How to paint lovely soft cheeks in kids portraits

Portrait of A.A

Portrait of A.A.Chelishchev

Medium: Oil on wood

Artist: Orest Kiprensky, 1782-1836

If you ever visit a museum and see a person with their nose almost up to a painting, you can make a good solid wager that that person must be an artist. Artists love to step up as close as possible to paintings in order to get a glimpse of the technique used to achieve certain results. Case in point the turning edge of a cheek.

The turning point in a face is usually an area where to planes of the face meet and quickly diverge into opposing directions. Often one plane goes towards the light and the other into shadow. We all know that lighter colors pop forward and darker ones recede and tend to look flat. I always struggle with this, because my brain will not accept a flat cheek to matter how hard I try. So when looking at artwork, I search for those artist who are successful at making these two planes work in a manner that the cheek retains it's fullness, yet still stays in shadow. So how is it done you ask?

Remembering what my teacher would say:"Squint and locate everything that is light and everything that is dark and put it down." This would result into a face looking similar to a Picasso painting. A bunch of light and dark geometric shapes butting up against each other. At one point I decided I had to wedge something between these edges and came up with bands of colors, whose objective was to blend and soften the two adjoining planes until it seems that there is roundness. This painting here is a great example of what I mean. When squinting the 1st thing that is apparent is a light yellowish area butting up right against a real dark brownish area. This artist had a genius idea - he put down a warm orange-reddish-pink tone that is rather chromatic but close in value to squeeze in between the two values already there. Let's say that the yellow-ish light tone was given the letter A and the dark brown-ish area the letter E. By picking a value C and blending it towards A he gets a value B (A+C mixed=B) and by blending it towards E he gets a value D (C+E mixed=D). If he had picked a less chromatic color the blending would be real subtle and flat, but by using a color that's more chromatic than what he already had picked, he not only blends the adjacent planes, but makes them pop forward. Compare that to the other side of the cheek. where there is no high chroma color and you'll see that the cool pink he chose actually seems flat in comparison. See how simple a turning edge can be when you know what to look for?!

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