Friday, April 29, 2022

"Victorian Lady in Sepia" (watercolor on paper; 12" x 9")


"Victorian Lady in Sepia"

The following is what we did in the second week of the spring term, 2022 in my "Watercolor Portraits" class (my online Zoom classes with the Art League School in Alexandria, VA).

First we talked about the important business of the value scales (grayscales). I actually made them for you to see (If you just watched, please try them; it's not as easy as it looks!), using the sepia mixture of cobalt blue and burnt sienna (Daniel Smith). You can also try a black (I like neutral tint by Daniel Smith).

Then we started the main lesson of the day, which was painting a sepia value study of "Victorian Lady", based on a sepia picture taken between 1890 and 1900. We used only burnt sienna (my favorite is Daniel Smith) and cobalt blue. In the value scales, the value 10 is the white of the paper (highlights). The value 2 or 3 is as dark as it gets with the mixture of these two colors. The value 1 is black. The high-key paintings crowd around highlights and mid tones; the low-key paintings (such as tonalist) lack highlights and crowd around mid tones and darks. We won't be using ten values; you can do a convincing portrait with six values. Beginners' paintings often lack highlights and darks and remain in the mid-tone fest!

Sepia Grayscales

I first painted the background with the dark mid-tone variegated wash (slightly bluer and darker along the periphery, giving the subject a brownish halo) on thoroughly wet paper. If your first layer was too light, repeat the process. You have to dry the paper thoroughly before rewetting; otherwise you disturb the first layer. Be as gentle as possible when you are wet-glazing. The variegated background wash is something I do in every single portrait painting; you have to master this technique

Then I started painting the subject with the lightest wash on dry paper, covering the entire area of the subject, except the lightest parts (highlights). Don't make this first layer too dark and make it more brown than blue! The value should be the #9 in the grayscale (called tint).

In between layers, dry the paper thoroughly. We are glazing, so paper should be bone dry. At each stage, I mixed a slightly darker batch by adding a little more of each paint; mix more than you think necessary (you don't want to run out of paint in the middle of the wash!). By the fifth layer, I got everything done; for the darkest layer, I used French ultramarine blue rather than cobalt blue as the former is a darker color. The darkest values are found in the hair, dark trim of the brooch, left-side brow and adjoining dark shadow of the nose, pupils, upper lip (left side), canine fossa and a few folds of the blouse.

For the finishing touch, I used the Sakura gelly roll pen 10 to restore the catchlights in the pupils. You can use instead a white gouache. You can also use a white gouache for the white polka dots and highlights in the neck and lace.

The image below is the class demo; the top image is my sample painting, which is warmer than the demo. The color temperature in photography is called white balance. Even the same painting can look different depending on the lighting condition. The day when I took the picture of the sample painting, it may have been an overcast day that caused the general warmness. Today when I took the picture of the demo, it was a bright sunny condition (the blue of the sky causes the cool temperature).

"Victorian Lady in Sepia" Class Demo

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