Homework: Exploring Color, Value and Flesh Tones with a Limited Palette and a Portrait by Velazquez

At times I’ve been asked by students what they can do at home to continue their studies, so allow me to offer a concrete assignment:

  1. Download the high resolution 300 DPI poster I’ve created of a Velazquez portrait.  (The previous link connects to a PNG file.  You can also download the file as a TIFF.)  Below the image you’ll find a two sets of color swatches that correspond to the colors in the portrait.  The first set is organized according to the location within the head; the second is organized by value, lightest to darkest.
  2. Take the image to your favorite printer and get a good quality print on matte photo paper.  The total size is 15 centimeters wide by 45 centimeters tall.
  3. Once you have the poster, hang it next to a canvas of similar size and start by laying in the drawing / underpainting using only Raw Umber and Lead White. (Getting the drawing first will help you focus on the subtle color shifts and value shifts later.)  Once you are satisfied with the drawing/underpainting, give it time to dry, then;
  4. Place the poster on a work table and lay a glass palette over the top set of swatches.  This will allow you easily mix colors and check them against the swatches.
  5. Colors for your palette: Lead White, Ivory Black, Raw Umber, Raw Sienna and Burnt Sienna.  (Yes, all colors you see in the image can be created using only this palette, except for a little bit of Vermilion and/or Madder for the lips.)
  6. You don’t need to mix up all the colors on the poster; just mix the first set of swatches that begin with the top part of the head.  Once you’ve mixed those colors, put the poster next to the easel so you can easily reference it again while you paint.  Repeat the process for each section of the head.

What I think you will discover:

  1. The subtlest shifts in color, value and temperature can turn a form.  Example: from the front of the forehead to the side of the head.
  2. As paint dries (even white) it will get darker, so may need more than one layer to get the colors to read with the proper saturation and luminosity.
  3. As you do add layers, note how the paint you are painting on affects the appearance of the layer you are adding.  Often times the subtle shifts come from a change in transparency of the top layer over the lower layer.  Capitalize on that.
  4. Finally, no matter how good your control of the color and value is, or how facile you are with your brushwork, the image will live or die in accordance with the drawing.  Never settle when it comes to drawing; pursue likeness to the hilt.  (Your pursuit may not result in perfection, but determined pursuit will always yield something that is hard to fully imagine.)

There you go.  I hope you will find this helpful.

If you do follow this exercise, please let me know how it goes using the comments below or through our Facebook page and send me your thoughts and results.



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