Technical Insights from “Not Far from Home” #23

“You want me to use what color on her face????”

So often as I am demonstrating painting a portrait, students are surprised by the fact that black is one of the essential pigments I use in mixing the flesh tones on the light side of the face.  In most lighting situations, the visible play between soft greens, ochres, and pinks seem easy enough to identify, but the question arises as to what pigments should be mixed to capture these tones. So often in striving to achieve the greener tones, students and (myself included early on), would reach for the viridian or sap green, only to overshoot the target and end up with colors too rich for the environment. In studying the works of John Singer Sargent and Anders Zorn, I was made aware of the sensitivity of tone by mixtures of ivory black, raw sienna (or yellow ochre), and white for the cooler tones I was seeing. This beautiful portrait by Sargent clearly illustrates the power in reserve of color while his gorgeous, liquid strokes melded the forms to bring forth an amazing lifelike feel.

John Singer Sargent

“Scarlet”, on page 99 in “Not Far from Home”, is one of my paintings that clearly drew from this inspiration in color mixing and tonal control.  I must say that there are a myriad of ways to key a painting and infinite variations of mixes to achieve a similar effect; the above simply describes my path.

I will again take this opportunity to encourage you to copy the masters works, not to profit or plagiarize, but to study and greater understand the sensitivity with which passages and transitions in tone can be made.  You need not copy their work in entirety, but just the aspects that you are struggling with. I have found that I can look at their works for hours and only see in part the subtlety, but when I physically mix the transitions in paint, I better understand the true nature of the color relationship.

I wish you joy and success in the journey!

“Not Far from Home” continues to receive great reviews…

“I pull out your book each time you post a “Technical Insight” and am either reminded of a lesson or learn a new one. This post for me makes turning the form with color temperatures very clear.

Your book is such a treasure, a masterpiece inside and out!“….Laura Albiento

Thank You!


5 responses to “Technical Insights from “Not Far from Home” #23

  • tesa

    Where does one find the masters’ paintings to copy? Do you mean the originals or from books?

  • Nancy

    Dear Dan,
    Thank you for the generous and inspirational sharing of your knowledge and artistry. Because of your suggestion in post #20, I took a trip to the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston to see the Dennis Miller Bunker painting. It is an exquisite painting and was a wonderful experience, made even moreso by a visit to The Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum. I continue to learn from viewing “Her Mother’s Locket.”
    Thanks again!

  • Adam Clague

    Thank you, Dan, this is a really helpful post! I’m excited to try these things as I render flesh-tones in my next piece!

  • Terri Melgar

    Hi Dan,
    Here I am with my model gone, color study done while she was here, and have begun working on the first of many large studies I plan to do from the photo shoot with differs poses, costumes and lightening. Feeling like I don’t have enough information about my redheaded model, I turn to you again to remind me to trust my eye. I thank you for every day of painting that I have and that you have enriched by your teaching. Teaching is a little word for what you give. The high – energy and intense eye you use to communicate and demonstrate your lessons is powerful. I am now going to referring to your beautiful, masterful book to clarify my “seeing”. I am opening my heart to let the spirit flow.

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