When you paint or draw a likeness on a figure painting then you are often working in an area that is barely 1-2 inches square. I generally don’t like to do it, it’s not avoidance it’s simply that if the face is obscured or turned away then the viewer focuses much more on the figure which makes a more successful piece of art. The process is the same as painting a portrait, as big a brush as you can and start laying down your base marks.
I prefer to lay down flat straight strokes in roughly the right place, keep your brush as wide as you can, if your mindset is small, therefore small brushes you’ll get bogged down in detail way too early. This approach has always served me but does create an ugly painting to start with.
Contrast is everything
When you prepare your palette of flesh colours always make sure that you have a very dark mix and a lighter one. Often in a face on a figure drawing / painting there will be very dark areas but not necessarily very bright as well. Figures wearing hats or in this case helmets cast shadows across the face which negate any bright highlights. Also if you place very bright paint on a figure’s face it will feel unnatural.
When painting portraits or figures, particularly when using bold brush strokes, there is a temptation to grow the image, to go beyond your proportions and end up with a rather large head on small shoulders. For me, I’m clear about the top, bottom, edges of the head etc, so I can mess about with the features but don’t end up growing the face.
All the colours?
When you start to study someone’s face you begin to see so many colours, try to resist the temptation of mixing up every colour. I only mixed one pink as I could only see that on the cheek and nose maybe. This is my smallest flat brush, I try to only bring it out at the very end.
The thing is that for me I have faith in my ability to keep repeating laying down those brush strokes in the right colours and the right places and the likeness will come. This stage is hard, it looks awful but because I have been at this stage so many times, kept going and the likeness has emerged I don’t worry about it, in fact I like showing it because I know what’s coming.
As with the general head size the temptation with eyes on a figure drawing is to make them too big. We attach such importance as humans to the eyes that we enlarge them almost automatically. Once you have laid down the correct colours for the eyes and remember we don’t want bright colours then start to peg them back by using the colours around the eyes to shrink them.
Painting cricketers in helmets makes it a little easier to get the face shape correct. I can use the black of the helmet straps to create the correct face shape.
The final image
You see I like to see brush strokes on my work and work of others. So I’m happy leaving those last strokes. Try not to aim for perfect because firstly you’ll be forever fiddling with it and secondly people prefer the arty look. As soon as the likeness comes, stop.
The original painting
The original oil sketch is available to buy from my online shop here