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Drawing & Painting Life Portraits

Lesson #10


Your rendition of clothing is a powerful tool for designing a portrait beautifully. It can add a great deal to the feeling of reality you wish to achieve. Clothing is just fabric lying flat until someone puts it on the body. For all of us, our clothing means excess fabric, enough so we can move - bend, sit, crouch, walk. Since you will be painting many types of fabric, it's important to understand the individual characteristics of each one. There are thin, fine, clinging fabrics like chiffon, which is sheer enough to reveal the forms within; silk; and satin, which is also shiny. There are medium-weight fabrics like cotton (crisp or soft); taffeta (crisp and angular); knits (used for t-shirts and sweaters); and woolens for men's and women's suits. There are heavy woolens for coats (soft but bulky); velvets (pile fabrics that absorb light to the extent they show no highlight but rather a rim of light on the edges of the forms). There is fur (another pile material that can be flat and glossy like broadtail or longhaired lynx). The list goes on and on.


It's important to really notice the fabric in the clothing of people you see around you and study the differences. Mannequins in store windows and photos in fashion and sports magazines are good sources for study. The weight and texture of the fabric controls the manner in which it drapes, wrinkles, or folds. The
condition of the fabric - whether it is wet or dry, old or new, rumpled or pressed - also affects it's appearance.









A truly great way to practice drawing fabric hanging, is by hanging a sheet against the wall. Move the pins closer together and draw the folds. Finally, hang the material by one pin and draw the folds.





The Greek and Roman artists sculpted drapery as if it were wet fabric, in very vertical pipelike forms. In the works of Albrecht Durer and other artists of the Middle Ages, the fabric appears crisp, and the folds are squarish and angular. Peter Paul Rubens painted drapery in large round forms and influenced the Baroque painters.

Two of the best to study for drapery are the eighteenth century artists Giovanni Battista Tiepolo and Antoine Watteau. The sculptor and painter Giovanni Lorenzo Bernini, made marble look like the airiest of fabrics billowing in the wind!

In the drawing above, after Lorenzo diCredi, a Renaissance artist, the figure appears to be nearly flying in the wind. The motion and emotion in this tiny study are created solely by the handling of the drapery. We know the drawing is fantasy from the artist's knowledge and imagination, for no one could ever see fabric moving this rapidly, let alone draw it. But the illusion is complete.


Well, at long last we arrive at adding color to our portrait!!!! Color will always be a challenge to the portraitist. At first sight it would appear that a portrait would be dominated by flesh tones. This, though, is not always the case as witnessed by looking at some of the greatest works of the old masters and others. By deciding upon a color idea - that is, a scheme of color that both harmonizes and reflects the feelings one has towards the subject - the picture will get off to a good start. An elegant lady with jewelry and silks will need a different color idea than that used in painting a baby or the noble head of an old man.

Flesh itself varies in color a great deal from the pink blush in a Fragonard (1730-1806) to the dry tints in a Wyeth, or the modulated tones in a Franz Hals (1585-1666). To experiment with the mixtures that might result in descriptive flesh tone is essential, and to use a mixture of techniques desirable.

I know you have heard this from me before, but limited palettes for flesh painting have always proved most successful. A good general palette that will mix in several ways would consist of yellow ochre, light red, terre verte, cobalt blue, and flake white. By mixing the yellow and red with perhaps a touch of terre verte or blue, a good general tint will be achieved. By using this limited palette discoveries will be made as to how red and blue, or blue and green, or any other multi-mixtures, will correspond to the colors seen.

Shadows should be carefully analyzed so that when painted in they are never simply a darkened version of the general color in the lighter areas; each shadow has its own color and tone. The shadows in the face and hands or any other flesh areas will be affected by external colors being reflected into them. Thus, the shadow on a nose might well have a green cast to the color whereas the darker, warmer tones beneath the eyebrows might contain a purplish-brown. By experimenting with both the "reflected" shadow colors and the local, lighter colors, one will discover the value of understanding and using the various color theories.

Remember, I have only my truth, your truth must be found by you. Only by experimenting with color will you find the mixtures that speak your truth.

I know that this is a terrible place to leave you hanging for a week! But it is not my desire to load you down with so much that you will not practice what you have read. Prepare for a large lesson next week on color! We are nearing the end of our lessons on portraits. Soon we will move on to landscapes, still-life, seascapes, and many other things. However, you can access me at any time through e-mail and if I
can help you on portraits in the future, let me know. Until next week....