Monday, February 27, 2012

Whitcomb Demo


Jon Whitcomb, the king of American glamour illustration in the 1950s, shares his step-by-step method for how to paint a head in transparent wash:
Step 1. “Over softly penciled outlines, Whitcomb paints a light gray tone, which begins to establish the shadow area of his picture. After this has dried completely, he paints a medium gray tone over it, but stops short of the edge of the first wash. This light edge — you can see it on the forehead and neck, tends to soften the division between the light and shadow areas.”

Step 2. “Whitcomb establishes the over-all tonal effect early. First he paints a light wash over the entire skin area, the eyes, and teeth. Then, with ink, he paints the blacks: hair, eyebrows, eyes, nostrils, and corners of the mouth. He has left the light-struck areas of the hair white because he is still working in bold, flat areas of tone, with no serious effort yet at modeling.”
Step 3. “Now that the light and dark areas of the drawing are definitely established, the artist starts working within these areas to model such forms as the jawbone, nostrils, lips, etc. Observe how he uses the graded wash to suggest the rounding of the forehead. He also starts modeling the hair in the light areas, leaving the white of the paper for the high lights.”
Step 4. “The modeling is completed, but Whitcomb has not lost his strong, simple pattern of whites, blacks, and grays. Notice the subtle modeling on the girl’s lighter cheek. Some edges of the hair he has softened with a damp brush. With small touches of opaque white and grays he has added sparkling high lights. He has softened the edge between light and shadow on chin and neck with touches of thin opaque.”
Demo is from the Famous Artists Course
More Whitcomb samples online at Leif Peng’s Flickr Set
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20 comments:

Cole said...

Sorry if this is a silly question but what kind of paint was he using?

James Gurney said...

Not a silly question! The only reason I didn't say the medium was because I wasn't totally sure myself. I was assuming he was using black watercolor, but he might have been using India ink. He mentions using ink for the hair. Maybe another reader knows more about Whitcomb's method.

Ian Williamson said...

As always really informative James. Thanks for sharing. Ian

Ian Williamson said...

James, may not be the right place here but have you ever posted anything on Anders Zorn's oil painting technique? The fact that he was primarily a watercolourist must have informed his oil technique. His work often betrays the appearance of thin carefully considered (oil) washes. I'd love to know anything you have on his technique. Thanks. Ian

Cole said...

Thanks, James.
My guess for materials was ink, then watercolour or gouache for washes, then gouache for the the opaque details.

Ink might be preferable to watercolour for the successive layers of wash since with ink subsequent layers shouldn't disturb the previous.
But he also mentions softening the hair with a damp brush, which you can do with watercolour or gouache but not ink.

I noticed in the Flickr pictures he mentions using a spray lacquer fixative to preserve layers he didn't want disturbed.

James Gurney said...

I checked in the Famous Artist's Course (Binder 1, lesson 1), and it defines wash drawing as using lamp black watercolor, which was designed to be reproduced using the halftone plate process.

They mention what you say, Cole, that an established wash can be softened or even lightened with a brushful of clean water or a blotter. If you do a wash over a completely dry previous wash and are careful not to touch it, it shouldn't disturb earlier layers. It's been a while since I've played with it, but it's really fun — but takes a lot of practice and trial and error.

Drew said...

Cole, thanks for asking that question! If it wasn't you it would've been me.

I remember a few years back I tried to emulate this and was met with utter failure...of course, I was trying to use india ink, which might have made things harder for me than I realized.

This reminds me though - I remember reading that Al Dorne used a wash technique for his renderings. I assumed at the time it was ink, but if Whitcomb used black watercolor, perhaps Dorne did too? I also remember a mentioning of ink dyes, so I could be wrong...

My Pen Name said...

I've heard that graphite isn't good for oil.. but it seems to be always used in watercolor.

My Pen Name said...

@cole et al,
Remember commercial illustrators had to work fast in those days and the paintings had to dry fast - because you couldn't easily snap a digital photo and email it :)

They had all sorts of short cuts for speeding production...

It makes me wonder how 'archival' a lot of these techniques are.. my guess is not very.

@ ian if you like that sort of watercolorist approach to oil also see the pre-raphealites.

Underpaintings has a great post on limited palletes:



Hamerton's Ultimate Limited Palette

SoarsLikeAnEagle said...

I have trouble with keeping a good tonal light to dark balance when using color. Did Whitcomb or any other artist use the grey scale painting method as a base followed up with color?

My Pen Name said...

@soars like an eagle"
t use the grey scale painting method as a base followed up with color?

Odalisque in Grisaille

i think James had a post some time ago about new brain scans showing that color and tone were perceived in different parts of the brain..

so the approach makes perfect sense.

Anonymous said...

If you wanted to achieve a look like the color illustration at the bottom of the post, what medium would you use? Guache? Watercolors?

SoarsLikeAnEagle said...

Yes grey scale as a base then with color overlays. I am wondering if anyone uses such an approach.

Artillory said...

I was practicing this technique with only lamp black gouache and it seemed to do the trick. The grains of pigment allow for rewetting and lifting, but I assume he used black ink for the hair so it wouldn't bleed into his face modeling.

Ian Williamson said...

Thanks "My Pen Name" for the link on limited palettes - this has been an excellent day's posting... Ian

Bev Grosse said...

Looking forward to seeing you in Wisconsin. Can't decide to drive up for Thusday Friday When nothing is scheduled?, or for Friday Saturday? Are you doing anything on Friday??

Chris said...

I have a copy of a Famous Artists book that includes this demo - it states that 'he used lampblack watercolor. Highlights and corrections were made with opaque watercolor white and gray (gouache)'.

MimiTabby said...

thanks for reproducing this demo!!

Mimi Torchia Boothby Watercolors

Kendra Melton said...

You always have such fantastic posts. Thanks for the continued inspiration!

David Apatoff said...

James, I note that your link for the Famous Artists School is to Amazon, where they are sold out of the training course. Actually, the Famous Artists School is still very much in business (http://www.famousartistsschool.com/) and fans can buy the books directly from the School for a reasonable price. I visited the school recently and held that very John Whitcomb original illustration in my hands. All four heads are lined up perfectly on one piece of illustration board (in the days before Photoshop!)