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Composing an image is like solving a puzzle; if you can imagine your elements as a group of colored shapes, you can make all the pieces fit. In this course, Mary Jane Begin shows you how to see shape before detail and develop a portrait step-by-step, using reference images, a color composite, and foundational shapes. The course will review color balance, color blocking, use of diagonal shapes for dynamic compositions, tension between edges, focal points, space, and hierarchy of shape.
Mary Jane uses the following materials in this course:
Now that I've laid down a ground that's dark enough to have a good reaction to the colors that'll be put on top, I'm going to pull out highlights on the surface, so that you can see anything from 50% value up to white, essentially. And when I look up at the color mockup that I've made, the whitest thing that I see is the collar of the shirt. So, I'll start by pulling up color in that area. And basically, the reason why I do this, is so that as I block in the color, I understand where my edges will be, what my lightest light and medium tones will be.
Then I'll lay in my darkest value. It also helps when laying in color. If you have something white, or light, to paint, you don't want to have to be layering so much color and blocking out the ground so much so to get it to the right value. So, I'm going to help it along by just pulling up the color and creating a sense of light, as in the light on this form, and also the lightness of the value of the color. So you can see in this piece, his shirt was actually blue, but I want it to be essentially white.
Which would be appropriate for the Renaissance period, wouldn't have had that turquoise blue color. So I'm pulling up that light, and I'll do it not only for this spot, and I'll leave some of the color, in the shadow from this ground, because it'll work with whatever I put on top of it, to feel like shadow. It already starts to feel like shadow now, and as soon as I make the color closer to the white I want it to be, and maybe pull in some purple reflective color which I'll explain.
This will serve me. I'll also do the same thing for the white of the shirt that's on the shoulder. Because it will be the whitest part of the picture along with the neckline of the shirt. Now, there are only two other areas that I want to really pull out light besides the shirt, and that's on the face, and the hair. And the reason why I do that, is because the face will be a focal point, and if you look at the reference, it's very pink and it's also very light.
So I have to make sure that in the color that I put on top is the right value. So I have to make sure the ground is not too, too heavy in those areas, so I'll do that now. Also the whites of his eyes, and I see the tip of my brush is a little, a little too big for this area, so I'm going to switch to a slightly smaller brush tip. Again, I feel strongly that you have to pay attention to the size of the tool, the brush or the pen or the stylus, or what have you. Or if you're in Photoshop, the size of the tool, and not use too large a tool, or too small a tool for the area you're working on.
It's easy to use the same brush for the whole thing, but that's not a good idea because maybe it's not as accurate. So, I pulling out the white of the eyes, and then I'll pull out, If I have to I blot with a paper towel. As you can see, it kind of bring that light out just a little bit more. It pulls the color off the surface. Now I'm going to look really carefully at the highlights on his face, because if I put them in the wrong spot it will look strange The light on the face is telling us about the form of the face.
And we're human beings, so we, we know what a face looks like. And if the highlight's in a weird spot, based on the lighting system in the whole painting won't look right. And it'll break the sense of our, our illusion. Our belief in the illusion of the picture. So, I have to say that faces in particular, are something we know, so you have to pay attention to the form. If you're trying to make it look, you know, vaguely realistic, in this case, I am. So I'm pulling up the highlight on the nose, the highlight on the lip, and then I'm going to have to very carefully Pull out the highlight on the right side of the face.
And I don't want it to be as, as bright as the nose, or the whites of the eyes, because the skin tone is not that light. It's light but it's not white. So I have to do this with some amount of delicacy. And I'm just very lightly grazing over with a little bit of water on this brush to pull up that light. Now how this relates to shape, is that basically I'm trying to design the shape not only with thinking about what are the colors of these shapes. But what are the values, the underpinning values of each shape.
Because that plays a role in the overall design of the picture. So I'm just going to pull a little more light out of the side of his face and his chin. So that effectively, the color on the left side, which is more, slightly more in shadow, just slightly, will be a little bit deeper than what's in the lit side. At this level, which is the, the foundational level of the piece, the core level of the piece. All the color that I put on top of it will kind of follow these guidelines. Sometimes when you lay color on top of something you bury the things that you've made as kind of visual notes and that's okay.
