Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Painting Perfect Hair is a Harebrained Idea

Work-in-Progress -- "First Daffodil" 16x20 acrylic on canvas

Imagine that – painting hair can be both difficult and satisfying. To illustrate:  my “work-in-progress” at this stage, simply looks messy. Finding the right color is also tricky. In my efforts to add lightness, my basic color turned somewhat gray, muddy even. I will have to rectify that with warmer tones.

Of course, there is no such thing as perfect hair or there wouldn’t be the expression “bad hair day!” If you study the way hair frames the face and falls, you’ll see that to get the hair right, you have to get the shape of the head in proportion first. Once you have that down, block in the shapes of dark and light hair that follows the contours of the head. The more uneven these light shapes are the better.

"With these Hands -- Love" 24x18 mixed media on canvas
The next step in the painting process is painting the strands of hair or the shapes of hair that stand out or seem separate. Texture comes last of all as you fill in the strands and shapes with the “illusion” or appearance of hair. Getting the right color and texture is a matter of practice, trial and error.

For some reason, I find painting texture easier on birds and animals than I do on people. Perhaps because I’m not quite so obsessed with getting every hair or strand of feather and fur right. The patterns must be correct, but the individual strands of hair, not so much. Capturing the sunlight glistening from hair and contrasting that with shadow makes the fur or hair look realistic.

"Raccoons at Sunrise" 16x20 acrylic on canvas
Because of the way people and animals move, their covering is constantly changing. Don’t worry that you don’t get it exactly like your initial photograph or drawing. As long as it looks realistic, it will ring true.

Sometimes a painting can get slightly off as we apply paint. Paint is malleable. It changes and moves depending on the tool or brush we use and the medium we choose.

 I use a ruler to see how much my painting has enlarged from the original drawing. Has the width on either side of the face changed from the hair to the outer eye? Has the width of the nose between the eyes changed? When these distances increase, the shape of the head will change and throw the hair proportions off as well.

Once you fix the proportions, the hair will begin to take shape and form. Some people are genius when it comes to hair. Don’t be upset that yours doesn’t fall into place as you think it should. Practice does make perfect. In order to move beyond self doubt and floundering, keep attacking the problem until you find a modicum of improvement. Learn from your mistakes and you will become a better artist.

"Day Dreams" 11x14 oil on canvas