Step by Step: Building Luminosity

Portrait in Blue
(oil, 18×24) by Lauren Tilden

Step by Step: Building Luminosity by Lauren Tilden originally appeared in the March 2011 issue of The Artist’s Magazine. While many artists of her generation are drawn to an edgy, discursive style, Tilden prefers the works of earlier masters. At age 28, she’s bringing new life to traditional painting techniques and a renewed emphasis on painting the human spirit.


1. I applied the ground color, using cold black plus yellow ochre in a thin layer. After this dried, I transferred the drawing, using a grid.

2. For the underpainting I applied sienna and cold black to the surface in a thin layer. Then I wiped out the light mass with a paper towel. I painted the background thinly in a cool blue tone similar to the final background color, allowing for the establishment of relationships between the fleshtones and the background in subsequent steps.


3. Painting wet-into-wet, I built up the light mass, applying the paint in thick brushstrokes while working to capture variations in color temperature. Then I roughed in the initial layer of the shadow mass. For the transition from light mass to shadow mass, I used yellow ochre plus cold black mixed with a fleshtone. At this time I also adjusted the background color.


4. To establish the form and details of the hair, I blocked in the large areas of shadow and light with cold black mixed with burnt sienna and unbleached titanium white. I then carefully executed each highlighted hair with an extra-long liner brush. I darkened the shirt with a thin layer of cold black and burnt sienna and slightly adjusted the shadow mass in the face.


5. Once the dark layer of the shirt dried, I painted the shirt with ultramarine blue, cold black and unbleached titanium white, scumbling areas to let the underpainting to show through. I then applied an additional glaze to the shadow mass on the face and the background. Finally I added highlights on the face, completing Portrait in Blue (oil, 18×24).

Tilden on Transfer by Tracing
The drawing for Portrait in Blue was transferred with a grid, but sometimes I make a graphite tracing of the original drawing on tracing paper. Then I flip the tracing paper and retrace my lines on the opposite side of the paper, using a soft graphite pencil. Once more I flip the tracing paper, attach it to the surface and retrace the original lines. Some of the graphite on the opposite side of the paper adheres to my surface, thereby transferring the drawing.

For more information on Lauren Tilden, visit her website at And, read her feature article “A Quiet Light,” by Meredith E. Lewis in the March 2011 issue of The Artist’s Magazine.


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