For a long time (since I first held a pencil in my grubby little toddler hand), I've been working through a process which would allow me to paint, draw, or sculpt what I see in the mirror and all around me.  I am racially mixed (black, white, Cherokee) and I grew up in Philly which is a really diverse city.  Whether it's Scandinavian blond folk (I lived in Sweden for a year) or African folks with skin as dark as the night sky, I am drawn to the variations our melanin provides us with.  I also lived for a year in Hong Kong, another hugely diverse meeting point of different groups of people of all backgrounds.  I feel lucky to have been forced to see a lot of diversity as it has helped me understand variety from the inside out.

This year, I decided to do a series of portraits from my imagination, rather than photographs, called Women of Color.  That's where I started but I soon went astray and included men as well as women and people of all skin colors. lol  I was experiencing a whole new confidence in my drawing skills for various reasons and didn't want to fight it.

I find that many artists have trouble with skin tones and hair textures and so that's where my focus has been for a while now.  I was thinking that it might be fun to share this journey with others who also find it of interest.  Post your examples and ideas, questions, and answers here if you are willing to share them.

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I love how this turned out.  

I love how this turned out too Carla. What medium did you use? It is soft and lovely. Reminds me of digital paintings I have done using my Wacom tablet and painting software. I'm new here, are digital portraits (not enhanced photographs) allowed in the portraits group? I have a couple that I would share if appropriate. 

Carla Cryptic said:

I love how this turned out.  

This is an acrylic portrait that was "commissioned" by my niece as a gift for a friend of hers.The elderly lady is her friend's mother and the little boy is the lady's great grandson. I had to get out my books and do some serious studying on skin tones for this one. It was very good experience!

I do almost all my drawing with a Wacom tablet and pen or my Apple pencil on an iPad pro these days because of severe pain in my hands, shoulder, and cervical spine.  I feel lucky that I can access digital versions of the media I have used in the past - I started drawing when I was 4 or 5 and I'm 65 now.  I use Corel Painter, Sketchbook Pro, and ArtRage.  I've tried lots of other programs but those are the three I end up using most, the first two pretty much every day.  I was trained classically so I use those same techniques digitally as I did with paper and pencil, canvas and paint, or carving tools and printmaking.  My Mom was an artist and art professor so I've tried everything over the years, from making my own egg tempera paints to rendering a white egg against a white background, and everything else you can think of.  Sometimes it's frustrating that so many people don't realize the difference between drawing things from scratch, no matter the tools, or enhancing photographs using software algorithms to simulate traditional techniques.  

The portraits I've posted so far were mostly done start to finish in either Painter or Sketchbook Pro but sometimes I start a drawing on paper using pen and ink, colored pencils, and/or felt pens.  Then I'll scan those sketches so I can continue working on them digitally since it hurts less to hold my ergonomic art pen and/or my fingers and I can work on things while waiting in a doctor's office or if I can't sleep at night.  lol  

I used to use photographs or live models to paint from but I've been bringing people in my imagination to life lately instead.  The people in these portraits didn't exist until I drew them into existence and that's really fulfilling.  I used to despair of ever being able to do that.  I guess I finally had the right combination of experience, skill, intent, and willingness to take risks to become comfortable doing it.  Some kind of perspective shift.

I would love to see your digital portraits and know what software you use.  I forgot to say that the one above has a very weird provenance!  I was playing around with the ugliest brushes in my toolkit trying to make a face and it was truly horrendous.  Sketchbook Pro releases a set of free brushes every Monday and these heart stamp brushes came on or around Valentine's Day this year.  I give myself the challenge every Monday of using all of the brushes in the free set in one way or another to see if they're worth adding to my permanent brush library.  This challenge was to use all of the over-the-top heart stamp brushes to make a portrait.  I took that horrible portrait, months later, into Painter and redrew it as a realistic portrait.  I used airbrushes almost exclusively, moving back and forth between different sizes and opacities frequently.  I'll post the horrible portrait in this post so you can see how she was transformed through patience and stubbornness into something much better. ;)

Wonderful skin tones in that commissioned portrait... did you find it easier to do the little boy or the great grandma?  Sometimes, the harder the challenge, the easier it is to get really good results.  I wonder if art teachers teach how to draw and paint people of all different races and colors to students now instead of just how to do caucasian skin tones and hair like when I was a kid.  The way you represented the light on the right side of the old lady and the relative shadow on the child's face is awesome.

Marguerite Valdez said:

This is an acrylic portrait that was "commissioned" by my niece as a gift for a friend of hers.The elderly lady is her friend's mother and the little boy is the lady's great grandson. I had to get out my books and do some serious studying on skin tones for this one. It was very good experience!

