Extra Work

Experiments in Acrylic

I wanted to try a return to acrylics as my last attempt at using them was at least two decades ago.  So I had an image from the movie Atomic Blonde that I took while on pause.  I loved the tone of it and the composition and wanted to see if I could reproduce it in some way.

The canvas I had was a cheap pound shop one and had a tear in it so in order to cover it up I tore up loads of paper from a food magazine and prit sticked it to the canvas.  This served to not only cover the hole but it acted as a nice bit of noise for the background.  Whether the glue will stay on it will be another matter but it was an experiment of sorts.


Next I covered the canvas with a base colour of red as this was the tone that I had picked from the image.  In retrospect I should have gone with a yellow tone as it would have been easier to bring into a warmer tone or cooler tone.  The red was a brave move but possibly not the best choice.

Anyway, I used blue as an outline for the head and shoulders and loosely drew in the face.  This was also not the best choice of colour, a brown would have been better, but we learn.  It was especially harsh on the face when I had the nose and lips in the wrong place, it was difficult to hide that fact.  A brown or peach would have been kinder.


The paint was applied in a really heavy handed way.  I was trying to figure out what areas were bright and dark.  So the tones of colour were observed and applied in big blots and smoothed down a bit.  The hair was very bright so I had to use various shades of lemon, yellow and orange, with a hint of red to bring the shadow bits into a burnt brownish colour while bringing the lighter areas into a very pale lemon.  White was used at the very end to highlight the areas where light reflected the most.

For shadows I avoided black as it was too harsh.  I kept it in the dark brown hues of the red and tried my best to keep the tones light and not too heavy handed.

The eyes were difficult.  At one point they were too low so I had to move them.  The blue outline didn’t help this and so I used a large chunk of white to bring the eyes alive.  However, with the tone of the original image the eyes were not super clear.  They had a colour reflection from the light of the room but as the painting was in danger of losing itself I chose to go for strong white for the eyes to make it pop.


To see if this was a good choice I went into photoshop and messed about with a gradient layer.  It didn’t change the image that much and the painting was better.  The noise in the background from the collage effect is not very obvious but it does give the image a texture.

painted version
photoshop version – halftone and gradient

Overall I feel the colours work well.  Her face is a little harsh, I’m not sure how to make it softer but I can see that it needs to have a softer look plus it’s a little on the long side.  The position of the eyes were a little off so it gives a tougher look to the image than was originally intended.  So it was a successful experiment for me.  The composition was pretty much done in the image I had chosen, the only real choices I made were the tones and where to place the shadow and highlights.  These were largely indicated in the image but I’m happy with my interpretation of it.


Experiments in charcoal 2


This time I used the charcoal as a full ‘wash’ and then used a rubber to remove parts of the image and reveal the picture.  I used an image of Gilda, getty images, as my reference for what I wanted to go for.  It isn’t an exact copy, there is no cigarette being smoked, but it was used as the black and white image was a great tool for showing up the shadow and light in the image.

The best bit is the hair and shoulders.  Her face is a little off.  The rubber was good, it was just the rubber on the end of a pencil.  It gave me some control and I liked how it didn’t remove all the charcoal.  I tried using a different rubber at some points and it went horribly wrong so putty rubber and large eraser were not the tools for the job here.

I like how I managed to soften and blur the background in it.  That worked well.  I also enjoyed the hair and felt it was expressed in a reasonable way.  This method is very interesting as removing the parts of charcoal felt more like sculpting and I really enjoyed it.






Experiments in Charcoal

As I’m working through Part 1 I’m trying to do a lot of experimenting with the tools in between so that when it comes to the exercises and assignments I feel more confident using them.

For experimenting I chose to work with black and white pictures of people so that I could clearly see the shadow and light in them.  I wasn’t trying for realism but more an understanding of the way the tones of the image were working.  It was tough to work with lighter tones of shadow as the gradations from dark to light were either super contrasted or extra subtle.  Working with shapes I created the basic block of colour for the people and face.

I chose The Civil Wars and sourced an image from google and Michael Stipe sourced from getty images.  These interested me because they both different approaches to a portrait.  The Civil Wars was a passing image captured and there was a lot of reflective light in it but I chose to not include that and just focus on whether I could create believable hair and shapes for people.

The Michael Stipe portrait looked like a good way to use lines and marks for texture and facial hair.  There was a lot of contrast in this image so I really wanted to try and capture that.

The Civil Wars


I started out with a very loose polychromos pencil sketch of the people and then tried to put in a sense of shadow and light on the faces with the pencil.  From there I then jumped into the charcoal and tried to block out the areas that were the darkest, the hair and clothes.  After that I tried to use the sharper part of the stick of charcoal to define some hair sections that were obvious.  I used newspaper print as it allows the charcoal to glide nicely on it and I feel happy using this when experimenting.

I gradually pulled up the darks and tried to blend in the shadow, but sometimes I found that I was simply too heavy and the gradation of shadow to light wasn’t obvious.  I let the paper come through for areas of extreme light and then for the background I lightly dusted with chalk and used the side of the charcoal to define the lines.

For finer details the charcoal wasn’t working for me so I used ink for the eyes.  When stepping back I could see that the faces looked droopy but I continued to just focus on the hair.

Finally I stopped as I wasn’t sure what to do next.  I was using a rubber to lift off the excess charcoal and also used it to blend and soften the edges of shadows.  Lines and marks were used to define the hair and shirt and some of the beard.  I couldn’t see any other textures or patterns that a line and mark would help with here so left it.  Perhaps if I had started with the lines and marks for shading to start that would have changed the character of the image somewhat.  On this occassion I was more interested in using my fingers to create deep darks and lighter shadows and see what happened.

For the second image I used the pink paper of a higher grade.  It was still smooth so the charcoal glided on it nicely.  I blocked out the darkest parts and then roughly sketched out the shape of the face and hat.


The light seemed to be coming from the front so there weren’t a ton of shadow but the depth of his eyebrows and shadows around his hat coupled with the stubble were working for me.  The texture in the hat was nice too.

I took my time with this and also used white charcoal towards the end as a way of lifting the image from the page more.  It worked but the pink under it was sometimes a little too busy and detracted from the eyes.  As I put in the shadows of the background it occurred to me to try and ‘glitch’ up the image.  I wanted to try and pull the charcoal across the page to see what effect I could get.  So the aim was to still see the important parts of the image and have an outline but to see it like an image technical glitch.

I used blocks of black and white and simply coloured over sections trying to make sure that where there was light I contrasted with dark.  A rubber was also used to smudge large sections by swiping down or across.  I didn’t want to overdo it so tried to go as far as possible without losing the image.  I did go back over with some charcoal to try and make it pop again.  In doing so I think a slight turn in his eye occurred…oops.

The end result is something I like as it is something I’d have tried digitally.  To do it with my hands instead of the computer was more satisfying and gave me a sense of confidence in experimenting more.