Tag Archives: chiaroscuro

Looking at Faces 2 – Self Portrait

 

Existing Studies

I have spent the last few months drawing a self portrait every chance I got using my phone’s camera as a mirror and sometimes working from a photo. I even started one project where I got the students to draw a self portrait and I would draw one next to it to give me a little push, unfortunately I lost the sketch book but did manage to take some photos.

I’m lucky to still have some sketches in other sketch books, all of which are very quick sketches using different mediums. Although they do not all look like me there is a reoccurring resemblance.

This exercise

The brief for this exercise: Make a self portrait of just your head and shoulders. You can choose to work with either natural light but natural light is best. Set up your equipment so that you can see yourself and your work surface clearly. Make sure that your face is lit from one side with the other side in shadow. Any additional light that you need should not shine into your face.

Choose a light, dark or mid-toned fabric background if you can fasten it behind you. Try out the effects of each and assess which of them gives the greatest interest in terms of tonal contrast or visual impact.

I set up a backdrop of an orange monk cloth that I draped over my largest drawing board and propped it up behind me on the sofa with a small round mirror. They only portable mirror I have out in front of me on a small coffee table. I closed the bathroom door and closed the curtain on the Juliet balcony so the only light that was entering the room was coming through the kitchen door.

1st Drawing Charcoal

1st Drawing Charcoal

2nd Drawing OilPastel

2nd Drawing OilPastel

3rd Drawing Oil Pastel in the Bathroom

3rd Drawing Oil Pastel in the Bathroom

I completed the first drawing in charcoal with my glasses on. I was trying to smile while drawing it and I think I managed to capture some of that. Unfortunately I didn’t capture any likeness of me whatsoever apart from maybe an ear, the shape of the head and maybe an eyebrow. All the studies I had done were so far not paying off.

 

In the second drawing in oil pastel I managed to capture a bit more likeness and some of the smile I was cracking was even there although the eyes didn’t show this. Focusing on the mouth I could draw a smirk but when I drew the eyes my expression went serious again.

The orange backdrop was working though, it created a nice effect and I though I could continue with this but I needed a larger mirror. I was just too far away from the subject to be able to focus. I’ve been wearing my glasses so often lately that even tho I’m longsighted my eyes aren’t focusing right without them and I didn’t want to paint myself with them on.

I put a blue polo shirt on which gave a bit of contrast to the orange backdrop which I now taped to the bathroom door behind me. This drawing was a lot better than the first two but t did take a lot longer to complete and by the time I had finished my eyes were very blur. I wasn’t sure how I would cope painting myself in the bathroom or for any length of time without my glasses on for that matter but I was going to have a go.

1 Drawing with Paint on multi-Coloured was background

Drawing with Paint on multi-Coloured was background

I prepared the support with two different semi-transparent washes from opposite corners and let them bleed into each other. Once it was dry I painted the outline of my face head and shoulders in a dilute yellow ochre.

 

 

 

 

 

 

2 Building up Layers of Paint

2 Building up Layers of Paint

Then my idea was to paint the lightest tones and work darker. This is probably where I started to go wrong, thinking about it now it may have been better to start with the darkest colours and then build up the lightest colours on top rather than the other way round.

I had drawn the primary sketches during the daytime but for the painting I was painting at night with two light sources. The light in the shower as the one above the sink luckily was not working and a bendy lamp shining through the door on one half of my face.

 

 

3 Looking Old and Already Hating it

3 Looking Old and Already Hating it

I moved on to the background to build up the colour there to give me some idea to how the painting would look. It was at this stage that I started to get annoyed with myself. The painting started to look like me but it just wasn’t me, this wasn’t my style and I really did not want to continue with it. The orange background didn’t help.

The photo of the painting right, was about where I left it for the first day and I hated it. I wasn’t use to painting myself from that angle. I usually attempted self portraits from the front and not having a clear all round vision I found it difficult to get it right.

