Commissioned Dog Portrait

December 13, 2018

Hello everyone,

Below is a video copied from my live facebook demo of myself drawing a commissioned dog portrait with charcoal and pastel on black-toned paper. This demo is about an hour long, and shows my process from the first few marks to the beginning of the tonal stage. Colors were then applied to the finished tonal drawing using chalk pastels off camera (photos of the finished result pictured below). Working with pastels this way is a lot like  painting indirectly over a grissaille which I discuss in the video.

I am currently working on putting together a series of online art classes for 2019 and was considering adding a “pastel pet portrait” class to the mix. If you are interested in that or any other topics, please let me know by adding your comments below. All of my online classes can be found on my website, http://www.riverafinearts.com. Thanks for your input and enjoy the video!

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“Molly” (completed) pastel & charcoal on black-toned paper

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(Detail)


Supplies & Syllabus for Online Portrait Painting Master Class

December 12, 2018

Hello students,

For those of you who have signed up for my online portrait painting master class which will start on January 21 2019, below is a brief outline of what you can expect to learn each week as well a list of materials. For those of you who are interested in signing up for this class, you will find a link on my website, http://www.riverafinearts.com under my “art classes” page. I look forward to working with all of you soon!

First, I’d just like to express how truly thrilled I am to finally be offering one of the most extensive portrait painting classes online. This class goes well beyond the basics. In addition to learning about the underlying anatomical structures which make up the human face, you will become more skilled in rendering subtle nuances of form, color and texture, which will give your portraits that incredibly life-like appearance that will leave your viewers in awe. After 25 years of painting portraits, I’ve developed a systematic approach which begins with an accurate portrait drawing, followed by a limited color underpainting, and finishes with glazes (a technique practiced by the Old Masters which adds tremendous depth and luminosity to the final color).  Now I’ve condensed all of this incredible information into a 6 week course!  If you took my portrait drawing master class prior to this, you will already be familiar with a lot of the terminology discussed in this course.

Week 1. (Jan. 21st)

We will begin with a discussion of the materials, including panel/ground preparation. We will then create an accurately proportioned drawing from the live model using a variety of measuring techniques. This initial drawing will serve as the linear study to be transferred to the prepared painting surface using the cartoon method.  A series of additional pencil/charcoal studies will be made to emphasize the anatomical structures of various facial features.

Week 2. (Jan. 28th)

A two part demonstration will be given on how to transfer the linear study to the panel and how to properly add opaque values to the underpainting. Once the linear study is transferred, the drawing may be refined in paint. Initial patterns of light and dark can be established with a single color using the “frottie” method.  Any additional drawing corrections can be made at this stage as well.

for the second part of the demo, a gradated value scale will be mixed on the palette using a limited number of pigments and then added over the frottie. This first opaque layer can be thought of as a “dead color” layer or a “closed grissaille”, and is used to establish the basic planar structures of the face. We will also take a closer look at the skeletal and muscular anatomy.

Week 3. (Feb. 4th)

This is where we can begin to refine the big value patterns as well as the value transitions. As we carefully render the gradients of light to dark or dark to light value tones, we will begin to accentuate the plane changes of the face. This, in turn, will add  more three dimensiality to the inital description of form. At this stage, we can also start to analyze the relationships between local values and local colors.

Week 4. (Feb. 11th)

Okay, now comes the fun part!  This is where we take all of that wonderful under-structure, and sculptural form and bring it to life with the addition of  color. The first color pass is just a semi opaque layer of limited color to build upon the groundwork which we’ve already laid down. If we have a plan for applying the color, it can contribute to the nuance, mood and expression of the piece in a variety of different ways.

A demonstration will be given on setting up the palette with earth tones and prismatics as well as white and black, and then mixing up the dominant sections of the light, mid-tone and dark flesh tones that appear on the model. I will discuss tints, shades and tones. We will also examine ways to modify the chroma, value and hue by mixing in other colors. We will focus on matching the value of each additional section of color to the value of the underpainting. I will also discuss the fat over lean method and how to achieve this with the proper ratios of oil to spirits in each paint layer.

