Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Lively Shadows: Secrets of Chiaroscuro Painting


Here is another example of using optical grays to achieve charming and lively shadows in oil painting, and in particular, oil portraits. In case readers didn’t catch in my earlier post titled Lively Shadows, “optical grays” happen when a warm tone is glazed over a cool tone or visa- versa. This painting technique is most suitable for chiaroscuro painting. Optical grays could be saturated tones, or gray tones – warm-gray over cool-gray. You could even glaze a gray over a saturated cool color like a blue or blue-wash, like I did extensively in this portrait, which would also be an optical gray. The main idea is that the end result, the gray that is perceived, is mixed by the viewer. Now, always remember this technique because it is a real gem of oil painting techniques when properly applied. It was commonly used by the old masters of oil painting. I have yet to thoroughly discuss the magic of this diamond of a technique, and it is multi-faceted, but, only in tandem with all the other techniques for developing a successful and good painting or piece of artwork. I will unravel more about optical grays in later posts.

The picture you see here is a large portrait I did a while back, and is a prime example for this blog. This is a large canvas. If you were to view this portrait in person, it would look life-sized. As a matter of fact, this reminds me of an interesting comment by an old roommate I had. At the time, I had just moved into a house that I was sharing with some roommates, and had this large portrait propped up on a chair against a wall in the living room. My roommate comes to me and sais “Dustin, You know your painting propped in the living room! I was startled as I walked by. Out of the corner of my eye, I thought there was some girl standing there in the room. Or maybe a girlfriend you didn’t tell me about. For real!” I had to laugh. I remember thinking “Gee, I must be on my way in my abilities if I’m getting that kind of reaction.”

I’ve been asked before about the shirt and sleeves and how I painted the checkered pattern. This surely begs its own blog post at a later time. If you are someone with a passion for oil painting, want to dramatically improve your techniques and abilities, and especially if you are striving to master oil painting, I would say this: studying the works of great masters… the old masters of oil painting, will get you far. I mean looking; not reading about. Observing paintings in life or printed in books. That is what I do and have done to learn much of what I know about oil painting. Take the sleeves for example, I had never painted see-through fabric before. But, I spent a good amount of time studying one of my favorite masters, John Singer Sargent, and figured out, in looking at many of his works, that he didn’t glaze black over the flesh to make the fabric look see-through. That would be a big mistake and produce unfavorable results. It would also be contrary to the old rule of thumb: “fat-over-lean”. No, it was clear to me that he left the skin clear and impasto in the middle along the arm. The black fabric is applied in a thin layer of lean paint along the outside edges of the arm. I could see that the flesh tones ran pale and mingled into the black fabric.

There’s a trick in how I did the checkered regions of the shirt. He he ehe hheh he! I have many tricks up my art sleeve. It has to do with the way I layered my glazes and optical grays. I’ll give you a hint. No shading of any kind took place in the layers. No glazes of black to deepen the shadows. There is only one black tone in the shirt and the black does not run over the white checkers… no glazed black. It wasn’t complicated to do. Some of the earlier content of this post should tell you much of what’s going on in the shirt. No painting’s I’ve ever done shows my under-painting or bottom layer more than this piece. To really explain how I pulled this one off is to go down the rabbit-hole of the art of chiaroscuro – painting or sfumoto. I have a lot of ground to cover in my blogging adventures before we go there. This blog will examine true realism in oil painting. Want to be a wizard? I will tell you about some powerful oil painting techniques. One of the things I find so cool about these methods is that they work perfectly fine for just about any personal style or artistic flavor.


Marian Fortunati said...

Wonderful painting and wonderful discussion.

I just spent the last few days in bed..... not by choice... and watched an old video of John Howard Sanden who was demonstrating while painting "after" John Singer Sargent... He painted a beautiful version of Sargent's "Lady Agnew"... complete with sheer materials etc....
Yeah... really observing and even trying it yourself are the best ways to improve!!

Your discussion of greys was very interesting. -- thanks
(AND your painting is fabulous!)

Dustin Strong said...

Marian that tv program sounds cool. In what country? Here in the US we just have trash on telivision. I don't watch tv anymore but last I checked it just keeps getting worse. It's great to be unpluged. Please let me know if you find anything interesting like this...videos on the internet.

I am more than happey that this helps you.

Thanks Marian!

iwishiwasafary said...

Hi Dustin, first of all your painting is fantastic, I love the expression on this girl, her hands, and her sheer top, amazing, thanks so much for explaining how you did it, and by the way one of my fav artist is John Singer Sangeant but my very very fav american artist is Andrew Wyeth what do you think about him?

r garriott said...

Marvelous painting! Thanks for the lesson on optidal grays, too.

Dustin Strong said...

Thanks guys for your feedback! I welcome any questions regarding oil painting. E-mail questions to my gmail found in my blogger profile. These questions and topics may apear in later posts. I will be back again soon.

Dustin Strong said...

Lately I've had a lot of stuff in my life demanding my attention and creations and not had the space to blog really. Even though I enjoy blogging and sharing information, it does not come naturally. Not much of a writer. It take me longer than many people who blog. These aren't something that I sneeze out. However, one of the topics on my priority list for whenever I get back here are to cover methods of control in oil painting. This is huge because if you know the process, you don't screw up. My biggest problem if anything is not finishing a work I start.

Stephan said...

Wonderful blog! You have a very cool style!!!