Scumbles on Shadows and Theories of Relativity

Knowledge or skill is much more easily acquired if one has a definite use for it.

—Charles H. Woodbury, N.A. from Painting and the Personal Equation, published in 1919.

I finished a portrait today.*  I say finished not because it is perfectly so, but because the time was up and sometimes that is enough.  It is easy to say, as I did at the end of the session, I could spend one more sitting on this, but sometimes that one more might open more doors than it closes.  So the portrait is finished in a state of satisfying imperfection.

Something worth noting occurred to me at the close: Scumbles over shadows.

It will never cease to amaze me how much lighter you can make a dark shadow in relation to the light and have it still work as a shadow.  And not just cast shadows, but the subtle gradations that ripple across flesh.  In particular, I had two problems to tackle to bring the painting to a close:

  1. The cast shadow from the face on to the shoulder was too dark and;
  2. The shadow forms around the trachea were too busy.

What to do?  Scumble.  What is a scumble?  Essentially, it is the opposite of a glaze; instead of a transparent dark over a light, it is a semi-opaque light over a dark.  And it worked to solve both problems, especially in simplifying and unifying the neck area.

This leads me to another quote from Woodbury, something that absolutely applies to the previous post on flesh tones:

If we stop to consider, there is very little in sight, or life, or doing, that can be isolated and retain its value.  It is in the relations where the quality lies.

So the word is to compare, whether it is form, or color, or thought.  There is nothing that you can say about the literal that will be of the slightest importance.  Unless you are very careful you will find yourself trying to imitate each color for itself, and you will not feel at all conspicuous through your success.

The whole comes from the relationship of the parts.  As such, work the whole to find each part’s proper place.

* The Portrait of S. N.

1 reply
  1. tja
    tja says:

    The “finished painting” has long since been reworked. And overpainted. And sanded down. The more I sanded, the better it looked.

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