The Trouble with Heads

Have you ever been working on a painting, specifically the head part of a figure and it just won’t materialize the way you envisioned. I recently had this happen and thought I’d share my remedy to “the head that will not work“.

It’s good in the beginning to realize the reference head is a difficult one. What makes one head more of a challenge than another? I’ve brought out some of my older portrait studies to see.

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The example above is a easier head because it has strong lighting which defines the planes, but more important it is straight on vertically and horizontally. Not the most interesting pose, but definitely the easiest.

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This one is more difficult, although there are some good defining shadows the head is not only tilted to one side, but tilted upwards, Notice how the ears are going lower on the side of the face, this is always the tell tail sign of a head tilted up.

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In many ways this head is more difficult than the one above because it is so slightly tipped to one side and tilted up (notice the under side of the chin being visible). This being a rounder, softer face makes it more challenging than one with sharp angles.

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An extreme angle like this is hard because it’s a strain to come to terms with the fact that the nose can appear to touch the eye. This is when you have to trust what you see and not what you think you know.

After I’ve made a few attempts at a face from photo reference and it just isn’t working this is what I do:

Making sure the photo head is the same size as the painting head, I draw a square box around the head, placing the head at one side. Label the size of the box, than divide it into eighths if need be. In this photo the right side of the box was mostly her hair, a shape I could easily grasp so I only divided the left side of the box.

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On the painting, draw the same size box where the head is. Using the divisions as guide lines, draw in the main elements in the correct locations. Sometimes I’ll do a dry run on a piece of scrap canvas.

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Here is the box and pencil drawing on the canvas. Now I see it! The hair line was off, but I know have a good guide to move forward.

 

 

 

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Taking it Further

Many times when painting a subject from life there just isn’t enough time to finish, or quality control starts to diminish when “artist fatigue” sets in.

The next day, back in the studio, armed with some photos, one taken a little overexposed to see what’s happening in the shadows and one underexposed to see what’s happening in the lightest areas, it’s time to take a hard look. This is one of the greatest ways to develop a keener eye.

So, how do I take it further? Writing down what I like so far;

  • The strong sense of light on her face, an almost stark quality
  • The composition

Now, what could elevate this, if I saw a more advanced version of this painting at an art show, what is it that would make me stop and look?

  • Correct any drawing/value problems that would take away from the whole
  • Work the edges to lead the eye around the painting and not distract
  • Play up the textures1920rough-lrI began in the studio at this point-

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After taking it further with the changes below-

Drawing problems;

  • her left hand and right hands- needed reshaping and softening
  • her left arm, take the value lighter and reshape
  • her knee, not in the right place
  • chin, a little more pointed

Opportunities for texture

  • highlight on her headband
  • shine on her dress
  • fur and sparkles on coat, right side
  • background needs a little more chroma
  • work items on table for more interest

In the beginning when trying to “taking it further” it may seem hard to spot what you need to do, but keep looking with a critical eye and you will soon develop a knack for seeing which direction to take.

 

What’s The Point?

When sitting (or standing) in front of a new subject my first consideration is what’s the point? Why am I painting this thing, because it’s there is the worst possible reason. I’ve got to have a point of view, a motive for lifting the brush to the canvas.

My subject; a young woman with ringlets, red hair and a period dress, sitting stoically upright in a chair. The obvious road to take; a somber earth tone palette with quiet softened edges. My motive, to not paint it this way.

How about a primary limited palette of Alizarin Crimson, Ultramarine Blue and Cadmium yellow. This choice could help to keep the color lively even in the flesh tones. wedge1-lr

The initial block in, pushing the color – maybe too far, but I can always take it back later if needed. Separating the dark from the light, which is important for holding on to the form.wedge2-lr

At this point I’m starting to discover the color world she will be living in. It’s now a mater of refining the drawing, deciding how much to include. Is every ruffle necessary or will it take away from the whole. For me, it’s more about what I can put in that makes my point the best, and what I can leave out, just fluff.wedge3-lr

Working with a palette knife was a good way to get the rough textures to play against the smooth. The finished painting ” Wedgwood and Lilac” reflects the way I felt and what I wanted to say about her.

