Ballet Dancer on Toe

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dania bree wrote
on 29 Mar 2010 8:02 PM

I have some wonderful photos of a relative of mine who was a ballet dancer on broadway  back in the 1920's/1930's.  I'm going to really challedge myself and attempt to paint one of the photos.

Okay here's my question:  How do you paint fabric/material and make it look sheer and/or shimmer in oil. 

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Kisu wrote
on 30 Mar 2010 4:28 PM

Wow, dania, this sounds very exciting and challenging!  I'm not an oil painter, but I think you can approach it pretty much the same way you'd approach it in any medium.  I'd get the main lines of the folds established first, the main shapes or masses, and step back to see how the contours and gesture of the fabric lines fall.  Then I'd look for the brighter highlights and the darker shadow areas.  Try doing these areas in decisive strokes using a larger rather than a smaller brush.  The folded edges of the fabric and creased areas will likely be more distinct than open, flat areas of sheerness, I imagine.  I suspect shimmers could be picked out in spots with the tip of a brush.  I hope this helps.  I'd also look at some of the dancers that Degas painted and drew for some more guidance on how he dealt with similar materials.  Let us know how it goes, as I'm intrigued by the subject!

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dania bree wrote
on 30 Mar 2010 5:50 PM

Kisu,

Thank you so much for getting back to me.  Your advice sounds like a great way to start.  I have combed the internet for some paintings of ballet dancers and have found some excellent reference.  I'm more of a landscape painter.  But every once in a while I like to try something different.  Your dancers gave me the idea, so I thought I'd give it a go since I have lots of original photos and being that it is family member makes it even more exciting.  I'm more of an impressionist type painter and I want to keep that style.   I just need to not be afraid of trying.  I might try a fast and loose watercolor sketch first to define the main shapes of the fabric lines as you suggested.  That might help when I layout the oil sketch.  I need to do something because her custom has a lot scarf-like or sheer cheesecloth material that is layered.  She is on toe standing against a wall landscape mural; very classic of that time.  The photo is also a little faded in sepia tones.  I want to do it in color but very soft tones.   I should look on the internet for colors of theatrical customs of that time as well.  As you can image this will keep me busy for time.  I plan to do an 8 x 10 so I'm not caught up in the size.  Again, thanks bunches.  I'll post again as soon as I get a further along.  Boy, I'm glad all this is written down somewhere so I can go back and refer to it when the need arises.  Happy Painting !

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Margo5 wrote
on 30 Mar 2010 8:13 PM

Dania, this sounds like a fabulous project, especially since the ballet dancer was a relative. You might want to look at Patrick Howe's Dramatic Light. He did a book and video and shows an example of painting transparent fabric.

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Margo5 wrote
on 30 Mar 2010 9:38 PM

Dania, you might also want to check out Radiant Oils: glazing techniques for paintings that glow, written by Arleta Pech.

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dania bree wrote
on 31 Mar 2010 4:51 PM

Margo,  thanks for telling me about the reference material.  I ordered the DVD and book by Howe and ordered the book by Pech.  It's funny, I reviewed both of these sources before and thought I would wait until something came along.  They look like they will be perfect for some of the information I'm looking for.  I'm real excited.  It will no doubt be an adventure.  I've never done so much research before I started a painting before.  It should be very helpful to have at my finger tips.  Now all I have to do is put the right color in the right place with the right brush stroke !  Oh yeah, and have fun !  Thanks bunches !

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Margo5 wrote
on 31 Mar 2010 9:25 PM

I'm sitting here laughing. And I quote, "Now all I have to do is ........"  How true! Glad to hear that the information was helpful.

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dania bree wrote
on 18 Apr 2010 1:19 PM

W I P:  Well here is where I am at so far.  After some research, I discovered that what I thought was a wall mural in the background is actually a wall landscape tapestry.  I choose orange for her costume because I found a poster with my aunt advertising an upcoming broadway show on the internet and also checked a Ziegfeld Follies book that I have.  I was surprised to find that orange was such a popular color back then.  The landscape needs to be completed and her costume more refined.  I invite all possible insights, comments, advice and suggestions possible.  

 

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Kisu wrote
on 18 Apr 2010 4:37 PM

Wow!  How interesting to hear the results of the research you did on costumes and colors used back then.  The first thing that I noticed is that you have given the figure a solid, believable feel to her weight on the one toe.  The gesture of the other, raised foot is really great, but the contour is similar in color/value to the area around it and you might want to strengthen, ever so slightly in a few key places, some of the shadowing on that foot so that it doesn't get lost against the background.  While that foot looks really good, it just seems like it blends with the background as it is.  I don't want to advise you to do something to it that you won't like, so maybe you can figure out a way to address this.

