The Principles of Figurative Drawing and Painting

Painting is the art of applying different colors in a way that pleases the viewer’s eye. All paintings have six kinds of contrasts, although some paintings may have more or less than others

In drawing and painting coloring can be understood as the contrasting but complementary application of whole and fragmented colors in such a way that the sum of the opposites results in a lush harmony in the finished piece. The contrasts that play a role in coloring are thus:

  • muted and translucent colors
  • soft (or interlocked) and crisp (i.e. put there with one stroke and not messed up)
  • thick and thin
  • indefinite (dirty) and definite (clean)
  • cool (blue) and warm (orange)
  • finally, gradation and contrast of the same colors

These are the color contrasts that, when applied rationally, produce coloring unity = harmony.

The absorption or non-absorbency of the painting surface can affect how an artist chooses to apply paint. Artists such as Titian, Correggio, and Rubens sometimes applied thick paint on the opaque ground so that the paint dried quickly. This improved their ability to blend together multiple paint colors. If the artist started with translucent colors, however—as many Dutch painters did—the final appearance of the painting depended more on the light-colored base underneath it.

If a painting is small, the base can be smooth; if it is larger, the surface should be rougher, as this holds paint better and also reflects light better.

Painting plaster heads can be a challenge because of the contrast between warm and cool colors. The shadow of a plaster head would be its cold color, while the transition areas would be more neutral.

When painting plaster heads, the contrast between the transition shades and the shade of shadow complicates the task somewhat. The first is a cool color, and the next is warm. The warm color of the shadow is normally due to warm rays reflecting off surrounding objects onto the plaster head. The shadow of the plaster head would only get its cold color from cool objects and not from proximity to other objects unless it was surrounded by a green curtain or blue fabric, which is rare for this purpose because it would give your work plaster head a multicolored effect.

The planes of the plaster head, which are only slightly affected by the rays of light as they pass by, show a relatively more neutral color than the shadow areas. These shadowed areas are weakly illuminated by the reflected light (fill light), and the well-lit local planes of the plaster head. The color of the key light is also taken into account here; in so far as it lends its own color to the highlight to a greater extent than other illuminated parts of the plaster head. For example, reflected sky blue can be seen in a greasy or sweating complexion. However, these subtleties must be handled very moderately so that the end result does not seem unnatural or forced.

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