Workshop’s Over Now What

It’s been a week since I finished the Sunny Apinchapong workshop and I am still hearing his words as I paint, which is a good thing.

Sometimes coming away from a workshop can leave me with a let down feeling, like that was exciting and stimulating but now I’m on my own.

White flowers in a Vase, by Diane Eugster
White flowers in a Vase, by Diane Eugster

Sunny gave me so much to work on, here are a few of his mantras:

  1. Mass in with a big brush, you’re not ready to start the painting, keep roughing in those large shapes!
  2. Compare, compare, compare, is that lighter or darker than that passage over there? Look, look, look
  3. Trust yourself, don’t think too much, just get it down!
  4. Is that area really that orange, it’s orangish, not orange!
  5. Check your edges, if two dark object meet with a soft line in the shadow, join them together as one!

The still-life above was a challenge, at first all the white flowers looked very similar, but I searched for the small differences in color and found them, I compared the shape of this one to that one and saw the differences. I knocked back the colors when they were not subtle enough.

Pitch and a Basket, by Diane Eugster
Pitch and a Basket, by Diane Eugster

The same applied to the still-life above, in order to paint better I need to see better. Detail is not what I’m looking for but ways to translate the complications of the really world into paint.

The Head Leads the Way

Many years ago when I took a figure painting workshop from artist Robert Lemler at the Scottsdale Artists School. he said something that really stuck with me. “When painting a figure, the head leads the way”.

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This idea has served me well. In my newest painting, “Changing Seasons”, I first establishing the placement and general lighting condition of the head which helped me to move on to other areas, bringing them up to the same level. Than going back to the head with a second pass of development, more specific placement of the features, more sophisticated broken color areas.

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This is where I really need to slow down, keeping in mind the vision I have for this painting. Suggesting form and shape, I need to be careful not to over render. Some areas I actually needed to scrape back and build up again. Always keeping an eye on the path through the image.

 

Changing Seasons by Diane Eugster
Changing Seasons by Diane Eugster

When to stop? When there is nothing more you feel you need to say about the subject!

Southwest Art Article

Southwest Art Magazine has always been one of my favorite art magazines. The October issue has just come out which includes a section on the American Impressionist Juried Exhibition to be held at the Trailside Gallery in Scottsdale, AZ., October 1-29. My painting “The Day Begins” will be in the show.

Section on the American Impressionist Society Exhibition
Section on the American Impressionist Society Exhibition

I am also glad to have been included in their special section “Women in Art”.

October 2015, issue of Southwest Art Magazine
October 2015, issue of Southwest Art Magazine

I was happy about how the article came out, click the image below to make it readable.

SWA-Articlefinal

Experimenting with Color, Painting without White

I like to throw a challenge out to myself when planning a painting, it wakes me out of the trance of doing things the same way all of the time.

I began this painting by using only the paint colors that I had to in order to paint the subject. Being very conservative about my choices was a good way of experimenting with color.

The most obvious thing I needed was a red, Cad Red Medium wouldn’t let me get the warmer orange reds, so I decided on Cad Red Light.

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As I looked further I could see some rich cool reds would also help the painting so I went ahead and added Cad Red Medium (though later on in the painting I saw I could have done without it).

The darkest darks in the image where brown, so Burnt Umber made the list.

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The warm light in the image made Naples Yellow my choice, which is one of my favorite colors because of it’s buttery light tone and it’s opacity.

blo4 I grabbed my tube of white as if almost by habit, than stopped myself, can I get by using Naples Yellow in place of white? The answer was yes,using Naples Yellow instead of white kept the warm glow in the image. The opaque quality lighten up the Umber, while keeping some warmth, burnt umber can get very grey when mixed with white. The pinks that were made with the reds and the naples yellow kept the color harmony in the painting.

Lady in Red by Diane Eugster
Lady in Red by Diane Eugster