Esteemed portrait and figure painter Mario A. Robinson uses a monochromatic block-in to achieve light, medium and dark skin tones. Follow along as he creates a medium skin tone for his watercolor portrait of LeAnn:
I painted LeAnn using a cool light to illuminate the subject. The light cooled the warm tones of the skin, as well as the shadows. Understanding how to use lighting effects when working with models can elevate the level of a painting.
Step 1: I began by adjusting the temperature of the monochromatic block-in for the painting based on the bluish cast of the light. I mixed burnt umber and a slightly greater amount of French ultramarine blue, which resulted in a blue-gray mixture. The subsequent layers of color are influenced by this initial decision.
Step 2: After blocking in the middle and dark values with a blue-gray tone, I applied a thin wash of alizarin crimson, raw sienna and Payne’s gray (see the first set of swatches, above) over the subject’s face and neck. After the paint dried, I glazed a second layer over the eye sockets and the shadows on the right side of the face and neck.
Step 3: I added a few of the darker elements to determine the proper value of the right side of the face, which was in shadow. I mixed burnt sienna and Payne’s gray and covered the entire area of both eyes and the deep shadow on the side of her nose. I also applied a wet-into-wet wash of indanthrene blue, sepia and alizarin crimson to the hair. This set up the next stage, where I moved toward the darkest darks.
Step 4: I wet the left side of the forehead and face with clean water prior to brushing in a glaze of cadmium red, cadmium yellow and Payne’s gray (see the second set of swatches, above). Because the water diluted the paint, this created an illusion of light on one side of the face. After the paint dried, I darkened all the shadows on the face and neck using Payne’s gray, burnt umber and neutral tint.
Step 5: I added darker values to the blouse and all of the surrounding elements before adding the darkest darks to the eyes and hair. I then used a mix of indanthrene blue and sepia to drybrush finishing touches to the eyes and cheekbones to build form. I used the same two colors to embellish the darkest areas of the hair for LeAnn (watercolor on paper, 14×20).