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Old 05-09-2008, 11:49 AM   #1
Enzie Shahmiri Enzie Shahmiri is offline
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"Subsurface Scattering" - Light Throught Skin Effect




One of my favorite blogs is Gurney Journey . This blog is written by a very talented illustrator James Gurney, who created the Dinatopia Illustrations. Check it out!

James has been addressing the phenomenon of Subsurface Scattering and has had me thinking about it since last night.

When light enters transparent skin, such as fingertips or ear lobes on the far side, it bounces around the thinner layer of skin, eventually reemerging through the surface. If you were to hold your hand up against the light for example, the fingertips would show a brightness where the skin is the thinnest. When one translates this into a painting two things have to occur. The area that appears to be emanating light has to be more chromatic and the chromatic area has to be surrounded by denser non reflective skin painted in more mutes values. By playing either chromatic color against muted (grayed down) color or by having a much lighter value against a much darker one, the appearance of that glow can be recreated.

Now if we were to extend this phenomenon to babies or children of very fair complexion the surface layer of skin has to be somewhat translucent.

How do you achieve that glow, without turning pasty, when you are dealing with such light values, with .5 value shifts, where playing one shade against the other becomes much more difficult?
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Old 05-09-2008, 02:00 PM   #2
Richard Monro Richard Monro is offline
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Scrumbling

Enzie,

I use scrumbling technique to achieve this glow. Sometimes I'll even use two or three different colors to achieve the wonderful translucent glow illusion. I usually use an opaque paint to scrumble with, although I have occasionally used a more translucent paint with interesting effect.

I use a worn out brush as scrumbling wrecks havoc on a brush. Make sure the brush paint load has been wiped virtually dry on a paper towel before applying to the canvas. Try out your color selections on a scrap piece of canvas before applying the scrumbling technique to your painting. Don't be afraid to apply a complementary color to create a vibrancy as it can bring real life to skin tones.
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Old 05-09-2008, 05:12 PM   #3
Clayton J. Beck III Clayton J. Beck III is offline
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Clayton J. Beck III "Light Throught Skin Effect"

Thanks Enzie,

Great link to Gurney Journey. Very interesting and I'll be sure to pass it on to my students.

Sargent and Zorn covered this effect with opaque brushstrokes and Schmid often uses a transparent wash to emulate the transparency of these skin areas which transmit light. It's not a mystery, only a careful study in value and edges coupled with a strong sense of the color range of the surrounding area. Juxtapositioning is the key. Control your entire painting to allow these areas to pop and not be interfered with by nearby and challenging values and colors.

Zorn probably used it the most. He often positioned his sitters near a window and allowed light to pass through the ear. Sorolla also created this effect well in his sunlit subjects on the beach. He used transparent and opaque effects interchangeably to create the effect.

Great post!,
Clayton

Here are two of my examples. They are both demos for my students to explain this very effect. The second is the case of reflected light and the other the effect of transmitted light (on the ear and the nose). Fun to study, don't get too wrapped up in it though, it's just a parlor trick, but still FUN.
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Old 05-09-2008, 05:20 PM   #4
Richard Monro Richard Monro is offline
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Additional scrumbling thoughts

When the scrumbling brush is quite dry, it deposits little points of color over the background color, much like a pointillist gone mad. Those bits of color are almost invisible to the eye. Therefore, the key to good scrumbling technique is a very dry brush and many layers until the desired effect is achieved.

Sometimes I like to scrumble a dark saturated color over a light background or a light saturated color over dark background. If the scrumbling color is a good complement, the painting begins to develop the vibrant, luminous quality that is found in many impressionistic paintings without being so obvious about how the quality is accomplished. A little advance planning is required in selecting a proper value of the background so that when the scrumbling technique is completed the final combined color value is correct.
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Old 05-10-2008, 11:07 AM   #5
Enzie Shahmiri Enzie Shahmiri is offline
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Richard,

I have been reading your wonderful response with great interest and like to thank you for your reply. I don't recall using a complimentary color before, so I might give this a try.

Does anyone else like to share how they go about this?
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Old 05-11-2008, 06:56 PM   #6
Enzie Shahmiri Enzie Shahmiri is offline
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Clayton, you must have posted while I was typing, so I missed your wonderful reply.

Quote:
a careful study in value and edges coupled with a strong sense of the color range of the surrounding area. Juxtaposition is the key.
YES! You hit it on the nail, it all makes sense now. Great examples, by the way...
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Old 05-13-2008, 09:31 AM   #7
David Clemons David Clemons is offline
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Notice the higher level of chroma present in these situations. In the effect of translucency of skin, particularly at the ear, I find it helpful to keep the underpainted layer lean and bright.
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Old 05-14-2008, 11:16 AM   #8
Enzie Shahmiri Enzie Shahmiri is offline
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Thank you David, yes I see what you mean.
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Old 05-14-2008, 11:39 PM   #9
Mary Ann Archibald Mary Ann Archibald is offline
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I subscribe to the GJ too and look forward to reading it every day. Loved the post you referred to.
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Old 05-15-2008, 09:51 AM   #10
Enzie Shahmiri Enzie Shahmiri is offline
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Mary Ann, thank you. I try to read GJ as often as I can as well. James is very knowledgeable and I love his sense of humor. I loved his post about painting hair, where he actually donned a mop! I was laughing so hard, tears were coming down my cheeks!
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