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In this post, we’ll make the leap from just drawing in contours and lines to actually rendering. At this stage, you should have a very technically correct line drawing of the model in front of you. It may be a bit smudged and messy from erasing multiple times and retracing over lines, so you may want to enlarge your sketch onto another sheet of more high quality drawing paper.
The rendering stage of the drawing is completely optional in the painting process, although it was very helpful to me in learning more about value and contrast, something I’ve always struggled with. This post may get a little technical. If you have trouble following, read over it again, or feel free to send me a message if you’re having trouble understanding. I’ll explain it as best I can.
If you’d like to do the finished drawing, now is the time to make a photocopy enlargement of your drawing. Once you have it the size you’d like, turn the photocopy over, and sprinkle or rub graphite onto the back of the photocopy. Place the photocopy face up on the sheet of nice drawing paper, and trace over the lines you worked so hard for. Remove the photocopy, and hooray! A perfect, clean line drawing on pristine paper.
While you are transferring, now would be a good time to also transfer the line drawing onto your canvas. For best results, use oil primed linen, either stretched on stretcher bars or mounted on board. Artboard, a wonderful brand of archival artist boards, is based out of New York and sells from the Art Students League of New York supply shop. You can also order their oil primed belgian linen mounted on boards online, at Artboards.com. These are the supplies I use for my own work, and it makes painting so much simpler and easier, with a beautiful, professional finish. Also, I find the board mounted canvas much more durable than canvas mounted on stretcher bars. I’ve ruined more than one painting by accidentally poking through the delicate canvas!
It’s important to use oil primed linen rather than acrylic primed canvas for your paintings, if you want them to be of archival quality. Acrylic and oil don’t mix, so it’s not wise to build a whole oil painting on an acrylic base.
But back to drawing. Once you have your newly clean fresh line drawing in front of you, look at the lines you’ve drawn, and back at the model. The important thing is that the shadows are separate from the light. Completely flatten the shadow as an excersise…leave out the details of anything in the shadow. The details within the shadow are much more subtle than you think. Ignore reflected light within shadows (such as in the neck area) for now.
We have as humans a limited range in painting and drawing as compared to real life values. Therefore, your “scale” of light and dark will be more compressed and narrow than what you see in real life. Because we are limited in scale values, DIMINISH the contrast that you see.
The more perpendicular a surface is to a light source, the brighter it is. Form is all about the location of the object in perpendicularity.
Now, what about the tip of the nose, the light in her eye, the shine on her lip, the sheen to her hair? That is called “Specular light”, or highlight. The specular light moves with you as you move around the model, unlike form light, which stays static. Try it. As you move around the model, the highlights change, but the actual light on the model remains the same.
As you pick a value for your shadow, pick a dark value, but not the darkest dark.
Fill in the shadows you see, and ignore detail.
As you are shading, keep this idea in mind that will try to decieve you. Simultaneous contrast: it’s when a light object (your model, if against a dark background) is contrasted against a dark object, your brain wants to exaggerate the contrast. Think I’m lying? Check out this shadow illusion.
Ask yourself these two questions again and again as your draw and shade:
1. Which plane is most facing the light? The form light is peaking at the place most facing the light, NOT the highlight.
2. Where is the highlight in relation to the lightest form light? They may be in very different places.
Caravaggio, a famous Baroque painter from Italy, was a master at using subtle contrast to bring out the fullness of the flesh on human form. Look at the exquisite subtlety in the changes in skin tone and value in the painting of his below.
Don’t think about copying the exact values–it’s impossible. Think about creating an object with the same scultpural integrity as the object you are representing. It may help you to make a mental hierarchy of the brights, and a mental hierarchy of the darkest lights. Again, keep the actual shadow all one shade for now.
Keep in mind that the larger forms are more important than the smaller forms. And don’t give up! The results are worth the work, I promise!