Week 5. (Feb 18th)

Here is where we will begin to refine the color with an extended palette and add details such as highlights, surface textures, wrinkles, etc. This is the layer where the painting will really start to come to life! Highlights may be intentionally exaggerated at this stage in preparation for the final glazing layer. As we add these subtle details, we can also make minor adjustments to the value, chroma and/or hue to closely match the models complexion. We are going to have lots of fun with this! 

Week 6. (Feb. 25th)

Here is where we add the glazing, also known as the “finishing layer” which is an oiled down, semi-transparent wash which can alter the final color. It is literally like putting the icing on the cake. Through selective glazes, we can produce a radiant glow, add an overall atmospheric quality to the piece, or simply draw attention to an area (create a focal point) with an adjustment in value, chroma and/or hue. This is the moment where we step back and look over the whole image and decide if, how and where adjustments need to be made.

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Oil on wood (11 x 14)

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Oil on wood (detail)

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Oil on wood (detail)

RECOMMENDED MATERIALS LIST BELOW:

GENERAL PAINTING SUPPLIES:

Jars with lids for mediums
Paper towels or cloth rags
Soap to clean brushes (liquid dish soap works well)
Palette knife (these come in a variety of sizes and shapes; I prefer the 1/2 inch wide metal triangular-shaped ones with the wooden handle)
Art bin or tackle box to hold supplies
Fine sandpaper (I would get a range of grits such as a #220, #320 and possibly even a #600 for fine sanding the gesso/primer after applying it to the board)
Tracing paper (pad or roll)
A small paint roller with ultra-smooth foam rolls (at least 3)
Artists tape

RECOMMENDED OIL PAINTS:

Titanium White
Cadmium Yellow Light
Naples Yellow
Yellow Ochre
Raw Sienna
Cadmium Red Medium
Transparent Red Oxide
General Rose Madder or Quinacridone Rose
Thalo Blue
Ultramarine Blue
Viridian Green
Cobalt Violet
Raw Umber
Ivory Black

*Note:  Rembrandt, Williamsburg and Old Holland are professional-quality paint brands which I like to use, but somewhat pricey. Windsor & Newton is good choice too and less expansive than the others. Feel free to mix and match brand names.

RECOMMENDED BRUSHES:

Rounds # 1, 2, 3, 5
Flats # 3, 5
Filberts (one large, one small)
Liners (at least one # 000 for details)
A soft bristled blending brush, and/or fan brush (watercolor brushes are very soft and can be used with oil paint as well)
One very wide gesso brush

*Note:  Loew Cornell and Ebony Splendor are brands which I like, although with brushes it’s more about the feel. I try to select ones where the bristles don’t feel too stiff, yet still hold their shape when touched – particularly if they have a fine tip.  Avoid brushes which look frayed or that seem to have loose bristles.

RECOMMENDED MEDIUMS:

Cold Pressed linseed oil, Stand oil and turpentine (Windsor & Newton or Gamblin brand)

RECOMMENDED SUPPORT:

A 16 x 20 inch wooden panel (preferably oak or maple) primed or unprimed with a cradled back. If it is unprimed you will need to prime it using the procedure below. I will give a demo on how to do this when I discuss materials in week 1 but if you want to prepare this ahead you can follow the steps below. If bought all ready primed, then you can skip to the last step).

*Steps for priming an unprimed wood panel:

1.  Apply a thin coat of Acrylic gesso. Gesso can be thinned w/ water if necessary. Once completely dry, (it usually takes about an hour or two) sand with a #220 grit sandpaper to remove dust and air pockets.

2.  Apply a second coat in right angles to the first with the Acrylic gesso to ensure full coverage. The board should appear white without any visible streaks at this point. Let dry and sand again with the #220. If streaks are still present, apply a third coat with the Acrylic gesso.

3.  Apply a coat of oil primer (this will take longer to dry than the Acrylic gesso) with a gesso brush and finish with a roller to eliminate streaks and ridges. Let it dry overnight or longer. To test for dryness, use your palm or knuckle and lightly tap it to see if its still tacky. Usually 24 hours is a sufficient amount of time although in warmer temperatures, it may dry faster. Cooler temperatures will slow down drying time. Once dry, sand again with a fine grit paper (#220 grit if there is still some texture or #320 if it appears smooth).

4.  Apply another coat of primer. This will most likely be your final. If using a toned ground, you will mix your oil color directly into the primer until it reaches the desired tone and color prior to applying it to the board. If using an untoned ground, you will simply apply the primer following the same procedure(s) above. Once again, allow primer to dry overnight or longer. Once dry, finish with a final sanding. Usually I will sand with the #320 grit paper and then sand again with the #600 grit. For an ultra smooth surface, you can apply a little water to a soft rag and rub onto the board and then sand with a waterproof fine grit sandpaper such as the #600 grit.

RECOMMENDED PRIMERS:

Windsor & Newton oil primer
Acrylic Gesso

RECOMMENDED PALETTE

A gray-toned disposable paper palette (these look like pads with disposable sheets)

If you have any questions about the materials or anything else, don’t hesitate to email me at http://www.riverafinearts@gmail.com. I look forward to working with you soon!

 


Supplies & Syllabus for Online Portrait Drawing Master Class

November 28, 2018

Hello students,

For those of you who have signed up for my online portrait drawing master class which will start on December 10th 2018, (that’s right around the corner!) here is a brief outline of what you can expect to learn each week as well as a list of materials. For those of you who are interested in signing up for this class, you will find a link on my website, http://www.riverafinearts.com under my “art classes” page. I look forward to working with you soon!

Week 1. (Dec. 10th)

In this class we will observe and discuss the basic planar structure of the head. By examining the head as a “box-like” form, we can easily observe the front, side, top and bottom planes. This is what I refer to as the geometric conceptualization which will enable you to draw a head from any angle whether it is imagined or directly observed. This is also a way of introducing the basic proportions which make up the human skull.

Week 2. (Dec 17th)

Here is where we will take a closer look at the skull using a replica paired with a live model. In observing the dominant planes which make up the skull, we will be able to recognize the boney landmarks present on any person’s face. We will discuss the proportional differences of facial features which can largely be determined by age, gender and ethnic backgrounds. While discussing proportional differences, we will also begin to apply observational measuring techniques using a live model.

Note: there will be a break on the week of Dec. 24th for the holidays!

Week 3. (Dec. 31st)

We will continue to develop the construction of the model’s features, while paying close attention to the unique proportions of the skeletal and muscular forms. In my demo, I will begin to emphasize specific muscles which are most prevalent on the model, discussing their origin and insertion, as well as their function. Understanding the shapes and various movements of specific muscle groups, adds more clarity when rendering different facial expressions.

Week 4. (Jan 7th)

This is where we will begin to apply value tone to the drawing to add more depth and further define the three dimensional volumes of the face. In my demo I will discuss ways to layer and blend your drawing material to create a full range of value tones.

Week 5. (Jan 14th)

This is the final week where we will refine the subtleties of form and texture, giving the drawing a life-like quality.

I’m super excited about this class, are you!?

Below is my recommended materials list:

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1.)  Drawing pencils (I recommend the Faber-Castell brand) in the following hardnesses;

(4H, 2H, B, 2B, 4B)

2.)  Kneaded eraser

3.)  Double sided shaders as pictured above – in assorted sizes

4.).  A small, stiff bristled blending brush

5.)  Razor blades or x-acto knife

6.)  A sandpaper block as pictured above

7.)  Strathmore Bristol medium texture drawing paper (11 x 14 or larger)

If you have any questions about the materials or anything else, don’t hesitate to email me at riverafinearts@gmail.com.

 


Sight-size vs. Comparative Measuring

October 12, 2018

Hello all,

I wanted to post a couple of videos that I made where I’m using two different measuring techniques to gauge my proportions. The first one is a sightsize technique, where the subject is drawn in the exact scale that I see it. This technique was a very common practice in the 19th Century French Academy, and is still used today in many private ateliers.  It is often introduced to students as a means of copying other master drawings in the foundational stages of their academic art education. Barque plates, (a series of drawings produced by Charles Bargue of plaster casts with strong geometric lines and dramatic shadow shapes) are commonly used in the practice of sight-size drawing.  This method allows the student to carefully observe an image which has all ready been reduced to a series of lines and shapes. In the act of copying other drawings, paired with sight-size measuring techniques, one begins to slowly train their eye to see the big geometric shapes first, before even thinking about rendering the subtleties of form. In the French Academy a student had to master this skill first, and only then would he or she advance to working from an actual plaster cast, and eventually the live model.

