Both figures in this composition are in the shadow of the big trees on the left.  This means the apparent primary light source is the cool, ambient light refracted by the sky and coming from the right…which means the flesh tones are darker and cooler than they would normally be. This can pose a really tricky color-mixing challenge and is one major reason why I like to have the background painted before working on the figures.  If I were to try and paint the girls first, without the visual context of their surroundings, making correct color choices would be much more difficult.

Even with the background in place when I started working on the older sister, It was hard not to doubt my color choices while I was painting the face.  Everything looked way to dark, and very purple.  But once I had the hair blocked in, everything seemed to snap into place.  It’s a fascinating phenomenon, to me, how at a certain point, enough visual information is in place for your brain to stop reacting to the paint on the canvas as a lot of weird, colored shapes, and  instead recognize a particular object in a particular kind of light.  Once that switch gets flipped, refining the colors and forms is so much easier.


Once one section of the figure is finished, in this case the head, painting the rest of the flesh tones is usually much easier.  The color still looked much too dark on the palette, but once they were on the canvas, their relationship to the finished face made them feel correct.  I continued working from back to front so that I was never trying to paint up against a finished edge.

The darker color palette in the shadows really started to feel right after the white pages of the book were finished.


I kept moving forward, painting the shirt, the shorts, the right leg and the left shoe.  By now color decisions were pretty easy.   There was a lot of visual context for them, and I was familiar with the palette from previous days of painting in the same area.

I generally take some photographs of my progress at the end of each work day.  It allows me to get a different view on the painting, and I often catch little things I need to fix.  It also serves as a sort of visual work diary.  What is often very interesting about photographing paintings in progress, is how the camera interprets the image.  Even my Nikon DSLR has a really hard time with exposure and white balance, often requiring that I shoot in full manual mode…but my phone camera, which uses complex algorithms to try and make every shot as ‘good’ as possible, can get really freaked out.  I can usually tell when the color scheme of a painting is starting to work when the cameras stop trying to ‘fix’ the flesh tones.  That finally started happening at this point…although the wee computer brain was still certain the exposure was wrong.


With the completion of the right arm, the older sister was finished.