Hi Carla,

Thanks for that great response with all the good information. For many of my working years I didn't do much art (I too started drawing when I was 3 or 4 and am 73 now). When I got seriously back to art in the early 90's, it was digital art. I worked for a computer software company and belonged to CompuServe (long gone now) because they had information on computer subjects that I needed. I discovered they had a Digital Art forum so I joined it. I started drawing with the mouse, but ended up getting a Wacom tablet. I do enjoy digital art although I haven't done a lot lately. My niece introduced me to I Draw and Paint and I got back into traditional mediums. I led the Drawing Challenge there for over 4 years until I had to step down due to health reasons. I was leading a couple groups on Art Class Friends until it closed in September.

Af for digital art, my favorite painting program has been obsolete for many years (Micrografx Picture Publisher). I'm sure one of these years it will no longer work on new operating systems. Corel bought it and didn't bring it forward. I still use it. You probably do like I do and bring your images into the different software to use the brushes and features you want for a certain effect. I also use Corel Painter. I have a demo copy of ArtRage, but haven't taken the time to learn it.

Thanks for the nice comment on my painting of the lady and her great grandson. I found it easier to paint the lady than the little boy. He was several different shades until I finally got him to the point where I was satisfied.

I like your wild woman done with the heart brush. It looks like you had a lot of fun with this one! I'll have to take a look at Sketchbook Pro.

Thanks, Marguerite

My pleasure, Marguerite.  We have a lot in common!  I was the computer geek at work - before I started working there (a department at UC Berkeley), they didn't even have computers for all employees and I got them going with their first Apple computer (they were having a lot of problems with pre-Windows PCs).  Anyway, I also hosted a lot of art salons in person and online, hosted some online conferences (art, literature, SF Bay, and sex among others) through Café Utne.  I also had to pull back due to health concerns.  My Mom taught computer art at CCAC (Calif College of Arts and Crafts) when art on computers cost thousands to set up so we would spend a lot of time trying out new programs on both sides of the PC/Mac divide.  Now, of course, almost everything comes out on many platforms.  It's amazing how much things have escalated and changed over a relatively short time.

Time is always an issue, isn't it?  There are things I'd try if I had the time but there are too many things to choose from now! lol  I started with Painter when it was only available as the B & W Sketcher!  Remember when Painter came in a real paint can!?  So fun.  I've never used Micrografx Picture Publisher but I had the same experience when Adobe bought out PageMaker (which I loved) and didn't continue it, instead putting out InDesign which I still don't think is as intuitive or as broadly useful.  Sigh.  So many great programs get swallowed up by big software companies.

I like Sketchbook Pro because it's available across platforms and it's very economical.  I used to make my own brushes in Painter and PhotoShop also but it's easier and more streamlined to do it in SB Pro.  And they release a free set of brushes every Monday to Pro users.  Still, it only costs $30 a year to be a Pro member!  One last thing, if you're interested, is that I have used a few vector based programs (like Illustrator and before that FreeHand) but didn't really get into them deeply because I don't think like an illustrator, I think like a fine artist.  Sketchbook Pro is geared towards both and I've found it a lot easier to get into using some of the vector tools (which are hugely convenient for a lot of work) and illustration tools because of the more intuitive learning curve.  That's been a lot of fun and provoked a lot of new tricks in this old dog. ;)

Yes, we have had some similar experiences. I believe you have gone deeper into the digital art area than I have. I appreciate your input. I agree that too many good products get swallowed up by the big companies and end up disappearing. I think that Corel Photo-Paint was the replacement for Picture Publisher, but I don't think it is nearly as good. Ah well, not much we can do about it. Here is a digital painting I did a few years back that was a challenge with the skin tones. I used Painter and Picture Publisher.

We are singing the lament of the modern human!  So many things we use every day are out of our control. ;)

Fascinating!  I like the juxtaposition of detail and abstraction in various places to make the face draw the eye directly to it. The skin is leathery looking like all men who are out in the sun most of their lives.  The lighter color where the hat shades his forehead is a nice touch.  I especially like the neck, an area I don't always give enough attention.  Did  you block in the darkness of the hair and then create its detail by just adding highlights?  It looks great.  I also love the hat.


Marguerite Valdez said:

Yes, we have had some similar experiences. I believe you have gone deeper into the digital art area than I have. I appreciate your input. I agree that too many good products get swallowed up by the big companies and end up disappearing. I think that Corel Photo-Paint was the replacement for Picture Publisher, but I don't think it is nearly as good. Ah well, not much we can do about it. Here is a digital painting I did a few years back that was a challenge with the skin tones. I used Painter and Picture Publisher.

Here's one that's pretty dramatic in terms of lighting... it's a nighttime scene and the woman is coming home in the early hours and passes by a place where someone is warming up with a garbage can fire.  

Hi Carla, Sorry to be so slow in responding. Life gets crazy sometimes. Thanks for the nice thoughtful comments on my digital portrait. Yes, I did just make the hair dark and then added the highlights.

And, your lady coming home and passing the garbage can fire is very dramatic. I like it and I like your imagination. You've handled the reflected light of the fire very well.

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