Giving up Point

Giving up Point

After painting, repainting and eventually messing up and painting a silly pair of glasses on it, I gave up, it was time to start a fresh.The painting right is now on the back of the new painting.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Fresh attempt at a Self Portrait

Remembering a self portrait that I had success with in the earlier drawing course I sat in  the bedroom looking at the mirror on the wardrobe door, switched on the light and pointed it at the side of my face. It was easy to imagine my face as a painting as the light highlighted some really nice shapes and it wasn’t too dark that I couldn’t see the right side of my face.

Preparation

I prepared the back of the existing self portrait with a layer of burnt umber mixed with black and then once that had dried went over it again with another layer of Payne’s grey, shaved my head and waited to start the painting the next night.

Second Attempt at Self Portrait

Second Attempt at Self Portrait

This time I decided to work with the board on my knee rather than on the easel as I didn’t want it to cast any unwanted shadows plus it was easier as I could move it around freely which was great for working on the details of the eyes. I’m not to worried about getting the details or shape of the face wrong but I’ve found that if you get the eyes wrong people automatically say it doesn’t look like you.

I worked in various mixes of white and Payne’s grey rather than colour and this low level light I would have probably only used one or two colours anyway but it was quite dark and the board was dark so I needed to be able to see what I was painting so these two mixed together where ideal.

I used one brush a small flat brush and painted as if I was drawing starting on the left side of my face painting in the darker tones and then slowly building up the lighter tones. Once the right hand side of the face was complete from the neck to the crown I started on the right hand side by painting in the background with Payne’s grey and just a tiny pit of white modelling the light around my head to for the shape of my face and head then painted in the subtle highlights to form the shadows on my face and ear.  The problem was the bedroom was too dark to see the slight difference in the shade of paint so I had to turn the big light on from time to time so that I could see what I was doing.

I managed to finish most of the painting in one sitting and with the main shapes and features painted I could work on some details in natural light the next day which allowed me to see any details that didn’t look right, these were easily be corrected by reshaping.

Overall thoughts on this exercise

I feel that I let myself down giving up on a painting which I had never done before but sometimes you have to start a fresh. I realise that the first painting may have had more character if completed with imperfections but I am really happy with the final painting and how I chose to complete it. I think impatience got the better of me here, being too impatient to mix paint and to deal with what seamed to be ever changing detail working at an awkward angle.

Thoughts on final piece

The length of the head is slightly long but this is from working with the board on my knee. The painting shows a real likeness but is let down by having little or no character. On a positive note this is the first time I have completed a painting with full brushstrokes rather than the scrumbling technique that I seem to keep reverting to in previous paintings.

Part 1 – Introduction to Painting, Assignment 1

Finished Piece with brown tinted Background

Finished Piece with brown tinted Background

The Subject

It wasn’t difficult to think of a subject to paint for this assignment, I really enjoyed painting on the dark ground for the last tonal study and I managed to pull the chiaroscuro effects off quite well, I really needed to see if I could do it again with different subjects. Maybe in the style of Caravaggio.

Finished Tonal Study

Tonal Study on a dark ground

While working through the drawing 1 course, one or more students had drawn still life’s that included a chopping board and a knife, this gave me a great idea, I had used an orange in the last two tonal studies, Tonal study on a white ground and Tonal study on a dark ground  so why not finish this part of the course with a still life of that orange been sliced in half on a cutting board. It would not just be the last in a series of paintings but it would be symbolic of the end of part 1.

 

chosen subjects

chosen subjects

I also wanted to include the candle that I had used to light the second tonal study in my assignment piece so I was only lacking two subjects a large knife and a chopping board, I tried getting a natural chopping board, I usually see people selling them on the streets but when it came to buying 1 they were no where insight so a machined board and carving knife from Tesco had to do. Because i wanted to use as much as the dark ground as i possibly could I chose a black handled knife with three rivets.

After cutting the candle in half to bring it lower to the other objects, it was apparent that I needed an extra object, a small towel, to prop up the knife.

