Lately I’ve been focusing my efforts on two paintings. The first one is the one I call “Golden Lady” for now. This image has become an experiment in painting realistic African American skin tone, something I’ve done in the past with limited success. But the only way to learn is to do. As we know African Americans come in various skin tones and colors. Don’t get me wrong I love our variety, it’s part of our strength as a people. But to be honest painting and drawing African American skin can be quite frustrating. Darker skin is just plain harder to see. In my college figure drawing classes I noticed the subtle changes in value that really tell the story about a figure were much harder to judge on darker skinned people. With patience and practice I hope to overcome this and develop my painting skills with all skin colors.The “Golden Lady” is based on a portrait of an old acquaintance, one I had deep feelings for in the distant past. I decided to accept the challenge of paining the portrait of someone I used to love. Its not so much a likeness of her as it is an attempt to paint how I felt about her at the time, a daunting task. Besides, once the “portrait” is finished she would never recognize herself in it because its only a partial view of her face, specifically her eyes.
To create skin color I’ve been mixing my own browns from tubes of colored paint. Earth tones such as yellow ocher, burnt sienna, raw umber, etc. are widely available in pre-mixed tubes, but I feel it’s better to create my own so I can be sure they sit well with the other colors I’ve mixed. I’m also experimenting with color mixing recipes from a book I’m reading,Color Mixing Recipes for Portraits: More than 500 Color Combinations for Skin, Eyes, Lips & Hair by Wiliam F.Powell.
I must say I like the book and think it’s fun to use. This book contains mixes for a wide array of skin tones ranging from Caucasian to Latino and East Indian hues all the way to Black (African) colors in both cool and warm families. There are also recipes for lip, hair and eye colors. Powell includes a color mixing grid for measuring amounts of each hue with precision as well as a handy conversion chart for finding acrylic equivalents of oil paints and vice versa. I look forward to trying each and every recipe in the book.
The other painting is actually one of the largest canvases I’ve ever worked on (48” X 30”). It’s the story of a family reunion. The father has returned after being away, what the reasons are I’m leaving open to interpretation. Anyway, this image has been going pretty well. But I’m concerned about the arrangement of the figures, hoping it looks natural instead of awkward. My hopes for this image is the portrayal of a loving family going through a challenging time but overcoming in the end. So overall the image is hopeful, not heartbreaking.The “family” painting is one of those I left sitting for a while so the paint can dry and so I can come back to it with fresh eyes. Even though my immediate concern was the skin color of the figures, I really need to look at rearranging the composition and maybe correct some of the drawing mistakes I made. The other major challenge will be making the clothing on the family look realistic. This is also known as drawing drapery, a skill that takes real dedication to master. This skill is so important to realist painters that there are entire libraries of books devoted to the topic.
Yes, this image is filled with correctable drawing mistakes, especially in the proportions of the figures. For instance, the father’s head is way too big for his body. The mother is smaller than the child on dad’s back, and the figure in the middle is staring at her sister’s feet. The boy on the end I meant to be tugging at his dad’s shirt but he looks as if he’s praying. Do you see why it helps to get away from a painting now and then? But seeing where you went wrong is a blessing in disguise because you can’t fix a mistake you don’t see.