How to #Paint Auburn Hair.

Auburn hair appears to glow from within. In lessons one and two you have seen how I create this glow using warm under-washes. I then subsequently paint washes of auburn color mixes (as described to create the look of wavy hair). 

Please view previous lessons on how to paint auburn hair first. They can be found in this blog page.

We are now ready to fine tune Sarah’s beautiful auburn hair. When #paintingshadows we generally need to have some blue in our #colormixes. When I begin laying in colors that have blue in the mix – I always find these mixes (with a blue component) somewhat dull the glowing colors in the under-washes beneath . I usually compensate for this by laying in more warm washes in the initial stages to ensure there is enough warmth in these initial layers. It is easy to add more warmth at a later stage too.  If you need more glow, saturation, richness and/or warmth – simply add more warm washes (without a blue component in the mix in the areas you feel need greater intensity. 


Left hand WIP (work in progress)

Can you see how Sarah’s hair is sitting in front of a russet colored tree? What do you think this does to the feeling of distance in the painting? 

Yes! Using ‘like’ colors next to each other narrows the impression of the distance between them. If we use   ‘like’ colors in a painting – those colors will give the appearance of being on a ‘close-by’ focal plane. A slightly darker color will give a little more separation. The greater the contrast – the more distant the subjects appear to be.

Conversely there are numerous occasions when we want two objects to sit on similar focal planes. We now know we simply use similar colors, color temperature, tonal values and intensity. 

We may want a wide separation between our two subjects- which will allow the main subject to come forward in the painting and take the leading role – as in this case I am using for this demonstration.

What can we do to achieve that?

There are a number of things to consider:

  • Firstly look at the #color temperature of the hair and the tree. They are both warm – although the tree is warmer than the hair. This slight difference allows some separation. We are in control of how great this distance is. If we had a greater contrast in the color temperature – we would create a greater distance between Sarah and the tree. For instance if the tree was a blue/green tree – the tree would appear to be further back in the distance/painting. However – the tree is a similar to the hair in color, color temperature, tonal value and intensity. Not the same – but similar.
  • Secondly it is now time to look at the tonal range (light and dark). Still looking at the left hand image above – can you see Sarah’s hair is mostly in the mid-tone range? There are light-ish highlights, and there are mid tones as well as deeper mid tones in the hair.  However the balance of the color is in the mid tone range. The tree has a tonal value range of: light to mid tone range. So you see there is some contrast between the tree and Sarah’s hair – hence some sense distance.
  • However I wish to create a greater distance between Sarah and the tree. What do you think I need to do to achieve this?
Now Let’s take a look at the right hand work in progress (above).

Can you see I have darkened Sarah’s hair in the back left hand area of her head. This area needs to be darker as this is where the hair would naturally be in more shadow. This also happens to be the area where the hair ‘connects’ with the tree area. By darkening Sarah’s hair in this area – and enveloping it in natural shadow – I have been able to create a greater contrast between the tree and Sarah’s hair/head. Sarah looks more defined. I have used 4 key elements to help me create the impression of greater distance:

  • color
  • color temperature (warm against cool)
  • tonal value (light against dark)
  • Intensity of color (color saturation).

Hopefully your computer/tablet/phone screen will allow you to clearly see that in the right hand image Sarah now sits further forward in the composition rather than receding back closer to the russet colored tree. 

By adding more #shadow to the left back area of Sarah’s hair – I am able to emphasize  the roundness of form of her head more convincingly too. Once again I  have created a greater contrast between the hair on the right and the left hand sides. We have light Highlights on the right hand side – and darker shadow on the left hand side.  Coincidentally, by widening this contrast – I have also created a greater sense of roundness of form as well as reality.

We artists can tell a story through our paintings. Understanding how to adjust the key elements (color, color temperature, tonal value, intensity and edges) in a painting – allows us to guide the viewer’s eye and attention to the areas that assist us in telling our story. Such adjustments bring a professional edge as well as atmosphere, emotion, mood and interest to a painting.

Here is the almost-completed painting of Sarah amongst the daffodils. I need to start thinking about a title!

She sits amongst the daffoldils that grow wild in the fields. Watercolor painting on artists paper. Free watercolor lessons by Susan Harrison-Tustain

Sarah with Daffodils. Free watercolor lessons by Susan Harrison-Tustain. Little girl sits amongst the yellow daffodils.

What I teach and how I teach is very different from most tutors. My teaching is not a ‘step one, step two….’ way of teaching. When I first began painting I yearned to find someone who could teach me all I wanted to know and understand. I couldn’t find anyone – so I set about teaching myself. Now I am so very grateful because this yearning gave me the impetus and passion to teach myself to see, observe, explore, experiment, research, understand and become aware of all the things that bring that professional edge to my work and teaching.  It took nearly 30 years of trial and error. Now I teach all of these invaluable breakthroughs to other artists and of course this enables you to fast track your learning. It also ensures you know the skills to avoid the numerous traps for young players that we have fallen into at some stage! This is how we learn! The breakthroughs and comprehensive lessons I teach via my International workshops, DVDs and Video Downloads are for artists of all skill levels. There is nothing more rewarding for an artist than to see those we teach find their wings are soar higher than they ever dreamed possible.

It is never too early or too late to learn these easy-to-grasp lessons.   The lessons I teach bring a whole new awareness, knowledge and understanding – and this in turn brings confidence and courage to leave that plateau that so many of us have found ourselves on at some stage in our journey. My teaching will help you to take a your giant leap forward and help give your paintings a professional edge through my international workshops and DVDs/video downloads. My teaching and lessons are for all skill levels and all painting subjects.  

This short series of lessons posted here in my blog only just touches on the power that can come from an awareness and understanding of the key elements.

There are a number of options available for you to learn all I know about painting:

Four x Video Downloads – all 3+ hours of invaluable lessons         Click here for free preview and more information:

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 It would be my great pleasure to help you understand how you too can find the freedom and exhilaration that comes from having a solid grounding and awareness to build all your future paintings on. We are all on a wonderful never-ending journey of discovery – shine on!


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