Subject: Driving me hairy

Was writing the other day about women's hair. This one (attached) is giving me problems trying to make realistic ... thanks.

My reply; You are not having trouble with hair, you are just overdoing its rendering. In a painting hair is not drawn, it is colored! First decide the general color (try and add a repeat of some deep facial coloring) then block it in as if it were just another part of the face. Add a few individual hairs (not too many) as they fall across the forehead, or as the light highlights them. Let the rest suggest themselves. The mind of a sentient needs only the minimum of clues as too many becomes boring. Any study of Rembrant (in particular his self-portrait 1629) will sufficiently demonstrate the proper balance.

The facial moulding in the picture you sent me is excellent!
Block in the hair as if it were part of the face - not hair! In general try and create a dark side and a light side of the face with a definite turning point (see lesson on analysis - Vemeer), and don't be afraid to alter things to create a feeling in the finished product.

This problem goes to the heart of painting and is better discussed with reference to the lesson called 'The Pearl'. We all know what hair feels like, its texture, its color, its breaking strain, and its usefulness in keeping the sun off our head. We can love it or hate it. We spit it out with disgust when it invades our mouth and admire it lustre and beauty when it cascades the bare shoulders of a beautiful woman. All this has everything, and nothing, to do with painting hair. As I keep pointing out the concept of something must be married with its scientific reality before you can truly paint it.

Before we open our tool box of painting techniques and deal with the problem of the hair let us recall the pearl as it provides us with an example that explains the rules a painter uses to render convincing existence.

Are the pearls real?

Things only exist as they relate to other things. Without light (place the pearl in a dark room) the pearls will cease to exist. The question is - without light does everything cease to exist? Does an ant need to be a mathematician to know it walks on six legs? If it can only count to five does it mean it must walk with a limp?For the painter the answer is yes. Like Einstein's famous equation light is everything to the artist, the great unifying constant.

In the lesson on the pearl, by beginning with the room, the window, the table, and the observer I first created an environment (for variation I selected objects with both curves and straight lines). It is always useful to create the environment first. - either in the imagination or by physical positioning. Since it is semi-reflective the manner the pearl interacts with this environment becomes the 'reality' of the pearl. The painter lives his or her life by investigating relationships between objects under the influence of light. The painter's job is the discovery of the general rules and their employment in creating an imagined reality - that is the joy for the boundries are endless.
But the mortal truth you ask? Who wants the truth? Let us sweep that off the table and crush it like a bug! Dangerous stuff eh? No wonder artists sometimes lose their grip in reality!

Mmm ... so to paint the hair we must create its environment?
There are really only four elements in this picture. The face, hair, background and the light. Unfortunately the face is front lit which restricts any opportunity for secondary light effects or a nicely modulated turning point. First I will slightly smooth the facial contours as they will otherwise compete to much with the hair and background.

Next I create a background echoing all the colors in the face and the darks in the hair. Now you can see the problem. As soon as the background was applied (Fig 4) the hair, although nicely rendered, becomes a foreign object ... and excessively light.

It is not major problem however.
Let us separate the hair and apply a screen tint of a warm dark. Say value 2 at 50% for the more mechanically minded. With paint I would simply use a alizarin - raw umber glaze. Note how the texture is not lost. Saves work later. Next is the favourite part - soften the edges and lose some of the texture.

Explanation: the human mind does not like to be overloaded with too much detail, particularly in painting. It revels in its ability to complete the picture without help, and it must be allowed the (hazy bits) to do this. The degree you allow this says something about your estimation of your proposed audience.
My rule is to always assume they are smarter than you, in other words leave plenty of for the imagination.

Fade in fade out...

STUDENT ACTIVITY: Find two examples of paintings where detail is overdone and two more where it is insufficient - in your opinion! Allow 40min.

GO TO ... skin colors
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