The arms and shoulders look good, too.  The one thing that my eye is drawn to is that the neck area is a little thick.  You might consider cutting in a little from the back side of the neck to make it thinner, otherwise you'll create a problem with the length of her chin if you try to go at it from the front of her neck.  If you cut in some from the back side and it still looks a little thick, you might also be able to take a smidge off the front of the neck without making the chin look too long.

The background scene looks good,very impressionistic.  I would have been very intimidated to have to try and create a color scene from a B & W reference!  Great work! 

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dania bree wrote
on 18 Apr 2010 5:29 PM

Thank You ! Thank You !  I sketched this out directly on the canvas panel with paint when I started.  I was trying to exercise some overall skills all at once. (OUCH !  This is what I usually do for my landscape paintings but a few fast drawings in this case would have saved me some time).   Needless to say,  I really had some rework on the face and trying to get the balance of her weight angled just right on her toe foot.  I know what you mean about her neck .  I still need to work on her costume around her neckline.  Her raised foot and I were doing battle last night at about 1:00 in the morning.  I kept losing that leg in the fabric - I have to work that out.  Does her leg need to be darker behind the fabric folds ?  In the area of her lifted foot - I have some material on the floor that I have to define more and hopefully that will make the foot stand out.  Right now the colors/values are to close.  The B & W photo has been changeling mainly because it is very old and is blurred in some areas.  There were some moments when I asked myself - WHAT ARE YOU DOING, but the whole point of this was to try something new.  So, the plan is to develop the landscape a tab more but keeping it impressionistic, add some details to her costume (flowerets) but make the fabric look a little softer (possibly glazing some areas), and add more depth to the wood floor.  OH Yeah, I need to focus in on an area of her to make the light pop.  Kind of like the highlights of her toes shoes that leads you to her sash down her back that leads you up to her face/head with the background landscape that frames her.  If that makes any sense.  To pull all that off I'm still doing research on the web for ballerinas. I have another photo of her with the same costume but a different pose.  It would be interesting to make the costume more of an antique orange since that is more of the color tone I found in my research.  But thats another saga first I have to survive this one.  Comments much appreciated.

 

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Kisu wrote
on 18 Apr 2010 9:22 PM

I would think that if you just subtly emphasized the contour of that raised leg in some places behind the fabric folds that would be enough, rather than actually darkening the whole leg.  If you plan to do more to the fabric on the floor to distinguish its color and value from the foot, then by all means, leave that foot alone because it looks really good as it is!   I'll check this thread periodically to see if you've posted on it again with more progress.  Glad my observations were helpful, because I'm not one of those people who can always put these things into clearly understandable terms. 

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dania bree wrote
on 7 May 2010 1:37 PM

Well here we are,  I think for the most part I am finished - there may be a few tweaks on her fingers.  I kind of have to let it sit for a few days and see if I catch anything else.  Looking for input, comments or suggestions that may improve the painting.  So, please feel free it let it flow.

 

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Kisu wrote
on 7 May 2010 11:37 PM

Wow--I see a lot of progression on this!  I think the neck looks great now, and the position of the head on the neck glancing over the shoulder looks very natural.  There is a very nice line from her hand up the arm to her face.  I also like the more peachy color of the costume much better now as well.  The fabric has more definition, especially the folds around the hem, and the fall of the filmy fabric is right, just like chiffon should appear.  I also like the way the trees in the painted scene on the background frame her face.  I can't imagine that there's much more to do on the hand, but if you're like me I'm not satisfied with a figurative piece until I feel I'm happy with the hands.  The hair and the head band or ribbons around her head look really great.  This had to have been a challenging painting, and I think you resolved a lot of things well where you had to make some judgment calls.        

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GAINESS wrote
on 8 May 2010 6:47 AM

I haven't been on the site in a little while and I must say, I am glad I popped in. Your painting is absolutely beautiful. It has such character and charm and is painted masterfully. I don't think it needs any mre tweaks. Bravo!

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dania bree wrote
on 8 May 2010 8:27 AM

Kisu-Thank you so much for taking the time to review and evaluate my efforts.  This was a real challenge for me.  I can't wait to take it to my last surviving Aunt who is the sister to the one I painted.  They both were on Broadway during the 1920's.  During the panting process I kept looking at some of the paintings of Daniel Gerhartz.  His is definately not afraid of color and gets some awesome effects.  His figures can get downright mesmerizing.  Once again, I can't thank you enough-your comments are so appreciated.  I really want to try some more of these types of paintings because I have some great family vintage photos.  Now I won't be so afraid.  It's true, you always think something can be improved.  I think now that I've had a few days to step back I will let it be.  I think I will go back to my landscapes for now.  I have a scene from Cerrillos, New Mexico that Is waiting for me to start.  I wish you many happy painting days and it was also wonderful to hear you also sold a few pieces.  Until the next time -----------------  

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