Red Arrow: highest contrast facial hues Blue Arrow: color shifting shadow hues Green Arrow: body hues
Blue Arrow: full value range Red Arrows: limited value range of skintones
So after a bit of a break, I have finally got back into painting and have made a few observations on my road to creating art that is more brush “strokey” and “painterly than I have done in the past. I created three or four new female character studies, some of which have gone well. My last painting of a young blonde girl gave me an awful lot of trouble because I was unable to determine how to replicate the soft, smooth and unblemished flesh of a young woman. Hair, clothing, shoes and such are easier with the greater shifts in color, tone, temperature and planes, but to create the illusion of smooth flesh with its minor tonal changes and temperature shifts is hard. I remember mentioning this to Gregory Manchess one day and his response was, “yeah, that can be difficult.” So today, I am going to look at two of Greg’s lovely female character paintings to try to get some insight into how he is able to accomplish the feat. Because if you look at Manchess’ females, even with the blocky and thick strokes that he is known for, his women are still soft and feminine.
Let’s first look at Deja Thoris in his Princess of Mars painting. The initial thing that I notice (and it may simply be due to her skin tone) is that the value gradients in her skin, especially on her face are very gradual. There are very few areas where he creates a hard edge between a light and shadow area. The transitions are much softer and the value changes are much closer to each other. This seems to occur on her body and arms as well as her face. I guess this should be obvious, but it is as if he painted the flesh the same way he would have modeled a cylinder or sphere rather than a cube with it shaper plane transitions. You can get away with those sharper transitions in John Carter’s flesh to create a more manly appearance, but not in Deja. The other thing I see is that a shift in color temperature can help to define the form of a smooth object. If you look at the temperature shift on the underside of her right breast, you can see that the form is defined more by the shift from cool to warm than it is defined by value change as the spherical shape curves back into the thoracic region .
Moving on to the second image, this is one of a fairer skinned woman from a pulp book cover. Here again, I notice that the overall value range for the skin tones is small in the mid-key range. I will focus first on the area of the flesh in shadow because this most obviously reinforces the observation above that a change in temperature is defining the form more than the value shift. If you look at this image in grayscale, you can see that her legs are nearly the same value except for the extreme edges where the form curves away from the viewer. Though in color, you can see that the color shifts from a cool violet to a relatively warmer pink hue. This temperature shift defines this curved form without having to deal with a sharper gradient change which would detract from that appearance of a smooth surface. If we then turn our view to the rib cage area, we see that in grayscale, the value shift isn't that great but is enhanced by the temperature of the color in order the create a more obvious shadow area without a higher contrast value change which again would sharpen the surface and detract from the smoothing affect. Finally, the woman’s face has that same gradual gradient in values, and values in a smaller range to smooth out the form. The highest area of contrast being in the area of the cleft of the nostril where it meets the cheek and the cheek where it is in direct light.
Conclusion: In order to create the appearance of a soft and smooth surface when painting the skin of a young woman, smoother gradients should be applied, smaller ranges of values should be used and form should be defined by color temperature shifts and not only value.