When making the color pass over a monochrome underpainting of hair, I use a slightly different approach. Rather than using straight, opaque tube colors as I would for the flesh-tones where I need complete control over color and need to be able to delicately blend subtle changes in color, I begin with a transparent glaze of a base color.
In this case, I’m painting blond hair, so I’m glazing with Raw Umber, which has a yellowish tint, especially when applied transparently. As a glazing medium, I’m using a mix of two products from Natural Pigments, Oleogel and Oleoresgel mixed roughly one to one. Oleogel by itself is a great glazing medium, but it has a very long open time, and I want to be able to put down some nice opaque color toward the end of my painting session. Oleoresgel, on the other hand, sets up fairly quickly…to quickly for me to be able to blend into it as well as I’d like in the first stages of painting the hair. Mixed together, they’re just right. I add Raw Umber to the medium and test it a few times until I get roughly the depth of color I want for my glaze. I apply a very thin layer of glaze over the entire area. When I say very thin, I mean just about as thin as I possibly can. Too much glaze, and I’ll have no control when I go to paint into the glaze layer. The colors will just slide around.
Next I begin to paint into the glaze layer with straight tube colors. I’m working with my pre-mixed, flesh-tone color palette, but I’ve added a dab of Cadmium Yellow. I keep in mind that any colors mixed with titanium white will be quite opaque as will the cadmiums and the Venetian Red, while the Burnt Sienna, Burnt Umber, Raw Umber, Ivory black and Scarlet Lake will be quite transparent.
I start by using some high-chroma reds and oranges to refine the shadow areas, adding some depth in the deepest shadows and suggesting lower layers of hair in the shallow shadows, beginning to find the shapes of the larger chunks of hair. I think of the hair as large, solid pieces until the very end…slightly translucent (meaning chroma will rise where light passes through the hair) and reflective (meaning the highlights will be sudden and tend toward the color of the light source (in this case, white…meaning a drop in chroma in the highlights).
Next I begin sculpting the forms of the different large chunks of hair, starting in the shadows and working my way up to the form-lights (Form-light means the areas turned toward the light so they are brightly lit but not the reflected highlights. These areas will be higher in value and in chroma). Then I go back and add the first suggestions of highlights. I move from area to area building each section of hair, thinking of it as a solid, three-dimentional shape. I adjust the color based on what I see in my reference material. So for the hair, the underpainting has become an actual part of the color pass. It will show through is many places, and I am not relying on it as strictly for my value decisions. I may lighten or darken an area quite a bit if I think it needs it. I’m also only just following my reference material. I’m simplifying a lot, exaggerating some colors and shapes, and playing others down. I work in layers, occasionally placing one piece of hair over the top of another to build some depth.
Next I lay in the highlights. Now I’m thinking not only of the large chunks of hair, but also of the few single strands that really stand out. At this point I also concentrate on the edges next to the background and next to the face, hardening them and softening them to get the right feel. Occasionally I’ll jump back and forth between all these steps…refining shadow areas, building forms, adding highlights, changing colors.
When I’m nearly finished (the glaze layer is starting to set up now…I’m between 5 and 5 hours in) I use very dark, warm colors to cut in the deepest shadows and accentuate areas where large sections of hair overlap and interact. At this point I further give the impression of strands of hair making up the larger chunks.
Finally, I make some final adjustments. I use the flesh-tones to soften the transition from the face to the hair and denote areas where skin may peek through, especially around the temples, ears and neck. I add final highlights and a few whips of hair. I clean up the edges and blend anything that seems too harsh. Then, while I’ve still got the flesh-tones on the palette, I make a few final touch-ups to the face (now that the hair is in color, I usually notice a few things that need minor adjustment.
This-time-lapse video represents a total of around 6 hours of work. I’ve set it to Three Gymnopedies by Erik Satie.
And yes, that thing on my ring finger is a tiny-wee cast. I’ve completed all of this painting and most of the ‘Europa Light’ version with a broken finger.