I would say the number one suggestion that I want to make to any new portrait artist is to not paint the whites of the eyes or the teeth white! It can be so tempting to do but it can truly hurt a painting to make this mistake. It will give the portrait more of a cartoon effect rather than capturing a real resemblance.
Here’s the thing, eyes and teeth are typically in shadow. The structure of the face has eyes in the hollows of the skull so the forehead is going to cast a shadow on them. Not only that but the lashes will most likely also be creating a shadow. Most of the time I make the white of the eyes a grayed-out purple made from Paynes Grey, Alizarin Crimson. and White. The eyes are also round so there will only be a highlight on one part of them. The corners are going to be very dark.
Now let’s talk about teeth. A toothy smile can really be a trick to paint and not make it look like the subject is about to gobble you right up. It can be done, but the secret is to paint the teeth much darker than what you would think they should be painted. Like the eyes, there will be a highlight on only the part that is protruding the most so that is where you can make the teeth the lightest. I usually make my teeth with the same four-color recipe that I use to paint skin, White, Burnt Umber Light, Pyrrole Red Light, and Hansa Yellow Opaque. I don’t always use all of these and it depends on how the lighting is in the photo but this is my general recipe.
The rule of don’t paint whites, white applies to more than just the facial features though. White objects pick up the colors of the things around them. If you are painting a person wearing a white blouse and red pants, there is going to be red reflecting up onto the shadows of the shirt. Don’t be afraid to paint the dark shadows of a white subject very dark. Think about it this way, if you are in a room that is almost completely dark but there is one candle burning so you can just barely see the white curtains on the window, do you think that if you took a photo that any part of those curtains would look white? No. You know they are white, but they are going to be represented with much darker colors. It’s the same way when you are making a painting.
You might have guessed, I’m pretty passionate about this topic and I love showing you these little tidbits of info that I know will help you to become more successful in your painting endeavors! Stay tuned for more tips and class opportunities.