But in this case, I'd like this ground to really inform the color that will be on top, and the shapes that will be on top. His ear also has a bit of light on it. And you'll notice that I won't pull the light out of the sky, even though the sky is pretty light. It's not as light as the face. The value of the sky is deeper than the value of the face. And because it's right on the edge of 50%, it's probably 30 or 40, it's pretty close. I'm going to leave it this dark green. And let it be just a little darker than the skin tone.
So that the skin tone stands out as being more important, lighter, pinker that the sky. And so hopefully it'll be a point of focus. I'm just going to put a little bit of a light out of the neck, and then the highlights on the hair are pretty important, because the hair frames the face. And let me just do that. And hopefully you can start to see, the form. And that's another reason why I tend to work this way, is that when you're dealing with a piece that is trying to mimic reality, there's light in the real world.
So you want the piece to reflect that, and show light and shadow. And if you ignore that, It, it could be an interesting image. But it won't reflect an illusion of reality or believability in terms of the realism we see in the world. So, let me see if I can just make sure that I don't go too light in this area. And then I'll hit the highlight on the hair. It also probably looks very strange to see this whole painting in green but soon you'll see how that will tie this whole piece together in an interesting way.
I'm almost done with the cheek. I have to be careful, and this is a danger when, when you work And you're looking at imagery, and you're trying to decide where the light goes. People often want to make every single thing have a highlight. The dark shirt, the skin, the hair. And that's not a good idea. It's frequently a problem, you know, when I've worked with high school students. They give everything the same highlight. It's all the same value. The nose might lit be the same way the hair is, and the, and the skin, and the shirt.
And the problem with that is, is that each element is a, a local color. It's a particular color. The dark shirt will not have as high a light as the flesh, because it's a darker value. So to make it have the same highlight. It, messes with our sense of reality. And I'll demonstrate that further when I get into the color, the blocking of the color. So I think this is pretty close in the flesh. I don't want to put too much light on this side of the face. Just enough to make this believable.
And also to make sure that the form, the light is hitting the cheek higher on the top than it is on the side. I want that to be visible. Okay. So the last thing I'll do is to, just a little more on the chin, is to pull up the light in that hair. What do now, and you can probably see I pushed the sense of shadow on the opposite side of the face, just a little more than the photograph, because hte phootgraph is very even, very flat. And I'm doing that, I'm visually editing, I'm doing something because I want it to look that way.
I'm not trying to replicate the photograph precisely. I'm trying to make a work of art. So, I think it's just about ready. And I'll hit the hightlights. And I renderered the hair ahead of time in a dark value, because the hair is darker than the face. And established some highlights in pencil rendering. Just so I'd have a guideline. These curls are, you know, not something I want to have to guess at. I want it to really look closely at the direction of the curls, and the hair to capture the quality of that the texture of the hair.
And one thing I haven't mentioned is I think the texture is really important as a point of contrast. In this scene, the hair is a texture, so it gets your eye to go there, it frames the face, it moves your eye directly to the face. And I'll do a few other things to get your eyes to go to the face. But for right now, let's just, work with some of the highlights in the hair. I might use a slightly stiffer brush to get those highlights, actually this one is bigger. . A little bit stiffer. So I'll pull out a few more highlights in the hair.
And then I think we're good to start blocking. I'm almost there. You can start to see the form of the picture come together even at this basic stage, before it's blocked. Okay, it's almost there. I don't want to light all of the hair, because again, we have a light source coming from the right side. So if I start putting light on the left side and the right side, the whole image will flatten out and that's not the illusion I want to create, I want to it to feel like There's believable light so I'm just going to leave lit areas on the left side, and the opposite side.
Even know in this picture there's a lot of light there, I want it to have more shadow, just like the face, on left hand side. And again, I'm switching to a smaller brush, because it makes a smaller mark. And I see a dark spot on his cheek, that I don't really want there. So I'm just going to pull that right up. Okay. I think that's pretty good. Now, this is enough for me to go to the next stage, which is color blocking.
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