Tackling Tricky Lighting

In Warm Light 16 x 12

Backlit Blond 14 x 11
These paintings came out of a recent day of painting with a lovely, model who has unusual colouring.  Her hair is naturally platinum and her skin is like cream.  I was set up on her shadow side, something that turned out to be both difficult and interesting to work around.

In the first painting, I used my usual method of laying in all of the darks, transparently, and then adding local colour.  It was the warm up sketch, and I didn't want to mess with a new approach when I only had 25 minutes.  We ended up extending the painting time on this pose because we all liked it, and because there's never enough time, no matter how much it is.  In total it was 40 minutes.  Much of it was spent in that tiny mouth, nose area, trying to depict some - but not too much - detail.

The second pose lasted for almost 2 hours and I wanted to try something different.  My eyes had become keener from examining the model and I was noticing all of the cool lavender and green hues in her skin and hair.  She had changed into a bright red robe which caught the spotlight beautifully and reflected off of her jaw.  I began by painting a variety of cool grey midtone colour around the area where her face would be and then began the portrait on top of them.  Along the way I adjusted the temperature and  value within that grey mass, but made sure that it always read as a shadow and didn't become distractingly thick in application.

The fun part came in the lights.  I placed them thickly and with rich colour in the hopes that they could carry a piece with so much dark.  They didn't, at first.  I worried that I'd chosen badly in trying a shadow subject; that there wasn't enough interest to make it work.   Rather than change the value of the face, I worked on the background.  Originally it was much darker and and had more purple in it.  I thought this cool dark would set off the warm light.  But, surprisingly, when I changed the temperature behind her to a warm one, it livened up the portrait instantly.  Who knew?

It was a good lesson to me to look at the whole picture plane, not just at the subject, and to attempt something that is apparently illogical in the hopes that it may work out in the end.  


Bobbi Dunlop said…

I always find it a challenge to paint the model with the shadow presenting, but you've done such a lovely job!

So interesting to read how you reached a beautiful solution to a tricky situation ... one which will inevitably happen when painting the model in a group situation.

Thanks, Bobbi! You're right about the group thing, but good company makes up for less-than-ideal views.
In this case, I was glad for the set up as it forced me to try something that I'd been avoiding: backlighting on a head. I learned a lot!