IT will be as well now to proceed to indicate to you the painting of flesh in direct colour (A prima) ; and that done I shall endeavour to compare the two systems. A better lesson may be learnt from a comparative criticism than from a separate elaboration of either.<< Previous page
There is indeed little to add to the instructions given in the chapter on painting from the life in monochrome. You have but to substitute toned colour for uncoloured tone.
Set your palette with two whites, yellow ochre, light red, vermilion, rose madder, cobalt, emerald, oxide of chromium, raw and burnt umber, and ivory black, with spirits of turpentine and linseed oil. For the first painting turpentine alone is perhaps preferable. I will explain why. Much oil darkens the colour and renders the surface after a few paintings somewhat soapy ; turpentine dries " dead," and leaves the paint slightly absorbent, so that subsequent paintings with oil or varnish are less apt to shine unduly.
After drawing and so on, and then outlining with a thin pencilling of raw umber, lay in the background thinly, but of the colour and tone of the existing setting in nature. This first layer you will scrape off with your palette knife, with perhaps all the rest, should the pores of the canvas be filled up and the study not to your satisfaction. You need not be disheartened if you are told that it is hardly likely to be completed, if a serious study, at a first attempt ; knowledge of your sitter will have been gained, and the tone and colour approached more nearly with each succeeding day's work. Now mix up on your palette the middle flesh colour. If slightly toned with grey—that is to say, something less pure than the clear carnation, as is so often the case—be careful not to overdo the greyness at the outset, or the purity of the colour will suffer. You will probably not "hit" this middle colour closely enough on the white canvas ; it may be either too pink or too yellow. Persevere with it, and then leave it for a few minutes and come back to it with a fresh eye, the better to judge and correct any false note in it. It is the key to the whole colour scheme, and therefore of the utmost importance.
Next, or better still, about the same time, paint the mass in its general colour of the hair, and any white note that occurs about the neck, and very thinly over the rest of the canvas. Then take up the darkest shadows, thus securing the salient passages of the drawing and the higher lights. In doing this, think less of the fact that you are indicating features than that you are modelling the head as a whole in its protruding and receding planes. These three tone colours should roughly suggest the main modelling of the face. In taking the hair further do not attempt to separate hairs ; treat the whole simply as you would silk or satin, just shapes of shadows, middle colour and lights, matching them in their absolute relation to the flesh. Then the lower flesh tones, preserving the shape of masses, and model the features, keeping all wet together.
Having thus covered the whole face, before elaborating, look to the colour-quality of each part. You may find some difficulty in deciding the colour tendency of the flesh shadows. Compare them with the shadows of the hair. The quality and tendency of colour, whether determined or undetermined, is but the outcome of proximity to others ; or, to put it more simply, every colour mass is the complement of its neighbour.
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