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Painting: Painting with Oils
Discuss Oil painting techniques.
Tarleton bust group build - Step 3 - The face
Pennsylvania, United States
Joined: June 04, 2002
KitMaker: 1,580 posts
Historicus Forma: 1,170 posts
Posted: Thursday, December 28, 2006 - 11:58 AM UTC

I. Introduction

There is perhaps nothing more important to a figure than the painting of the face. Exact colors of a uniform hat, coat or pair of pants can easily vary from what is normally expected without much problem. But no matter what type of skin tone you are trying to portray, itís a very fine line between looking human or inhuman.
Painting styles vary greatly for different scales. The smaller the scale the more exaggerated contrast is accepted. But the large canvas you are using on a bust means that you need to take care when applying your shadows and highlights to prevent the piece having a clownish look to it.
Iíve used several different color mixes over the years to paint my faces. What Iíll be describing for you here is my favorite mix. I think it works well for representing the face of a Caucasian male who has spent a lot of time out of doors.
I canít give you any more exact amounts of each color to add than ďa lotĒ or ďa little bitĒ. Itís a lot like cooking. Experience will teach you how much you need of each color as you progress.

II. Base Coat

The face of your bust should have a smooth, even undercoat of Liquitex Deep Portrait Pink acrylic paint applied the entire surface at this point. I prefer to apply it with my airbrush
I start with the following (Winsor Newton brand) colors on my pallet:
Burnt Sienna, Flesh Tint and Titanium White
Begin with the Burnt Sienna and add small amounts of the Flesh Tint to it. This will lighten the color of the Burnt Sienna. Keep adding it until you like the color you have. What youíre looking for is a darker version of a Caucasian skin tone.
When you have this mix, separate out one third to use for applying shadows.
To the remaining two thirds, begin adding Titanium White to lighten the mix. This will be your base color that youíll be working from and so is what you want as the average color of the face. Paint the entire face with this mix. Apply it in a nice, even coat. You donít want this coat to be heavy. Use just enough paint to cover the surface evenly. Use the stippling technique to even out the paint and make sure that youíve got enough to cover everything evenly.
Sometimes, after you get your base color applied, it will look different on the face than when it did on the pallet paper. If this happens, try adding just a few dots of the needed color around the face and blend them in. If it still doesnít look right, you can always wipe the paint off, adjust your base mix and reapply. Just wipe it off with a clean, dry brush. If you use thinner to remove it, youíll have to wait for it to dry.
You may have noticed that I havenít mentioned painting the eyes yet. I do things a little differently in that I donít paint them until after I have the flesh tones done. I know that most painters do them first but I have difficulty keeping them free of paint. This is just what works easiest for me.

III. First shadows - Wet on wet

Begin applying some shadows using the darker mix from your base coat mix. A good face will help you decide just where to apply these shadows. Let the sculpting help guide the placement of your shadow.
Here are a few places to concentrate on:
At the temples, in the eye sockets, down the sides of the nose, in the creases around the nostrils and in the folds running from the nostrils down and around the mouth, just above the upper lip and in the hollow under nose, under the lower lip, in the hollows of the cheeks, under the chin, around the Adams apple and in the hollow of the throat, behind the ears and in the hollow at the back of the jaw, and in the hollows of the neck around the back.

After you get the shadows in place, gently blend them into the base coat. What youíre going for here is just a mild change down in color.

IV. Second shadows - Wet on wet

Here youíre going to apply more shadows in the same places as the first ones. For this step, you also want to add shadows into the recesses of the ears and line the edges where the flesh tones meet the hairlines.
To do the lips, I usually just like to make them a darker shade of the flesh tone. So Iíve added a bit more Burnt Sienna to the lips than to the other areas in this step. Another thing I do here is to add some Burnt Sienna to the eyeballs. What this does is give them a darker outline for when I go back and begin painting the whites.
The difference in this step is that youíll be using straight Burnt Sienna for the shadows and you donít want to spread them out quite as far as the first shadows.

2nd shadows slightly blended

V. Highlights - Wet on wet

Use straight Titanium White for these highlights.
Apply small dots and streaks of T. White to the areas shown in the following pictures:

Gently blend the highlights into the base color. You donít want to blend too much or the highlights will disappear. But if this happens, just redo as needed.

VI. Shadows & highlights - wet on wet - blended

Once you get all the shadows and highlights applied wet on wet, do some very gentle blending to tie them all together.

When you have the face looking shadowed, highlighted and blended to your satisfaction, itís time to let the paints dry. My preference is to use a drying box. In itís most basic form, this is just a wood box I built with a 60 watt light bulb in it. Others people Iíve talked with use things like plastic tote boxes or even cardboard boxes. I prefer the wood box because the heat from the bulb isnít enough to make me worry about the plastic melting or worse, the cardboard catching fire.
Whatever you prefer, the drying box is a great item to have when painting with oils. Iíve had oils that were still not dry a week after applying them. With the drying box, I can speed up their drying time to as little as 6 hours.

VII. Secondary shadows - wet on dry

Now that the base colors are dry, itís time to add the secondary shadows and highlights. These steps are what really help make the face show its character. For shadowing, I really like to use Brown Madder Alizarin.
Begin by placing small dots or thin streaks of the BMA into the deepest recesses on the face. Areas to concentrate on are much the same as for the wet-on-wet shadows except that you donít want to apply nearly as much paint. And you donít want these shadows to spread out as much either. These should just go into the deepest part of the recesses.

After these are placed, gently blend them out, using a clean, dry brush. Blending in the long, deep folds can be done using dragging motion which pulls the paint along the folds. This thins the paint out and sort of makes it a glaze over the base colors. For these areas, I like to use a brush with a small, thin, flat tip that still has a sharp point at the end.
For the wider areas, I use a small, soft, round or square ended brush. Again, spread the paint around to make a glaze over the base colors.
The key here is to not use too much paint. You can keep adding more as you go to deepen the effect to your taste.

When you have these shadows blended out to your satisfaction, let them dry.

VIII. Secondary highlights - wet on dry

For the secondary highlights, I like to use Titanium White with a small amount of Cad. Yellow mixed in to a light, creamy color. Take some of this mix and lighten it with more Titanium White.

Begin applying this to the areas where you want your highlights. Use the same approach as you did for the secondary shadows.

Some things missing from these pictures are the application of this color down the edges of the nose and to the ďbagsĒ under the eyes.
Using a clean, dry brush, gently blend this out like a glaze on the surface. I like to use a small brush with a soft, round tip.

As with the shadows, do the highlighting with small amounts of paint and increase the highlights in stages. As you go, you can use the brighter mix to lighten the highlights and even use straight Titanium White for the highest highlights.
Also, you can add highlight the very edges of the lips. Treat this as more like dry brushing a highlight. Just do it enough to accent the edges. Be careful here or it could look a bit cartoon like.

These pictures show the final results (as well as some progress on the hair and helmet from future installments).

Removed by original poster on 12/29/06 - 14:07:15 (GMT).
Pennsylvania, United States
Joined: June 04, 2002
KitMaker: 1,580 posts
Historicus Forma: 1,170 posts
Posted: Thursday, December 28, 2006 - 12:08 PM UTC
Hi guys,
I'm locking this thread. You can post your comments and in progress photos here