Time ago

Oil Painting - Dark to Light Technique


- Be warned, this is a copy-paste fo a tutorial I wrote in 2015. Some tweaks might be needed -

I will be going step by step through a traditional painting technique I learnt in painting class. There are many more ways to paint, so don’t feel obliged to limit yourself to stuff written here (actually, don’t limit yourself to it at all!)

I’ve divided the process in five steps, and random tips are marked with *

1) “Underpainting” (or shadow)

Basically at this point you use broad brushes to sort of figure out where things should be, and ignore all the small details. You can also use a thin brush to put down small hints to where things like top of the head, nose, lips and chin should be (Don’t outline! Painting is all about putting different colors one next to another to separate things, not by doing so with lines!). Some people prefer to use dark brown, some purple… It varies. In the example below I used blue because I knew I wanted to have blue shadows.

*You can use a color of your shadows for underpainting since it cuts down your work a bit later, but you also can paint with whatever color you want as long as it’s dark!

When you finished using a broad brush, take a bit smaller one and paint large areas of shadows with a bit darker color, like eyes and cheekbones.

2) Clean up pt. 1

Once you have a dark blob, you can go in with a rag and wipe the paint off a bit. Make sure to do it according to the form, almost as if you’re painting lighter tone with a rag. By wiping off the excess of paint in what will be lighter area, you’re preventing your lighter paint from getting dirty when you start adding it.

Also at this point you can start cleaning up darker detail of your painting, such as the bottom of the nose, lips and the eyes. Be careful not to get stuck too much on doing details! Note that lips and nose are nothing but dark red lines where shadows should be, and the ear is a blob of red.

*If you work on one part too much, it will stick out from the rest of the piece because of different color and level of detail.

*There is neat trick to doing lower lip which I picked up along the way - you take a cleaner and a bit brighter red than the one you used for a shadow and just scrub it over the lip. That way the lips look a bit more realistic. (same technique can be used for the nose)

*Take your painting to the mirror often throughout all of your painting process! That way you will prevent big mistakes in proportions and lopsidedness.

3) Midtone

Once you have the painting somewhat cleaned up, start adding the midtone. This is the tricky part because the midtone determines how lighter and darker you will be able to go with the thing. It’s good to make sure it’s rather far way from white and black so that you have enough room to add all kinds of values.

4) Light

Once you’re satisfied with the midtone, you can start adding light to your painting. Be careful to not to mix in too much white since it makes the color dull! Complimentary color, or a variant of it, is usually a far better way to make something seem lighter.

*For nose it’s usually enough to scrub over it with red and add a pale dot at the tip for it to “stick out”.

*Ears are a bi more tricky, but it’s best to simplify them as much as possible.

*Also, when you’re painting, it tends to help to learn to see thing in blobs of color, rather than in smooth transitions. Mostly because when you’re painting, the more you try to smooth things out, the more your colors will look muddy (general rule with color - the more stuff you mix the muddier it becomes, and muddy usually means dull if you don’t know exactly what you’re doing) and the subject may turn out to look flat or unrealistic.

5) Clean up pt. 2

Now when you have most of the general areas painted it’s time for further cleaning up and refining. If you didn’t already, this is the time to finish your background.

During this step you can also add sparingly small blobs of light on places like cheekbones, above the nostrils, corner of the eyes…

At this point it’s important to know when to stop and not overdo the clean up. Again, be careful not to smooth out things too much. Soft transitions of color are good if used sparingly. Too much of them tends to make the painting flat. Also be careful with adding more light, if you add too much of it, or everywhere, you can lose the contrast.

And that’s it! I hope this was helpful. If you have any questions, feel free to send me a message!

posted this
Time ago

Hey, Waterfall!

Figured I'd introduce myself and some of my art. Cheers!