Australian Fine Artist

Workshop Two in the Series with David Chen

Tonal Values

The object of the workshop today was working on our tonal values for our model’s skin. Modelling and proportions are of course very important as well, but we are concentrating on one thing at a time to make sure we understand the process.

The set up today had dark warm drapes in the background that would be reflected in the skin of the model. The lighting was warm as well which we had to take into consideration.

As with the last workshop, we were told to experiment with our pigments. There are colours in the shadows and through the body as blood vessels get closer to the surface that we may not think about at first. Instead of avoiding a colour, we should experiment with it and learn where and when it is best to use it. Black is a typical example.

There are varieties of black which have different uses.

Transparent black is great for “knocking back a colour”.
Lamp black is opaque and required careful mixing but gives very good darks.
Ivory black is semi-transparent and a very good mixer.

A couple of other colours you may not have thought of for painting humans are Australian Golden Yellow and Australian Red Gold. Also great in landscapes, they are transparent and add warmth to colour.

Another colour you may not have thought of with nudes is Cadmium Red. An intense colour it needs to be used carefully, but adds vibrance and warmth. A note here about the difference between Cadmium Red and Spectrum Red. The are similar but the Spectrum colours are less intense and you will need to use more paint for the same effect.

On to the painting of the model. Who was in a reclining position for this session. Something to take note of when a model is lying down and that is that the blood will circulate differently than when she is standing for a long pose. Instead of the legs being warmer they may stay a bit cooler in colour until you get nearer the feet.

As with still life and other subjects, lost and found edges still apply. Decide where you want the focal point to be so that is where you put your crisper edges and higher contrast.

Find the warm and cool areas of the body and use warm and cool colours, skin tones can have green tints, blue or purple tints and reddish tints where the blood vessels are nearer the surface. See if the light source is reflected on the skin in the highlight areas. Remember also that there are planes (surfaces) that make an arm, leg etc have form. Remember that the hair also has shadows and highlights. Van Dyke Brown and Cadmium Yellow mixed make a nice brown colour for hair.

Remember also that the model is in a space. Applying a hint of a pale green on the top of the hip against a warm dark reddish background will help it stand out,

Cooling off the base of the abdomen with a cool mid colour in a blue or mauve tint with a warmer colour higher near the chest will also help give form.

When painting in the background having a darker colour near the body will give depth, and this can be lightened as you move way to the edges.

Most of all when you are painting remember to watch your palette. If you have set up a cool palette with for example a cool red as the “mother” colour, don’t randomly introduce a contrasting high key warm colour that doesn’t relate to any other colour on the painting. Watching these tonal values is the basis of the workshops we have been doing.

In nudes like any other subject, the colours must relate to each other, they must look like they belong. Apart from this make sure that you have your darkest darks and lightest lights. It is a common problem (which I fall into as well) to have a body that is all mid tones with not enough tonal variation so it looks a bit flat. Something we can all work on.

Hope this is a help, next week I will be at another workshop learning more about colour tonal values and will publish as much as I can pass on in the following few days.

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