Fifty Shades of “Pink” ~ Looking at the Dark Side of Portraiture!

I’ve been taking some time to further explore the art of portraiture, analyzing different styles and techniques.  I’ve even been experimenting with going to the dark side of portraiture!  That is, developing stronger shadows by using darker darks, transitional mid-tones and stronger highlights.

Portraiture runs the gamut from Renoir to Rembrandt as far as lights and darks on a face.  Some portraits are soft and subtle like many of Renoir’s. I love this painting by Renoir of Jeanne Samary-La Reverie painted in 1877.

Other portraits have strong lighting with deep shadows like many of Rembrandt’s. Rembrandt painted 90 self-portraits from 1620-1669.  I find it fascinating how artists all see and paint faces differently.

A portrait painter, along with shading, sometimes struggles with coloring. The human face on a Caucasian isn’t just pink or flesh color in a tube but it can be fifty shades of “pink” and numerous other colors. Blues and greens help create cooler tones on a face.  Alizarin crimson, cadmium red and yellow ocher all help to create warmer skin tones.  

I usually tend to paint my portraits on the softer side.  I shy away from dark shadows on a face.  My colors tend to be lighter.  I’ve been using very little black when mixing colors.  To create darker skin tones I might mix in a little bit of green, brown, red, or blue to make the pinkish color darker. 

An advantage of working with darker shadows is that there can be more of a range of colors and shades.  Highlights pop more if they are played off darks, like the shine on the end of a nose or the twinkle in an eye.  Fine lines like wrinkles in the face can stand out more.  That can be good or bad, depending on whether you are the artist or the subject.  :-)  Not everyone wants their wrinkles to show. 

For the last few weeks I’ve been working on several portraits, painting in darker darks, adding more mid-tones and stronger highlights than I usually do.  Placing dark colors on a face is somewhat unnatural to me.  If you can believe it, a strong shadow on the dark side of one’s face might actually be a mixture of burnt umber, viridian green, black, alizarin crimson and a little dab of a neutral lighter color (or any combination of those colors).  It is actually a very dark color, not pink at all.

Having darker darks makes your lights darker too.  For instance, if the overall face is dark in tone, then the “whites of the eyes” are way too white if you paint them white.  The “whites of the eyes” have to be toned way down and are actually shades of grey.

Every artist is different.  There are many methods and styles to painting a portrait.  Here are a few examples of portraits that I find interesting and that exemplify a masterful ability by the artist to capture a personality on canvas.


Draft Age by arguably the most famous contemporary American artist Jamie Wyeth, has ultimate lights and darks.  It’s very realistic, creative, and makes a statement not only about the subject but about the times.  I viewed this portrait at the National Gallery of Art many years ago and was awestruck by it.  I also saw Jamie Wyeth’s painting of President John F. Kennedy that he painted when he was only 21!  Amazing!

Check out this painting of Shorty by Jamie!


The Girl with the Pearl Earring painted by Johannes Vermeer in 1665!  This painting is copied by many artists as a study in light and dark.  Vermeer’s ability to use strong lighting on a face without losing the soft feminine skin tones is masterful.

Monet’s Self-Portrait With a Beret I find marvelous in it’s simplicity and intriguing because I , like I imagine most people, don’t often associate Monet with portraiture.

I love this painting of the writer Thomas Wolfe done by the contemporary painter Everett Raymond Kinstler.  It’s a very large, painting (44” X 56”) that caught my eye one day while wandering the National Portrait Gallery at the Smithsonian Institute in Washington, DC.  The white background is so unusual in professional portraiture but it is striking, combined with the light suit.  Rich skin tones, beautiful highlights, reflected light, and a unique and captivating pose all help make this painting exceptional.

Darkness in ones face can not only help develop a three dimensional quality but also can create mystery and intrigue into the personality of the subject. The question the portrait painter has to ask himself/herself is, do I show every bag and wrinkle or do I use artistic license and flatter someone?  A plastic surgeon is paid to take out the bags and wrinkles but sometimes a portrait painter is lauded for painting them in.  When painting one’s portrait one thing’s for sure, it’s all a delicate balance.

The bottom-line is that Portraiture is not only an art form but a science that can be analyzed and studied.  Masterpieces can range from simple in appearance like say Monet’s self-portrait above, to very complex like Jamie Wyeth’s intense photo-realistic Shorty.

 It’s time to get back to painting and studying the art and science of portraiture.  Venturing over into the dark side can be kind of scary but in order to see the light it helps to experience the dark!

Real Men Don’t Eat Quiche or Paint Flowers! Or Do They?

