The first step comes from a typical painting technique where you provide a base color. This blends in the shapes without straining the eye from the glare of the white canvas. It further unifies the piece by providing a consistent color spectrum and tone. The way I started out was to paint on that base layer, as well as a light outline of my figures. Oil painting gives the freedom to easily paint over these with ease. I made the figures off of my own style as usual. I made them look more serious with the Son having a rounder face (baby features), and Mary having a longer face with a smaller nose. Later on I plan on having deeper colors rather than the Renaissance style of being quite realistic with lights and shadows instead of being outspoken and big like the Impressionistic and Expressionistic period. The darkest values come first. In this case, pure ivory black was the darkest color, especially considering that I’m working alongside the Baroque period.
For the second step I established my base skin color. This is essential to keeping a consistent body. I remember my first time trying to paint realistically. Apart from the fact that my skills weren’t honed yet, the color of the face was all over the place, from a musky light yellowish brown to a dark greenish brown with ivory black mixed in. I now realize that I forgot to find a base color. Also called the “average color,” it is supposed to be the medium of the lightest and darkest values. Knowing this, you can guess that by adding black or white you can change the value of that base color. Next comes the subtleties of color in the forms. This includes, but is not limited to the rosy cheeks, the textures of skin, and the reflections of nearby objects. Additional color would have to be added in order to incorporate these features. All the while, the red curtain on top gives a big change in color tone to move the eye throughout the piece without it being a distraction to the main image. The process that I’m going through is to fully paint in one figure then move onto the next. Although this is not as popular nowadays, it’s what many 16th and 17th century painters did, so I wanted to be authentic when working on this study.
The third and fourth steps show the same process from the Son on Mary, just in different stages. The neck on Mary was difficult to work on because of the secondary light source coming from the reflection of the Son. Your brain normally perceives the neck to be dark in that area because it is away from the main light source to the left. By adding subtleties like shadows, heat points, angles/positions, and reflections, the eye will further unify the forms in the piece as they interact with each other.
Hair can be a difficult thing to draw or paint for all artists in all parts of the field, as demonstrated in the fifth step. Every new color area requires a base color to be selected. The problem with hair is that there are so many values in so many parts of the head, so selecting an “average color” can be very difficult. With the time I worked on the whole canvas, a third of that was just focused on the hair. Notice as well that I didn’t finish the Son’s hair. It would make sense to complete His hair first before Mary’s because she is overlaying Him. Every artist has moments of distrust or worry, notably with me seeing how I’ve been going for a solid month on this piece. The Son’s hair would be golden and curly: two of the most diabolical adjectives in the Baroque realm. To ruin it all with the hair would be insurmountable, keeping in mind that I have a deadline to meet, so working it over again would not be an option.
By keeping the hair quality light and airy, I managed to pull off this relief ensued piece. The movement, textures, colors, values, and forms are the main highlights of this unified piece. Several hours of work later, and yet I still enjoy painting with oil in this style. Unbelievable.
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