Diana Probst, Cambridge Artist

Self-Portrait in Oils, day 20

Face, hands, skin, more towel…

This is nearly finished. I have found as I get further along that I can complete larger and larger areas of surface, because I am guided by what is underneath, and no longer have to copy everything from my source.

Picture of back and blade of left hand, with rings. I started with the right elbow, and moved across the canvas, to my right. This gives me a long expanse of flesh without much change, surrounded by slightly darker tones, and lets me warm up a little. It requires a slightly larger brush, although the tonal matching has to be as accurate as elsewhere, or it throws the rest out of kilter.

With plenty of that colour still mixed, I could then go onto the paler parts of the face, and the other hand. The under arm is not entirely the same as the highlights on the hand, but is very close, and I kept a big pile of it on the palette and mixed around the edges. In some places it was lighter, which was very surprising, but I did my best to keep a single ‘top’ tone and not whiten the skin. There is a point at which white-tinted paint becomes chalky, depending on things like its translucency and what is next to it.

High-exposure close-up of painted hair. After the skin, I had to do the eyebrows, as they were best formed in wet paint, allowing me to drag out the hairs with a short brush. Having done that I set to work on the hair. It was in wet clumps in the photograph, and its reflections were different from the dry things around it, but it will bear another look once I have some distance from it.

I have over-exposed this picture so that the middle colours on the hair can be seen more clearly, which is making the whitish parts look very harsh. There are reddish parts, and some that were reflecting the towel, and then there was the hairline itself. Mostly this responded to a more subtle version of what I did to the eyebrows, but it will need another covering at a slightly different angle to look good. The widow’s peak is an odd shape, and if I do not get the lie of the hair right the whole curve will look wrong.

I did a little more adjustment to the towel, and then called it a day. It was a lot of intense work, but all relatively low risk, as I was not forming the larger areas, which meant that any mistake only lost me a little time, and did not appear in later stages. These are the later stages, and it is strange to find myself here:

Portrait of woman in T-shirt towelling her hair

(This is taken just before I got to grips with the hair.) The fact that it looks so much like me is a little freaky, because I know it to be flat at the same time as I know it to be a portrait.