Preliminary Studies

Materials used:

  • Canson A4 sketchbook
  • Derwent Charcoal Pencil
  • Compressed Charcoal
  • Graphite stick
  • Putty rubber
First study - charcoal pencil sketch with notes

First study in Charcoal pencil

 

The first study I did was of all the objects together but with the orange in 1 piece, I did the first studies with the light on and candle unlit but took notes of how the composition looked in electric light and daylight. It was pretty hard to choose as both lighting looked good and the compositions looked great from all angles.

The tonal studies helped me to group the objects and specific parts of the objects into groups that shared the same colour properties and tonal properties e.g. the orange, the cutting board and the candle shared similar tones and colour, the handle and the background and the towel, blade and rivets; in candlelight the groups changed.

2nd charcoal pencil sketch notes

2nd charcoal pencil sketch notes

2nd charcoal pencil sketch

2nd charcoal pencil sketch

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

After the first study I decided to go ahead, be brave and cut the orange, the composition then went from a simple composition with 4 objects to a more technical composition with five. It also created more groups with the light off the candle and orange on its side sharing similar colour and tonal properties and the board and other half of the orange having similar properties.

In the third study I decided to omit the towel but there wasn’t enough contrast in the composition for my liking plus i didn’t know if the knife would stay up for long. The blue towel was a nice contrast between the yellows, orange and beige and other natural tones of the cutting board.

3rd Study - Notes

3rd Study – Notes

3rd Study in graphite stick and charcoal pencil

3rd Study in graphite stick and charcoal pencil

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

After making three studies with the light on I decided to try something different, as I would be painting this most likely with the light on to try and to further experimentation with chiaroscuro which was what I had initially intended to do I would make the next sketch in candlelight. This gave me an idea to make the next drawing using an entirely different technique. Lifting off the charcoal rather than drawing with it.

 

4th Study Charcoal lift off

4th Study Charcoal lift off

4th Study - notes

4th Study – notes

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This time I drew from a different angle with my head closer to the level of the table, this added to a more dramatic effect and the knife rather than reflecting the orange and light like I had tried for in the first few sketches was completely dark with only a slight tonal difference between the handle and the blade; this meant that I could use more of the dark ground and could ‘model light’ defining the knife with a few simple details and highlights, this appealed to me. The shadow cast by the orange in front of the knife was also very appealing it meant that I could create a good sense of depth in the painting. I just wasn’t sure how well I would be able to paint the candle, flame and the light the glow around it.

Colour study

Materials used:

  • Canson watercolour paper painted with a dark wash
  • Oil pastels
5 Colour Study in Oil Pastel

5 Colour Study in Oil Pastel

At this stage it was a toss up between the mediums I felt comfortable with for the finished assignment piece, either acrylic or oil pastel and so decided to a colour study in oil pastel on an A3 sheet of watercolour paper prepared with an imprimatura of Payne’s grey. The colour study helped me to determine which colours I would use for the final drawing, these were:

  • titanium white
  • payne’s grey
  • light blue
  • cadmium orange
  • pearl orange
  • chromium green
  • yellow ochre
  • lemon yellow
  • burnt umber

Finished Piece

materials used:

  • Canson A2 Acrylic paper 15 x 18 inch
  • Acrylic paint (colours as above)
  • Paint brushes – medium wide, filbert (2 sizes), round pointed (2 sizes), angular flat
Drawing shapes on dark background with white conte

Drawing shapes on dark background with white conte

After preparing the acrylic paper with a dark ground (Payne’s grey I drew in the shapes with a white conte stick using my paint brush to help as a measuring tool. The shapes weren’t precise but that wasn’t too important at this stage just as long as I had something to work from. As it turned out the shapes were well out and did need a lot of editing while I was painting.

