For the past few years, I’ve been a participant in an annual arts festival at my medical school. This year, I specifically painted a portrait of my skeleton buddy- dubbed “Arthur” after the movie starring Dudley Moore (I like to think of him as a fun-loving skeleton)- for the event. I really wanted to use oils. I forgot how much I love the smooth texture of oil.
However, I also needed him to be show ready for display in a matter of days, and oil can take weeks to months to truly dry. I decided to use acrylics.
First, I positioned him to where I was satisfied with the angle and shadows. Skeletons can look sad, angry, or pensive, depending on where the light is hitting the orbits. I made a rough outline in brown, and slowly started filling in the darker shadows of his face. As the painting became muddy with brown, I started having trouble seeing my original outlines, and so began using a bold, blue paint to repaint over critical parts I needed to visualize.
The blue was a wise choice. I didn’t notice it before, but I’ve been on a blue and brown kick for a few years now.
Along with shadows, I began filling in the highlights with a bone white color- I just mixed white with brown and added a tiny bit of yellow. Sometimes for fun, I like to restrict my colors to only 2 or 3 when doing freehand paintings, but I let myself use whatever colors I desired with Arthur’s portrait. He’s all bone; to make white less boring, I used many different tints of white. I played with the idea of using a bright color for the background- like a lime green or fascia- but was ultimately inspired by the chocolate I was eating at the time; a rich, dark brown background would really make all the whites stand out.
As I painted, I was reminded of a Van Gogh painting- of a skeleton with a lit cigarette. The background in that painting was also very dark. I suppose I’m still on a Van Gogh kick, too.
At some point, my house plant leaned into the painting’s backdrop, but I decided I really liked the green color behind Arthur’s skull. So, I incorporated the leaf. And, to better see Arthur’s ribcage, I put a black poster board behind him. He was a good model.
At the art show, people really seemed to enjoy the finished piece: