I’ve completed another painting, and another experiment in flesh tones. During my blog about creating “Smokescreen” I discussed the palette I’ve been developing over a verdaccio underpainting, I said I was going to try the same palette over a grisialle painting so that I could see the difference in how the paint mixes optically. Welp, it was a total failure, just as I expected! That likely sounds moronic to some people, but to me it’s merely a science experiment. The failure went exactly how I expected it to go, and that gives me a great deal of information about the process of what colors work well over what monochrome underpaintings.

Grisaille Underpainting Linda Wandt
Grisaille Underpainting by Linda Wandt

This piece served to show me how and why the warm flesh tones I was using don’t work in a transparent manner over a grey underpainting. The colors together work great over a green-grey underpainting, because the cool greenish hue neutralizes the warm flesh hues over it. When I started laying the color on, everything was really peachy and not natural looking. I knew this could be that the layering process is complex, and would require more then one layer to look natural. Unfortunately, I was working with a very pale skinned model, and I had to alter my recipes to work with the skin tone. I switched from a warm red flesh tone base (transparent red oxide) to a cool red – genuine rose madder – an expensive color I use rarely and sparingly that interestingly is somewhat fugitive so it was replaced greatly by Alizarin Crimson, and then by the synthetic Quinacridone family of pigments. I find Rose Madder creates such a gorgeous color that is different from both more modern alternatives however. This does not mean I recommend using the pigment, but I do have some and love it greatly. With this recipe, things began working out much better, but it still required several layers and a lot of guess work to get things where I wanted them. I got so lost for a bit, I had to even ask for an outside opinion to help with the issues I was having from working from a photograph of a fair skinned person sitting in the shade. Le Sigh. Working from life really is better. It’s so absolutely true that you loose so much color in the shadows when working from photographs. What I really needed to do was simply keep plugging away at it, slowly adding color layers to create form. Here is what I ended up with.

Macrocosm Linda Wandt
Detail of “Microcosm” Linda Wandt

So camera phone photos are not all that for reproduction. The skin is pinker in reality. Also keep in mind, I’m learning, and on top of that mostly teaching myself. I’m leaving out the meaning of the piece altogether, and focusing on the technical aspects, and I’m still honestly tweaking some of the details around the figure, so I’m only showing a detail at this point. Sorry about that. I’ll have it photographed all pretty and nicely lit and put that on my website in the next week or so. But the journey toward the flesh tones in this painting was important. Neutralizing the skin with blue in some spots and green mixed in others into the base flesh tone and then adding other colors has been a huge step in the right direction for me, and I’m really excited about the results as I do this more. I’d love to streamline this process in future paintings, but I feel like a few more with this method are merited before I get real crazy and start attempting my flesh tones in a single layer, like I see some people doing. I’m really curious though, and feel like if I can gain these principles in transparent colors, trying it all in one shot will be an easier process for me. There are so many possibilities for flesh recipes, it gets really overwhelming sometimes, and it’s very easy to get lost in the realm of possibility. A smarter painter then myself recently told me that limiting your palette is really wise, and I think she is absolutely correct. I also think that would make a fine subject for the next entry.