From there I painted the highlights on the top of the knife so that I knew it was at the correct angle and painted in the candle and both halves of the orange in cadmium  orange (highlights in yellow), I could have done this differently. The best way would have been to model light by building the colour gradually  on top of the dark ground rather than blocking in the shapes then painting the shadows over the colour like I did.

Half way point

Half way point

From there I painted the chopping block with the same cadmium orange but used a lot more white and the darker parts in yellow ochre. The towel was painted in different mixes of light blue, Payne’s grey and white using a stippling effect with a small flat brush to create texture. Shadows on the board and orange were painted in a mix of Payne’s grey and chromium green in thin glazes. while the shadows on the table were painted in thin glazes of white and payne’s grey over the top of the dark ground.

It got interesting round about the half way point with objects painted but still very rough and very bright I had to think about the techniques and colours that I would use to tone down the painting as well as give the painting a dramatic feel as seen in Caravaggio’s paintings. It was here that I stopped looking at the still life composition and any photos I had taken just glimpsing from time to time, as painting as I saw it had negative effects, when I came to take a photo the colours were to bright or didn’t look right so I started to paint how I felt it should look. Burnt umber, Payne’s grey, pearl orange, yellow ochre and white became the key players.

Finished Piece for assignment 1

Finished Piece for assignment 1 – Before Burnt Umber background wash

Very thin washes of Payne’s grey helped me to tone down the orange of the candle and upright orange slice while yellow and white followed by a very thin glaze of the grey were used to make the orange pointing upwards look more like an orange. I used a scrumbling technique with very thin seperate layers of white, pearl orange and burnt umber to make the blue of the towel more subtle.

The board was probably the most challenging it was just too bright and I knew that it was the board that would make the painting if the board looked bad the rest of the picture would too. The brief said not to get wrapped up in any one object and too look at the painting as a whole but the board was a major part of the painting and so it needed to be right. I added thin layers of burnt umber over the orange mix and then used thicker layers to paint in the grain. I painted over the shadow with a layer close to the original orange/white mix, then a layer of green followed by washes of burnt umber and Payne’s grey. This was a vast improvement.

While sat here writing this entry and thinking that the painting is finished I have started looking at the photos I have been posting to this log again and realising something is not quite right. I have stayed as close to the original tone of the background as possible. The dark painted paper that I used for a background reflected light from the candle and that’s what I have tried to show here and I think that’s where I’ve gone wrong. Rather than depicting any background at all I should be depicting an absence of one to allow the viewer to make up their own mind to where the painting is set, whether it’s in a small room, large room or even a cave.

Caravaggio - Doubting Thomas

Caravaggio – Doubting Thomas

Caravaggio seems to use a brown tint in his background which allows the viewer to do this and so I have painted over the Payne’s grey background with a glaze of burnt umber and payne’s grey leaving the original colour around the candle to hopefully make it look like it is emitting light. Feedback from my tutor will hopefully let me know if I have been successful or not.

 

Things I am pleased with:

Method and technique

  • I managed to use most of the techniques I have learnt from starting the course plus a bunch of techniques from the drawing 1 course.
  • I didn’t rely on my eyes as I have done with most other exercises and assignments instead I went with how I felt it should look. Maybe this is the start of me developing a personal voice.
  • I particularly liked the way an oil pastel study gave me a good insight into which colours I would be using for acrylics. I didn’t question this and I’m glad because it worked.
  • Using washes and glazes in the painting was very interesting, years ago i would have repainted the subject if it was too bright, understanding how to use glazes has given me a push in the right direction.

The final piece:

  • I am very happy with the overall painting especially at this stage, it does have which I hoped it would a dramatic feel to it, even if it’s just a knife cutting an orange.
  •  I feel that the painting does show influences of the artists I researched for the Chiaroscuro particularly Caravaggio.
  • There are parts of the painting that I do feel exemplify the chiaroscuro technique really well particularly the knife handle resting on the blue towel. This is probably the best part of the picture.
  • The shadows particularly from the orange help to create a nice depth to the painting.
  • The texture of the hand towel could not be improved on to me this is perfect.
  • The brown tinted background – This really finishes the painting nicely. I may have been able to improve on the glow around the flame but I didn’t want it to strong but for now the tint of burnt umber helps to create a halo around the grey.

