A Tonal Study Portrait

Using one colour to create a portrait is my favourite style of portraiture. I believe it allows the artist to represent the softness of skin and the contrasting harder quality of hair and clothing. I worked this from a photograph of Virginia Woolf that I researched on line. This was a classroom exercise where the learner had the choice of monochrome or full colour.

I made a very careful light pencil line drawing. When painting a profile make sure you do not make the back of the head too small, imagine there is a skull in there covered by a head of hair. Once I had made my drawing I decided to use a brown colour, which I mixed using raw umber, ultramarine blue and dark purple. I mixed up a large quantity.

I worked light to dark, putting a very light wash on the head, face and neck to begin with. For the material I used impress drawing, where you score lines or shapes into the paper using a shape edge of a palette knife, use an old spent biro or any other practical implement that has a nice shape edge to it. With this technique when you wash over the paper the paint seeps into the impresses made.

For the hair: this took sometime as I wanted to ensure that there was light showing through the strands, essential in a painting of a head of hair. After the initial wash I used a flat headed brush to create darker strands of hair. I let that dry and then used a small pointed brush to add more curved lines. When that was dry I applied a much stronger tone of paint using a chisel brush and a fine small pointed brush.

I painted in the eye with a very dark tone of my mix, and the shadow in the ear. I added the shadows under the chin, around the eyes, under the ear shape, with a very soft brushstroke so the edges of the wash merged into the previous wash.

I then added a series of dots to the clothing.

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