Look what I’ve become!  I love quiche.  My only problem with ordering it is that the portion size is always too small and it usually comes with a side salad.  I would prefer a manly size piece along with a pint of ale.  I also love to paint flowers but don’t tell anyone. :-)

When we bought our nearly 200 year old house in downtown Camden, ME, along with it came my own little Giverny.  Like Monet (but on a much smaller scale) I found myself surrounded by beautiful gardens and blooming trees.  I would look out the front window (my studio) and see the daffodils in the spring along with pink and white peonies standing tall against our white picket fence.  The peonies were so beautiful, one time I looked out and a lady that lived up the street felt the urge to cut an entire bouquet for herself to take home and enjoy!  It was premeditated as she had her scissors in hand.

Occasionally, I would take a coffee break from painting and wander downstairs into our living room to gaze through the picture window.  It was one of my favorite views in the house.  Colorful tall Hollyhocks would catch my peripheral vision as I took in the annual beds on either side of the old stone steps that lead down to our greenhouse and our perennial beds.  Beyond were two church steeples that for me made the view serene. 

On some of these occasions, I would see our 6 foot tall gardener and friend Anna in the middle of the perennial bed with her arms in motion and seemingly talking to herself.  I would always laugh when I realized that she was talking to my 5 foot tall wife Jen, who couldn’t be seen among the phlox.

Other times, I would see tourists meandering down our driveway to take pictures of the perennial flowers in bloom, continuing on into the yard like they lived there. 

Surrounded by hostas, daylilies, beds of impatiens, rose bushes, extensive perennial beds, purple lilac trees etc… I guess it was only a matter of time before I started painting flowers.  One day we were at a good friend’s house and I noticed a beautiful floral still life print on her wall.  When I examined it closer I was surprised to see that it was a Renoir!

I wasn’t aware of Renoir’s magnificent floral still-lifes.   Renoir must have been inspired on his frequent visits to his good friend Claude Monet’s house, Giverny, for he produced some of the most spectacular florals that I’ve ever seen.   I was so inspired that I called up Anna and asked her to put her creative genius to work to create a floral arrangement for me to paint. 

Next thing I knew I was painting flowers!  Being a very slow painter, I quickly realized I had a limited time before all of the flowers shriveled up.  I chose a 30” by 40” inch board to give the piece some grandeur.  Between the short lived life of cut flowers and the sizeable scale of the board, it created an hour glass effect.  I took photos for backup but I sketched and painted as fast as I could in order to work from real life three-dimensional flowers and not two dimensional photographs. 

Still Life with Plates.jpg

It was my first floral still-life.  It was inspired by Renoir, created by Anna and a joy to paint.  We ended up buying a print of Auguste-Pierre Renoir’s floral entitled, Spring Bouquet, and it hangs in our guest bedroom.  Seeing his masterpiece daily, makes me want to try again for even though I’m happy with the painting, I know I can do better!

So if you must, call me a quiche eating artist who paints flowers.  It sounds like a great way to spend a day!

Claudia's Monet!

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A long time close family friend demonstrated her patience and her belief in my artwork by waiting over 10 years for me to be able to paint her, her “Monet”.  For a long time I didn’t know if she was serious about having me do a painting for her.  She would tell me that she thought a painting of azaleas would be nice, since we both were from Bethesda, MD and the azaleas in the spring time are spectacular.  I had gone to work as the corporate artist for MBNA at the time and I was fully committed to painting full-time for them, so I told her when time permits I would love to paint a painting for her.

My wonderful career with MBNA lasted almost ten years and as soon as I was back to freelancing sure enough our good friend was there still waiting for her “Monet”.  She knew she wanted azaleas in the painting but she wanted me to come up with some suggestions for the composition.  Living in Williamsburg roughly an hour from Norfolk, I headed down to the Norfolk Botanical Gardens.  The timing was perfect; the azaleas were in full bloom.  I ran around taking all kinds of pictures of wild azaleas.  As beautiful as the azaleas were though, they were mostly in a wooded setting without much interest surrounding them.  I went home without inspiration. 

One night not long after, a vision of Monet’s bridge popped into my head along with the beautiful gardens at Giverny.  Almost simultaneously a vision of the arched bridge, pond, azaleas, arboretum like setting at the Golden Horseshoe Golf Club in Williamsburg, VA where I had played golf several times popped into my head.  The next morning, all excited, I grabbed my camera loaded with film (before digital) and hurried down to what I was hoping would be the way I remembered it. 

There it was.  The lighting was good.  The light yellow bridge with the Japanese influence was surrounded by azaleas.  The dogwoods were in bloom and the mallards were enjoying a morning swim.  It was exactly what I was looking for. 

After presenting a colored sketch of the scene, our good friend Claudia finally got her “Monet”.  Hardly a Monet, but I was pleased that the painting incorporated some elements of Monet’s beloved Giverny including the arched footbridge, the wonderful botanical surroundings and reflective pond which one could imagine flowering lily pads floating. 

It was a commission that I enjoyed immensely and I thank Claudia and Chuck for their belief in my art and for their patience, devotion and support.