Things I am not happy with:

Method and Technique

  • For the life in me I couldn’t get the wax under the flame of the candle like it did.

The final piece

  • I couldn’t get the wax under the flame to glow like it did this would have probably  really improved the look of the painting.
  • The colours are a bit dull but any brighter didn’t look right at all so they had to be toned down.
  • The knife blade is out of shape but I couldn’t keep messing around with it for the objects around it.
  • Not sure if the blade looks twisted or not from the handle.
  • Too me the candle looks flat. I’m not sure what technique I should use to improve on this.
  • Not sure if the shadows of the board should be darker. I had a problem with the mix of greys and adding colour tints to them.

 

 

 

 

Research Point 2 – Chiaroscuro

Caravaggio - John the Baptist

Caravaggio – John the Baptist

‘The term chiaroscuro (chiaro meaning light, scuro meaning dark) originated in the Renaissance when it referred to a technique .of drawing on coloured paper by building light tones with gouache and working down to dark tones with ink. It later came to refer to modeling of light in paintings, drawings and prints. The extreme contrast between dark and light areas allowed subtle graduations of tone to create illusions of volume, most notably that of the human form. Chiaroscuro became a common composition device in religious paintings such as those of Caravaggio.

‘Explore the works of some of the artists whose work exemplifies chiaroscuro effects such as Tintoretto, Caravaggio and Rubens. Look at the candlelit studies of some of the northern European artists, most especially Rembrandt and Joseph Wright of Derby. (Remember that until relatively recent, life was lived in pools of candlelight or firelight after the sun went down.) Make notes in your learning log.’

Titian Saint Jerome in the Desert

Titian Saint Jerome in the Desert

Towards the end of the 1500’s, with the new religious appreciations due to the Catholic Reformation, night scenes depicting the life and Passion of Christ became increasingly popular. The artist Titian embarked on a new technique which involved the disintegration of matter in light, particularly in night settings. He would continue to explore the dissolution of light through matter until the end of his days. The Next generation of artists would take over and perfect these dramatic effects of light and colour.

Night scenes would later become known as Nocturnes (a phrase coined by James Abbott McNeill Whistler). It describes a painting style that depicts reminiscent of the night  or subjects as they appear in a veil of light, candlelight, twilight, or in the absence of direct light.

Tintoretto - Lamentation over the Dead Chris

Tintoretto – Lamentation over the Dead Christ

Jacopo Tintoretto

Throughout his long career Jacopo Tintoretto dramatised his nocturnes by drenching them in heavenly lighting, with colours distorted by bold contrasts of light. These lively effects of lighting added drama to his stunning compositions.

Jacopo Tintoretto - The last Supper

Jacopo Tintoretto – The last Supper

Examples of this ‘supernatural lighting’ can be seen in both the Lamentation over the Dead Christ and the last supper where light is depicted coming from a source other than a natural one as to Titian’s St Jerome above which depicts natural moonlight.

Caravaggio

Before moving to Rome, Milanese painter Caravaggio trained as a painter in Milan under Simone Peterzano, a former student of Titian.

Caravaggio - Doubting Thomas

Caravaggio – Doubting Thomas

In Rome the Catholic church were in need of a stylish replacement to Mannerism in religious art, a move that they thought would help counter the threat of Protestantism (the counter-reformation), and so there was a demand for paintings to fill the many new churches and palatial buildings being built there.

Caravaggio revolutionized chiaroscuro with a radical form of naturalism combining close physical observations with a dramatic, somewhat theatrical, use of chiaroscuro this came to be known as ‘tenebrism’.