I use this method quite a bit in my teaching as it is easy to make direct comparisons of my subject to my drawing, however it has some disadvantages. Unless a student is sitting within a foot or so of their subject, the information they see will appear very small when transferring their measurements to their drawing pad. This presents problems when working from life, especially if working from a live portrait model. In a larger classroom, one would have to limit the number of students positioned around the model.  If each student for example, was sitting within a foot of the model, any more than two would end up crowding the space. Therefore in a classroom, this method works very well for copies of other drawings, but not so much for a live model, unless the classroom has the luxury of having a separate model for every two students.

The second video demonstrates a method of measuring called comparative measuring, which is much more practical in a real classroom setting.  This method allows the student to draw or paint their subject at any scale, regardless of their position in relationship to the subject.  I still recommend that my students try out both methods to understand the pros and cons of each.

With all that explained, I just wanted to add that, although sight-size and comparative measuring are both helpful techniques for gauging the width to height ratios of a subject, they are not full proof. Subtle alterations occur when applying construction lines and even if a line is off by a few millimeters, it can change the proportions of the subject. At the end of the day, one needs to be able to rely on their eye. In my own work, I myself use measuring to check my initial  judgements after I apply my big shapes, and I continue to use it periodically throughout the process to refine my details.

As a student, I relied on measuring much more than I do now. Over the years, I have developed my eye to see my proportions more accurately, so measuring is simply a tool to double check my assessments rather than a necessity.

However, when learning how to draw, it can be extremely valuable especially if proportion is something that you struggle with. As you practice the methods, you too will develop your perceptions. Eventually you will learn to recognize accurate proportions and measuring will become just a way of verifying your judgements.

Sight-Size Demo

Comparative Measuring Demo


A Portrait with Many Details (step by step)

September 24, 2018

Hello all,

I am often asked to post progress photos of my work.  This is something which fascinates me when studying other artists, as it provides insight into how they think about creating their subjects from start to finish.  I’ve documented a few of my previous pieces in order to show a specific technique.  “Passages” is one such piece, where I used a monochromatic underpainting with Viridian Green.  If you scroll down, posts of that can be found in this blog.  However, I realize that I’ve never really shown my approach to creating a work of art from the very beginning.  Part of my process, often includes a value study, then a tracing and then a linear transfer to the painting surface.  These crucial steps allow me to make as many important decisions and corrections as needed before I even start applying actual paint.  I especially like to use this method for pieces where there are many details.  It is also very helpful for planning out a more involved composition.  Rather then continuously changing elements once I’ve begun the painting, the following technique allows for little if any changes past the transfer stage.  Below is a detailed documentation of a large commission which I did for a Bucks County judge.  I’ve done my best to describe each step along with my problem solving techniques throughout the course of the 11 month journey that I spent working on this.

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After I had my initial photo shoot with the judge, I narrowed down my references from over 100 photos to roughly a dozen and proceeded to create the large value study pictured above, using charcoal and white chalk on gray toned paper.  This study was done in the same proportional scale as the painting was to be. The objective here was to decide upon all of the main compositional elements. The details of each individual part are not as big of a concern for me at this stage as much as the overall picture.  My primary concern is the positioning and size of the figure in relationship to the surrounding parts, as well as the value emphasis, lighting and how it reads as a whole. Once the study was complete, I showed my client to figure out whether any adjustments or additions needed to be made.

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The linear tracing is where most of the major adjustments occur. The photo above shows exactly how I do this.  In this case, I actually re-drew the judges’ face on a separate piece of paper (completely changing his hair and expression) then cut that image out and taped it over the original face.  Upon showing him the original study, he wasn’t particularly pleased with his expression, as he thought it made him look too stern. I also slimed down his chin and neck-line a bit. It is much easier to make these adjustments early on, rather than waiting until I’ve invested a lot of time into the painting.  I also adjusted the size of his hands (they seemed too small to me in the first study) and parts of his robe. The background detail was simplified into just a few lines.  There’s no need to draw out every single book.  Now it is ready to be transferred to the prepared wooden panel!

