Glazing and Scumbling

So I knew that I wanted to have sort of a light purple background on this second portrait of Tabby. Purples (and greens for that matter) are difficult colors in that it’s really difficult to get the right hue and saturation within those hue families. Plus they tend to be more transparent pigments so you’ve got to get the body from somewhere else.

I’ve also been wanting to experiment more with scumbling and glazing; much of my work is very direct. Working comfortably with the indirect methods of painting is something I’d like to have in my toolbox as a painter.

Here’s the images with some text to give you a sense of what’s going on technically with the paint…

Here I’ve selected a purple that I want to use (Manganese Violet-Blue from Old Holland). It’s a great hue but as you can see the paint is quite transparent. The warms coming through are from the underpainting. I generally like that tension of areas that are opaque next to areas where the paint is more transparent. It’s a nice juxtaposition and tension. I see it as sort of a microcosm of how I like to have solid, volumetric, representational subject against a abstracted, emotional background.

Portrait of Tabby (in progress - hue selection)
Portrait of Tabby (in progress – hue selection)

So the hue is nice… but it’s a bit dark and a bit on the flat side. Since I like the hue and the pigment was so transparent I thought it might be a good candidate to play with indirect methods. I decided to mix out a neutral yellow gradient and scumble that over my background. Here’s the result of that…

Portrait of Tabby (in progress - first scumble)
Portrait of Tabby (in progress – first scumble)

The yellow of course was selected because it’s a complimentary color to the purple. Plus, yellow ochre is one of my favorite colors and it is quite opaque. I neutralized and lightened it with unbleached titanium. You have to be careful with titanium paints… titanium pigment is so invasive and tends to take over. I find that the unbleached version tends to work and play well with other colors a little better and it’s not quite as frigid as the pure white titanium.

At any rate, I didn’t quite push the gradient enough on this layer. In fact, if you don’t look closely, you might miss it. But I was still curious to see the effect that was going to yield with another glaze over the top of the Violet. Here’s the result…

Portrait of Tabby (in progress - second glaze)
Portrait of Tabby (in progress – second glaze)

As you can see, this second glaze of transparent purple has yielded a background which nominally is still purple but has so much more dynamism and depth. I still feel like I didn’t get enough of a gradient across the surface of the background so I’m going to repeat the process and try to push the light and dark range a bit more in the next scumble layer.

I do want to have the background pretty well resolved before I put the next layer of paint in the fleshy areas though. The color in the background really affects how the colors in the flesh reads. The yellows in the cheek here look so much more yellow now that the background is purple than they did when I painted them against a neutral background. This is in fact one of the reason that I picked yellow for the background on the portrait of Shad. There’s a lot of blonde in his beard and I didn’t want it to seem overwhelming since his hair color doesn’t read as blonde as a whole. Against a yellow background though I can push those yellows in the hair and skin and it doesn’t read as out-of-place against the umbers and warm ochres.

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