Out of the shadows a face emerges

When I paint, I often wonder who will appear from the shadows and move into the light.

Sometimes, the portrait causes me no end of grief; I might work on it for hours, and still the result isn’t very satisfying.

At other times, a face emerges without much effort.

Such is the case with “Out of the Shadows”.

Out of the Shadows

"Out of the Shadows", 12" x 16" Canson watercolour paper. Pan Pastels, Faber Castell Pastel pencils.

Ultimately, I wanted a light touch and few hard edges.

My first attempt at sketching the portrait with a pastel pencil was just too heavy-handed for my liking. Besides, I had started on a 9 x 12 sized sheet of watercolour paper. It was too small to work effectively.

"Out of the Shadows" is my second effort.

Pan Pastels are smooth like butter…

Pan pastels are a favourite medium of mine. They glide on paper so smoothly and I have used them successfully many times in the past. Usually, I select special pastel paper with a bit of a tooth to it such as Canson Mi-Teintes for my pastels. For this portrait, I worked on the soft side of a 140 lb. sheet of watercolour paper. 

I reached for an old acrylic flat brush that was close by and started experimenting as I have never used pastels with a paint brush. The soft acrylic brush and the buttery, creamy pastels worked well together at least until the paper refused to accept any more of the medium.

Now and then, I sharpened and refined the details such as eyes and lips with a similarly coloured pastel pencil.

The Tombow MonoZero Elastomer Eraser is an indispensable tool for pastel work. It brightens the whites wherever white is needed or adds highlights as in the iris of the eyes, or on the bottom lip.

A cheap Dollar Store makeup sponge is handy for the hair and the background, and then I kept alternating between sponge and acrylic brush as I finished the portrait.

Within a couple of hours, she was done.

Rembrandt and the Golden Triangle

 For the shading, I was inspired by Rembrandt (1606-1669) who was a master of light and dark.

Golden Triangle

Photographers use the Golden Triangle of light on the dark side of the face, (also known as Rembrandt Triangle), to soften the features of the face.

I learned that Rembrandt achieved a more three-dimensional look by experimenting with light and dark together and by using this triangle in his portraits.

The triangle on the darkest side of the face is just enough light to allow a bit of the eye on that side to show through and keep viewers’ attentive.


split lighting

In contrast, split lighting is very harsh with one side of the face in the light and the other completely in the dark. This method suggests a sinister, aggressive character in the viewer’s mind.

Inspired by Juna’s soft touch

Juna Biagioni, an artist from Amsterdam, also paints using light and dark very effectively in a style that is soft and dreamy. Visit her website for free tutorials and to find more information about the online lessons she teaches.

My portrait this week fits into two categories: first she is part of my vintage series as I find that she has a look about her that reminds me of the fifties. And she will fit into a second category, Studying the Masters because the shading I used was inspired by Rembrandt.

Here is the final portrait once more below. 

The colour has deepened with several coats of spray to fix the pastels.  This is not a problem in a monochromatic portrait but beware!  I ruined one painting when I sprayed it and the colours darkened.  Pastels are finicky that way.

Fixing the pastel

First photograph by Joe Leahy at Unsplash.

Second photograph by Christopher Campbell also at Unsplash.

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