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The lines have now been traced onto my pre-primed, pre-toned wooden panel with Raw Umber.  I do this by coating the back of my tracing paper with the paint (without medium) using a relatively stiff bristled brush. I rub it into the paper evenly so that there are no ridges or clumps in the paint.  I will usually only rub it over the lines, (rather than the entire surface of the tracing paper) allowing the area of paint to be slightly broader than the original line. I then tape it to the panel, with the paint coated side against the panel and retrace it with a pen.  This leaves the impression of each line on the panel.  I then proceeded to apply a wash of the Raw Umber into the areas where there was shadow in the face and hands only.  This allows me to begin thinking about how I will eventually model my form with mixtures of opaque paint.  It also provides a warm undertone which will add optical color effects to the next layer of paint.  I continued making minor corrections at this point, such as raising the line of the left shoulder.

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Underpainting I

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Underpainting II

I’ve used many terms to describe the type of underpainting pictured above.  It is simply an opaque layer of light and dark values with only a slight hint of color. This layer can be done in gray tones only, or with some warm and cool variation, or it can be done with one dominant color, such as green, or brown in order to provide an overall hue which will be evident even in the final image.  For this piece I mixed up a series of values using white and black which gave me cool grays.  I then mixed up additional values using white and Raw Umber which gave me warm grays.  I like to introduce the play of warm and cool grays in the underpainting, as this creates the illusion of form, and it also begins to mimic the effects of light.  In this case, his face is being illuminated by a window light, which is cool, in contrast to the warm shadows.  Because there is limited color in this layer, I refer to this as the Dead Color layer.

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Overpainting I

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Overpainting II

This next layer is one which gives the painting life!  I refer to it as the first color pass.  I use a full palette here, and work out all of my subtle detail, including pores, wrinkles, freckles, etc.  The first color pass closely adheres to the value structure of the underpainting, and simply adds that life-like appearance.  I consider the underpainting or Dead Color layer to be the one which molds the basic form, much the way a sculptor might create a clay model to establish general planes and proportions which he would then continue to refine.  The addition of color takes all of that wonderful simplified sculptural form and breathes life into it, embellishing upon the details, and adding those subtle organic variations of pigment that make humans look human.  I also created a halo of the background colors around his head in order to start making some basic decisions about my color relationships.

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Moving away from the face now, I begin massing in large areas of color. My goal is to block in these areas rather quickly, so that I can get back to refining my detail.  The large patches of dark orange to the left of the judge are applied semi-transparently, allowing for vertical brush strokes to show.  This is intentional as it simulates the appearance of wood grain. I’ve also drawn an outline in paint of a small figurative statue which the judge decided to include.

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Here is a detail of the statue, which I actually ended up moving over, as I didn’t like how the bottom of it was cropped out by the sleeve of the judges’ robe.  The original outline is where I decided to add the brown shadow pictured above.  I’m slowly working out my values for the statue now with opaque mixtures, using only white, blue, brown and black paint. I also am continuing to work out the detail of the wood grain around the statue using the effect of both transparent washes, combined with carefully painted light and dark strokes.

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Here I continue to add background details, including the individual books on the book shelf.

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Slowly but surely the detail work continues. I’m now starting to define the folds in the robe.  I’m also making some pretty significant color adjustments.  The blues in the robe are strengthened in order to describe the cooler color effect of the window light, which makes more sense when paired with the flesh tones of the judges’ face.  I’ve also blocked in the back of the chair and painted in the detail of the small photo of the judge and his wife (detail included below) to the left side of his face.

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(Detail)

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Now I’m switching my focus to the lower half of the painting.  Don’t ask me about this detail!  It was important to the judge, so I went with it. The texture of fur can often be challenging.  I decided it would be best to underpaint this in raw umber (as seen on the dog’s face above) in order to establish all of the detail, and then, once dry, section glaze it with a mixture of Raw Sienna and Transparent Red Oxide, then rework the details back into the wet glaze with opaque paint (as seen on the left ear). That method worked well!  Below is the finished detail.

