Suranne Jones portrait – a study of light, shade, texture and composition

Using a photo of actress Suranne Jones I wanted to explore a slightly different approach to composing an image. I constructed the darker areas first and then painted over with the light.

Blending was once again achieved with a damp brush and the gel pen for fine hair styling.

This is my favourite so far since it is much more of an artist’s solution than anything technical or methodical. I also refrained from shading with charcoal since the image was fairly contrasting in tone already.

Finally I worked on two layers. The lower layer is the crude composition of colour and tone whilst the layer above is a duplicate that I use to apply blending.
I lose detail around the eyes when blending so I set the eraser to large scale and around 30% opacity and carefully erased areas of the top layer. This partial revelation of the crude layer beneath provides a wonderful texture to the image.

Step 1. Crude (very crude) painting

All but the eyes get a very quick treatment of wet paint here. As I’ve mentioned before I’m a big believer in breathing life in to the portrait through the eyes. I focus on the detail of each eye and zoom in and out frequently to achieve the desired effect.

You can see that the initial marks that go down to represent the hair are really just there to identify differences in light and tone. There is no consideration for strict composition or texture. That comes next.

Step 2. Some fine tuning
Switching tools to the blend/blur tool in Procreate and selecting the gel pen I can now focus a little more on “pulling” the hair through each shade. Of course it’s vital to obey the direction of the hair as it falls around the model’s head. Also vital to consider are the roots and how they dictate the flow of the hair. Flicking between reference layer and active layer I can quickly deduce the hair lines and start to create some shape and texture.

I enjoy pulling the hair in to place. It’s quite a theraputic exercise and immediately satisfying. A good image relies on a good starting point. i.e. a good reference photograph. The image that I used of Suranne was beautifully lit and very natural. Her naturally dark hair does wonders with a single light source and throws up a multitude of shades. I’m not precious about being precise with each hair, more I want to simply represent her hair. 

Step 3. Blending the face
I much prefer the term blend to blur. I don’t much like blurring tools since they imply a loss of detail and texture. I’d rather think of the process as merging or blending two neighbouring areas of the image.
As with the previous couple of portraits I obey the directions around the model’s face.
Suranne has a wonderful shape to her face and a real youthfulness. It would be stupid to leave such a large amount of crude and dark lines around her cheeks and mouth.

But alas I fear I went a step too far.
The eyes have lost something. They no longer have that wonderful, crude texture that appeared to give them life. It all looks a bit too plasticine now and I don’t want that. I want the textures back.

Step 4. Backpedal a bit
Procreate allows me to work in layers. So I return to the previous layer that you saw in step 2.
That layer still contains those textured (crude) marks that I first laid down to construct the shape of the face.
I don’t want to bring it all back just a little around the eyes and hair line.

As previously described I select the eraser tool and set it to the water brush at about 30% opacity.
Carefully brushing around the eyes on the upper most layer I start to see some texture reappear from the layer beneath. The mixture of the two layers works much better for me. It looks far more like an artist’s representation rather than a computer.
I continue the process sparingly and include the areas under the hair and around the ear.

Step 5. The final image
I set the final image to a black background. There’s probably an argument for using some lighting in there but for now I quite like the stark “blackness” of it.
It’s pleasing to me to accept that you can go too far with this and that there needn’t be any right or wrong in terms of the final piece.
It’s pretty much about achieving the effect that I wanted to achieve. That is, matching the vision that I’d had for the image all along.
Procreate on iPad lets me accomplish all of this.