a painting. I’m also going to position a camera for a closeup of the painting I’m working on so I can show how I’m doing the shadows.

      Thanks again for taking time to visit and comment, Jen. It helps me with ideas for what I can explain better or post about later.

      I looked at the post you did about journaling in the Caribbean. I’ve bought several journal for doing just that, but have stalled out in doing it. I’m glad you’ve taken time to document your trips. It’s inspirational to me and I’m really looking forward to seeing more.

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