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(Detail)

In addition to painting the dog’s fur and shirt, I began to work out the reflection in the glass table.  The reflection was painted with a wet in wet technique, which is really the best way to capture the blurry effect.  If colors need to be adjusted, they can always be glazed over, however, in this case I carefully mixed my color variations so that I wouldn’t have to add any additional layers.  I’ll admit, I was starting to get antsy at this point as I had all ready invested about 8 months into this project. Below are some additional details of the reflection in the table.  Adding this part gave a lot of depth to the painting.

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(Detail)

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(Detail)

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Above is the completed painting!  I continued to refine my details with a combination of glazes and direct painting techniques. Upon delivery, the judge was quite pleased!  It’s great to know that this will now be hanging in the Bucks County Court House for all the public to see.

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Above: me (left) standing with the honorable judge Mellon (right) next to the official portrait painting which will hang permanently in the Bucks County Court House upon Mellon’s retirement.

In closing, I’d just like to offer my expertise to anyone interested.  For information on classes that I teach which cover all of the techniques described here, please check out my website, http://www.riverafinearts.com. Happy painting everyone!


Indirect Painting (phase 2)

September 17, 2018

As promised, I’m sharing the progress of one of my very talented students. This painting continues to become more and more life-like as details are added. In phase 1 we see a good description of form, however the face still lacks that spark of life. She seems more like a statue. In phase 2 we begin to see that soulful expression emerging with the subtle addition of a highlight in the eye. Other details have been tweaked as well to bring out more contours in the face. The lips have also been touched with a few highlights making them appear moist. Each of these subtle touches gives this portrait a living, breathing presence.  Now it is about more than simply modeling form. This is where the painting slowly starts taking on a life of it’s own.

It’s pretty remarkable considering that this is the student’s first oil painting ever. Once the tonal layer is finished, colors will be added in opaque and transparent layers which will continue to refine and enhance the existing detail.

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Phase 1

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Phase 2


Indirect Painting

September 14, 2018

Hello all,

I wanted to post the work of one of my students who is developing her “dead color” layer for a portrait. This is her first oil painting ever! We worked for several sessions on the drawing using the sight-size method. Then we transferred the drawing to a pre-toned wood panel using the cartoon method. Now she is really starting to develop her sculptural form with carefully mixed variants of light and shadow. All of this will serve as a foundational layer for which to apply color over. She is doing great considering that this is her very first oil ever!

What works so well with developing a painting this way (especially for a beginner) is the attention which can be devoted to each step. If we take a look at each skill, we can break it down into the following order:

1. Linear Drawing – the ability to develop accurate shapes in line which relate to one another. This allows for one to make important decisions about their relative proportions, as well as emphasize shapes in their compositions before they even touch the paint brush. Artists who are academically trained spend a lot of time drawing. Drawing is a great tool for developing quick studies for paintings, making compositional decisions or it can be done with the intentions of transferring it to the surface in which the painting will be created. Linear drawing is a fundamental skill which anyone can develop. All you need is a sketchbook and a pencil!

2. Value Application – the ability to recognize relative values in order to establish a sense of light and shadow. The description of value as well as value transitions has many purposes. It is the easiest way to recognize form. The transition between the edge of a shadow and the light can describe the surface of a plane. A rounded plane for example will have a gradual transition from light to dark whereas a form where two flat planes come together will display a sharp contrast between the light and dark side without any transition. Value can be used as a compositional tool as well. Value Contrast or Value Emphasis is one way to create a focal point.

3. Color – the ability to observe and apply color in order to enhance the form, atmosphere, mood or composition of a particular subject. Color is perhaps the hardest skill of all to master. Color has so much nuance, boldness, harmony, etc. The way in which an artist uses color can reveal a lot about him or her. In observational painting, the main objective is to be able to recognize a color’s appropriate Value, Hue and Chroma. Once an artist is able to do that successfully, than he or she can make educated choices to enhance various aspects of the painting.

When painting indirectly, it is very helpful to limit the Chroma as seen in the study below. In so doing, this reduces the subject to gray tones, which helps in observing the play of light and shadow. This painting is in the Value Application stage. Colors will be applied next and will continue to enhance the illusion of form. I will post more photos as this painting develops.

If you’d like to learn about techniques like this, please visit http://www.riverafinearts.com and check out my classes.

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Portrait study in the “dead color” layer

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