Caravaggio - Saint Jerome Writing

Caravaggio – Saint Jerome Writing

Looking at the paintings of the three artists above you can see the evolution of nocturnes and of course chiaroscuro as a major technique in night paintings. From works of Titian that used the background as an important part of the painting with figures whose forms didn’t wholly employ the technique that it would later become; to the paintings of Caravaggio who had pretty much perfected the technique, at least to where he need to be depicting up-close three dimensional compositions with a clear message that appear to almost leave the canvas.

Peter Paul Rubens

If the paintings of Caravaggio were a Drama then the paintings of  Flemish Baroque painter, Rubens would be a musical. Originally from Cologne in Germany, he was as a catholic by his mother in Antwerp, Belgium.

Peter Paul Rubens - The Fall of Phaeton

Peter Paul Rubens – The Fall of Phaeton

His paintings featured religious scenes in complicated and very dramatic compositions. Rubens became one of the leading voices for the Counter-Reformation style of painting and standing behind what he had worked so hard to ‘promote’ he stated, “My passion comes from the heavens, not from earthly musings”.

It is clear from his paintings that he was a man of faith, something was clearly moving him through these paintings, if not just belief.

Peter Paul Rubens - Adoration of the Magi

Peter Paul Rubens – Adoration of the Magi

Where Caravaggio painted close-up dramatic scenes of a biblical theme with detailed expressions and drapery Rubens’ painted religious scenes in action, depicting flowing drapery and strong movement in his figures, with complicated compositions with several main figures and even horses.

In a lot Rubens paintings it is very clear to me that he started on a dark background particularly in the two paintings that I chose here, ‘Adoration of the Magi’ and

Peter Paul Rubens - Night Scene

Peter Paul Rubens – Night Scene

‘Night Scene’ but then again I now know what I am looking for, to others that don’t,  they see every bit of the composition as if everything in the painting was completed in detail, what the eye doesn’t see, the brain fills in.

 Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn (Rembrandt)

For the best examples of chiaroscuro in Rembrandt’s paintings one needs to look no further than his self-portraits. Rembrandt created nearly one hundred self portraits in his lifetime. Of those one hundred self-portraits seven were drawings, thirty two were etchings and fifty were paintings. Included in those were candelit studies, painting by candle light.

Rembrandt - Self portrait 1657

Rembrandt – Self portrait 1657

Rembrandt’s candlelit studies are great examples of the use of chiaroscuro, I looked at several of his self portraits the technique but ‘Self Portrait 1657’ was one that really stood out, the reasons for this being that you can see how the face and highlights in the hair and hat have been painted building up the light tones on the dark background. I can imagine him painting it, where he started and can even guess some of the brush techniques that he used.

Joseph Wight of Derby 

The artist Joseph Wright of Derby was unknown to me, as an artist that is but is name was famiiar and when I did a search fore information about the artist I came across the Joseph Wright college and it clicked.

Joseph Wright of Deby - An Experiment on a Bird in an Air Pump

Joseph Wright of Deby – An Experiment on a Bird in an Air Pump

Wright is notable for his use of Chiaroscuro, and for his paintings of candle-lit subjects. His paintings of the birth of science out of alchemy, often based on the meetings of the Lunar Society, a group of very influential scientists and industrialists living in the English Midlands, are a significant record of the struggle of science against religious values in the period known as the Age of Enlightenment. – Wikipedia

Joseph Wright  did for the industrial revolution and science as Titian, Tintoretto and Caravaggio did for the counter-reformation, ‘using their own tool against them’ comes to mind. It’s ironic that using chiaroscuro effect was the best way he could describe the candlelit scenes of the ‘Age of Enlightenment’ when the chiaroscuro effect had been employed by so many earlier artists who had described religious scenes through their art. His style was very similar to Caravaggio but using more detailed, technical compositions and painting them from a distance. What makes his paintings different from earlier works however, his is exceptional use of shadows.

Bibliography:

http://mini-site.louvre.fr/venise/en/exhibition/holy_nights.html

http://www.wikipedia.com