Click on photos to enlarge.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Painting Hair

The color of the hair has a lot to do with its reflectivity. If you can handle the relationship of warm and cool colors in flesh tones, by all means do so in the hair as well.
Copyright, Jim Lane
Boy, 1972, (watercolor), Jim lane
In delving into this topic, I think it best to first set some parameters. I'm not talking about painting fur. That's a whole other topic dependent of the owner of the fur. Furthermore, I'm not talking about the current trends toward spray painting actual hair. That too would be an interesting topic, but not here and now. No, I'm talking about the techniques involved in rendering hair that looks natural, given the context of the painting. What that doesn't mean necessarily is realistic hair. It does mean that the artist allows his or her style to permeate the entire painting including the hair both in terms of color, technique, and textural details. Painting hair usually involves painting a portrait or a figural image of some sort. The important thing to remember in terms of the "how to" aspect of painting hair is that the hair is but one part of the painting, and often a relatively small part at that. It is, to perhaps oversimplify a bit, merely an attractive visual texture covering parts of the head. How it's painted depends totally upon the medium, the hairstyle, the lighting, the artist's painting style, and the state of the hair (wet, dry, gelled, windblown, dirty, clean, frizzy, etc.).

Drawing the overall shape of the hair.
Adding mass, texture, and suggesting highlights.
As with most forms of painting, it's premature to talk about daubing around with a pigmented brush without first discussing adequate drawing. How you define "adequate," of course. depends upon your painting skills. The better painter you are, the less drawing you need (down to none at all, in fact). The illustration above demonstrates the first step, outlining, with minimal detail, the overall shape of the hair. I suggest this be done before any facial features are added. At this point, details often end up being erased, sometimes ruining the surface of the paper. Although I usually have a complete, detailed drawing before I start painting, it's my own preference to complete the painting of the background, the hair, and often most of the body before any facial features are painted. As a general rule, draw the hard parts first; paint the easy parts first (including the hair).

The "male mop." It doesn't get any easier than this.
Copyright, Jim Lane
Cheer (detail), 1997, Jim Lane
As the illustration (above, left) indicates, "comb" the hair with your pencil as you begin to heighten contrasts, add mass, and textural details. As for how much detail you add, I find it generally better to add more than I think I'll need, but that's a personal preference, again, depending upon how experienced you are in painting hair. The "male mop" above would dictate you start your pencil stroke at the part in the hair and lift the point as you move toward the highlights. Texture is important in the frontal portion of the head but should blend out toward the more distant sides. For long, relatively straight hair, long smooth, curved strokes are best. A crewcut with require just the opposite. I know it sounds rather exaggerated but, think in terms of drawing one hair at a time. The pencil drawing, Cheer (above, right), displays the amount of drawing detail needed to start painting. Incidentally, I like to depict blonds with a slightly darker background than their hair but artists have often been know to blend hair and background both as to color and brushwork. The "wave" (below) is a excellent technical illustration as to how to handle longer hair.

The Wave--outline first, then the half-tones, then textures and contrasting
shadows, which should allow the highlights to emerge on their own.
Lady of Shalot (detail), 1888,
John William Waterhouse
It's long been an article of faith in learning to draw and paint that artists should study the old masters. Perhaps, but don't expect to learn much from them as to how to paint hair. From my observation, either they didn't know how, or they simply didn't care about hair. I could cite any number of examples (Renoir being an exception) of artists such as the Pre-Raphaelite painter, John William Waterhouse and his Lady of Shalot (left), from 1888. If any art movement should have been concerned with the exquisite beauty and reflective qualities of long, straight hair, it should have been the Pre-Raphaelites. They were very nearly obsessed with details in virtually every other aspect of their painting style. But in Lady of Shalot, the contrasts are low, the texture is minimal and on the "frizzy" side. In short, the hair is hardly even noteworthy (except by someone like me). Maybe she was having a bad hair day. More likely, the way painters see and render hair today has a lot to do with a cultural obsession that simply wasn't as demanding in 1888. (Consider your favorite hair-treatment product commercial.)

Bringing a head of hair to life in six easy lessons (painting opaquely).
Rich, color and texture
The illustration above follows a step-by-step approach not too unlike that of drawing hair. The outline comes first, then the color, then preliminary highlights add mass, followed by reflected light, which moves into the heightening of contrasts, and finally whatever degree of textural detail the artist wishes to depict. As mentioned before, I prefer to paint the hair first, then the face, but that's a matter of habit on my part and personal preferences for others. The head of hair at right, despite having traces of artificial color added, is a wonderful example of the rich color and textural possibilities awaiting the painter with the patience and technical prowess to pursue them. I usually tend to be more like the old masters, rendering hair with as little effort as suitable for the given painting, as in Hair Today, Gone Tomorrow (below). Sometimes I enjoy the challenge of painting the intricate details of hair. At other times, I follow the old Modern Art dictum, "Less is more."

Copyright, Jim Lane
Hair Today, Gone Tomorrow, Jim Lane're on your own here.


1 comment:

  1. Jasson--
    Thanks for your comment and for following my blog. It's people like you who make all the work worthwhile.