A Technical Note About Painting Portraits

When I returned to regular painting a couple of years ago, I began by painting several portraits.  One of the first problems I encountered was getting natural looking flesh colors.  This seems to be one of my biggest challenges in painting pictures of people.  Mainly I struggled with getting an accurate color “temperature”.  My flesh tones always seemed too cool, and it was difficult to get a balance between shadows, mid-tones and highlights.

I began in earnest to do some research, reading about both modern and classical artists and their color palettes.  I was surprised to discover something.  It seems that not all white oil paints are created equal, and they have various ranges in “temperature”.  I had always been aware that Flake White and Titanium White  and Zinc White were available, but I didn’t really think about there being a difference between them.  It seems that Titanium White and Zinc White have cooler temperatures in appearance than the others, and Titanium was the one I had been using.  Now I use “Cremnitz” White, a thicker and heavier type of Lead White.  Of course, one has to use precautions when working to avoid too much contact with the skin because there is toxic lead in the paint.

WebExhibits is an excellent web site where one can learn all sorts of technical things about the history of painting and art.

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