Diana Probst, Cambridge Artist

Self-Portrait in Oils, day 9

Regular Probst Fans will recall I have two small children. Over the Easter holidays, I got very little work done. The return of the Tiny Penguin to nursery and the Small Person to the coal mines gave me the free time I needed to go back to my studio and stare morosely at my Self-Portrait. Then, tentatively and with much churning horror, I took out the Naples Yellow. This is the basis of my own skin tone, and is good for slightly pinkish Caucasian skin. Once the palette was set up and I had my brush, it all became surmountable. It is amazing how often that happens. So far, a 100% record.

I remembered to start on the left. Being right-handed, this is a good thing, as it means I do not have to hold my arm free of the canvas to avoid wet paint. So, a left hand:

Details of half-painted left hand of self-portrait. Fingers are buried in towel.As you can see, there are two distinct tones here. The brownish one is Naples Yellow, Mir Grey, and Yellow Ochre. The other is a mix of Naples Yellow and Crimson, which adds a very warm red. Add white for a pinkish skin tone. The nail is more red and a tiny bit of grey.

The construction lines are very clear through the thin layer of paint, and this is something I found on all the skin areas. It will need two or three visitations to get the right thickness, but as an ex-acrylics junkie, this seems normal to me. In this case I will likely add in one thicker layer rather than many thin glazes, but this is a decision I made later in the process; for now I was aware only that I was putting in a base layer to guide me, not what I would do.

On the other side, the underside of the arm is more exposed:

Half painted image of elbow showing gradation from dark to light as the arm comes forward. It has rounded muscle over the bone, and fewer areas of shadow. These occur inside the elbow, and where the T-shirt casts a shadow on the arm, and then as softer tonal alterations on the arm cylinder itself. This is currently a very cartoony image, and I learned something important. Rather than blocking out colour areas in dark oil paint, next time I will try doing them in a mid-grey acrylic. I do not need the dark oils to tell me how much paint to put on, and this way I can keep a translucency on a pale background, if I want to.

The lack of light on whitish skin leaves it greyed out, and so the part which is currently white is going to end up a grey-brown, for which Mir Grey is very useful. It comes pre-mixed, and although it is not perfectly 50% white-black, I do not want that. It is a slightly warmed grey, perfect for these flattened or darkened areas.

And finally, at the end of the day’s work, I had this:

Self-Portrait of the artist, defined in main colour blocks on skin and some drapery. Already, there is some hint of solidity, in the back arm and the left side of the head. All this, and I do not hate the painting yet! More on that later…