The Trouble with Hats and Beards

Here’s Nick, who posed for open studio at SAS. A great subject to paint, I especially like the strong black and white contrasts. So what makes this challenging?

Hats. The trouble with hats is;

* We have a preconceived idea that a hat sits “on top” of a head, but it really sits over the head, with the head sinking into it. It’s important to remember that there’s a head inside that hat.

* We think of a hat as being secondary to the face, but in most cases it takes up a lot of space and may be equal to or larger than the face.

* Here, I’m looking up at the head which causes the hat to receive in space. The angle is unexpected, my mind tells me no, but my eye says yes, (listen to your eye).

Beards. The trouble with breads is;

* They don’t have a solid structure, kind of like a cloud, they are puffy and soft.

* It can be challenging to give them dimension, but they do have a light side and shadow side. Look at the light falling on the face for clues as to how the light is hitting the beard.

I use standard proportion when first mapping out a face. Like the center of the eye socket is usually the half way point between the top of the head and the chin.

This subject has both the top of the head and the chin obscured, so the logical thing to do is use what I can see. The height of the hat compared with the face, compared with the beard.

It turns out that the hat and beard take up about the same space vertically while the face takes up about 3/4 of this measure. This gives me a great place to start.

I never rush my base drawing. Taking my time on this step pays off big in the painting phase. I like to use vine charcoal which is easily erased and won’t leave the trace lines that pencil will.

Here I’ve blocked in the darkest darks first. The next most important area is the background, many times I see a student paint the background last, the is the opposite of what I do. The background will influence everything else. An extreme example of this is someone in a white shirt next to an orange wall. The color in the orange wall will bounce all over the white shirt. A subtle background like this one will also infuse into the subject.

I’m working from dark to light, from easy colors to judge to hard ones. You’ll notice I’m leaving the flesh tone until last. Flesh is such a muted tone which can change with each person and even situation, saving it for last will make it easier.

The final pass is adding texture to the hair, beard and face.

To Sum it Up …

We are nearing the end of our 6 month stay in Scottsdale. To recap, John and I decided to celebrate our 20th anniversary by temporarily living in an “art friendly” city, our choice was Scottsdale Arizona.

Why Scottsdale? I have enjoyed attended workshops at the Scottsdale Artists School over the last 15 years. Other art destinations are within easy driving distance, like Sedona and Tucson. The outlying desert regions have a multitude of hiking trail, biking trails (for John) and interesting locations to paint.

What we didn’t expect to happen after 3 months was moving here. So an extended vacation has turned into a life changing event as we have listed our home in Las Vegas for sale and put in a contingency offer for a house in Phoenix.

To sum up the last 6 months I decided a slide show of the work I have completed while here would say it best. Most of the paintings were done from life at the open studio sessions at Scottsdale Artists School.

Some days I experimented with different techniques, some days the paint just seemed to flow while others were a struggle. I learned a lot by painting a lot, and watching some very talented artists. So here are the images in a slide show, in the order they were painted…if you have trouble with the embedded file, try this link


Final Day of David Shevlino Workshop

Summing up the last 5 days of a wonderful experience attending the David Shevlino Figure Painting Workshop at the Scottsdale Artist’s School, I’ll say fabulous!!!!!

The three main things I have taken away from this experience-

Using the mixing surface on my palette in a much more integrated way. Creating new tones out of one central mix, making them all off shoots, provides wonderful nuances and harmony among colors.

Paint handling; laying wet paint layers on top of each other with just the right speed and touch creates luminous effects.

And the most important, how to see an entire subject as 5 to 7 angled lines. Perceiving like this helps to build strong compositions and render subjects correctly.

And of course all the nice people I met, the memory of a great Italian dinner with them at Gramali’s on Main Street, and all the stories we shared about painting techniques. There’s something about spending 30 hours painting the same subjects with a group of other artists that reassures you, that you are not alone in your struggles…. now on to open studio time to practice what I’ve learned!



Monday Afternoon at the Art Group

Quick Study of Anastasia by Diane Eugster
Quick Study of Anastasia by Diane Eugster

It may not be realistic to work from live models all the time but most cities have groups that facilitate two or three hour sessions with real people.

Even in our city, Las Vegas, which is not a mecca for the arts, there are several types to choose from.

Nude figure drawing groups which can be hosted by gallery spaces or individuals at their homes. Look at Meet-up online for what’s going on in your area.


Portrait painting, short and long poses are another type of group that help hone your skills. Usually the model fee is split up between the participants. This type of group is easy to find models for, family members, neighbors etc. In a previous blog post I wrote about other places to find models.

These groups are fun and good for us types that spend too much time in the studio and need to mingle with humanity. If you can’t find one, start one, maybe in your garage with a few friends, you’d be surprised how these things can grow.

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