Monday, October 26, 2009

William Whitaker on flesh painting

from ConceptArt

I’ve been asked how I get my flesh tones – more specifically, Northern European flesh tone. It is mostly a factor of getting some early vital training, working for decades in natural light and from life, and of course endless practice. However, over the past month I’ve been amusing myself by trying to work out a simple basic formula that might help some of you. Today I did a little experimental oil painting and took photos.

My demonstration panel is a piece of 6x8 inch ABS plastic material. I carefully sanded the shiny surface off, then toned it with a little Mars Black thinned with odorless mineral spirit and alkyd resin. I let these panels dry as long as possible.

ABS is far superior to hardboard with acrylic gesso, and if the painting doesn’t work out, I can simply sand it off and paint a new one.

For practice work, I recommend ABS (I get it at a plastic wholesaler), or frosted Mylar, or high quality tracing paper. I did most of my early practice work on tracing paper. It doesn’t need to be prepared and the paint doesn’t soak through.

My medium is simply linseed oil. Nothing else. I keep it in an eyedropper bottle. Walnut oil is another very good oil. I’m not using resins or any fancy mediums currently.

I rubbed the linseed oil over the panel with my fingers. It won’t poison me.

I wanted only the lightest film of oil on the panel, so I followed up the rub-in with a quick wipe with a paper towel.

I added a little linseed oil to some of the stiffer colors. If I do my preparations right, I won’t need to add any additional oil or medium as I paint. My colors are the best I can buy, but I wouldn’t worry too much about paint brands and until you’ve mastered your craft, in fact, I wouldn’t use the most expensive ones.

I mixed the oil into the colors [on glass] using my painting knife, and then transferred the result to my palette.

The colors are:
Titanium White, Ivory Black, Transparent Earth Red (sometimes called Transparent Red Oxide) Raw Umber.

The grey is my special flesh tone I invented to save time. I call it Mary Sauer Flesh Color, after one of my students whose delicate pale flesh inspired it. It consists of Titanium white darkened with Raw Umber, to which I’ve added Terre Verte.

Next is Yellow Ochre, and then a darker flesh color made of Gamblin’s Caucasian Flesh Tone to which I added more Yellow Ochre and a little more Cadmium Red Light. Then follows Gamblin’s Caucasian Flesh Tone. For those of you who cannot get Gamblin Oils, the color is merely Titanium White to which Yellow Ochre has been added until you get a light yellow. Then add tiny bits of Cadmium Red Light and be careful. The red has a lot of tinting power and it’s easy to add too much and make this color too pink.

Next is Cadmium Red Light. I’ve learned to squeeze out very little color when I know I won’t need much of it. Then Permanent Alizarin Crimson, then a little Permanent Sap Green, and finally a little Ultramarine Blue. I don’t think I’ll be using the blue in this demo, so this is just an in case color.

I use old telephone books to wipe my brushes. I got this idea from Ken Davies in his still life painting book from the 1970’s. It’s saved me billions of dollars.

Rather than use my own reference material for this demo, I took advantage of the Internet and cropped and converted a shot to black and white from the mjranum stock photo site on Deviant Art here.

The figure shots are excellent and large for download and printing. I got it in the Classical Nudes section, and it’s labeled dancers 1. Usually I do head demos, but I thought a torso might be more useful. I don’t need the color, so I made a black and white print. I think there is a whole section on Concept Art featuring useful figure reference sites.

I always try and use the biggest brush I can. I employ a Trekell long filbert #6 here. I think of my drawing as an armature. I try and get the big angles and shapes first. The oiled surface of the panel helps the brush glide. This is easier than drawing with a pencil! I like to work with a very light touch.

 About 45 minutes later, I had the drawing down well enough. My paint consisted of Raw Umber and Transparent Earth Red. Raw Umber is a fast drier and I add it to as many paint mixtures as possible to speed drying.


 I mixed Titanium White with a tiny bit of Yellow Ochre for my lightest highlights and put them on. Then I mixed a little of my darker flesh tone into my Mary Sauer Flesh tone and did some quick modeling with it. Then I mixed a background color of white, Raw Umber and Sap Green to give me a nice cool neutral around the figures.

Then I mixed a lighter flesh made of Mary Sauer and Caucasian Flesh Tone. I laid it on and made a few variations by changing the proportions of those two colors. I also mixed a ruddier color from Caucasian Flesh plus a tiny bit of Cadmium Red Light.

I think this is enough to show you where it’s going. Oil paint is much less messy than acrylics and almost as tidy as watercolors. I only rarely clean my brush out in my mineral spirits pot. Usually I just wipe my brush mostly clean with the paint rag I drape over my right thigh as I sit at the easel.

I might take this up in a few days and add a bit more too it. I like translucent/transparent colors and I like brushwork. It’s better if I stop before I think I should so as not to wreck the good parts. If I were to do one more thing to this demo, it would be to lighten most of the darker values a little.


Linseed oil in eyedropper bottle!
Titanium White
Ivory Black (Vasari)

Transparent Earth Red (sometimes called Transparent Red Oxide)  
Raw Umber
Mary Sauer Flesh Color: Titanium white + Raw Umber + Terre Verte
Yellow Ochre (Vasari)
Gamblin’s Caucasian Flesh Tone
Cadmium Red Light 
Permanent Alizarin Crimson 
Permanent Sap Green (Gamblin)
Ultramarine Blue

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