A master’s pal­ette

Il­lus­tra­tor Anand Rad­hakris hnan paints a nar­ra­tive pic­ture us­ing colours from the pal­ette of fa­mous Ital­ian master An­to­nio Mancini

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Anand is a free­lance il­lus­tra­tor who works in Mum­bai, In­dia, and has re­cently for­ayed into the world of sci-fi and fan­tasy il­lus­tra­tion. You can see more of Anand’s work at www.anan­drk.tum­blr.com.

Mancini was known to have a com­bi­na­tion of sen­si­tiv­ity and en­ergy in his paint­ings, a lot of which had chil­dren and women as the sub­jects. I’m amazed at the way he treated his sub­jects with soft­ness, yet kept images vi­brant and full of life.

Most master artists have a cer­tain amount of re­straint in the colours they use: in other words, they have a limited pal­ette. Mancini started paint­ing at a very young age and his work evolved through var­i­ous stages, from study­ing un­der Domenico Morelli to even­tu­ally be­ing in­spired by the im­pres­sion­ists and their loose brush­strokes. John Singer Sar­gent once fa­mously said Mancini was the great­est liv­ing artist. While I think the abil­ity to use a limited colour pal­ette so ef­fec­tively comes from many years of reg­u­lar prac­tice, it can at least be un­der­stood by copy­ing or em­u­lat­ing the master’s work.

Here I try to take a cou­ple of An­to­nio Mancini paint­ings, break them down and use his colour pal­ette for a nar­ra­tive il­lus­tra­tion that de­picts an un­told scene from the HP Love­craft short story The Dun­wich Hor­ror. The young yet ab­nor­mally tall and goat-like Wil­bur Whate­ley is go­ing through his grand­fa­ther’s books look­ing for a lost page of the Ne­cro­nomi­con, when he hap­pens to see a dog at the door. Dogs dis­like Wil­bur be­cause of his strong stench and he’s killed by one when he breaks into the Miska­tonic Univer­sity to steal a copy of the in­fa­mous tome.

1 Un­der­stand­ing the pal­ette

Mancini used a va­ri­ety of colour schemes and tech­niques, so for sim­plic­ity I’ve cho­sen two paint­ings that share a com­mon pal­ette and sub­ject mat­ter. Us­ing Pho­to­shop’s Color Picker tool I di­vide colours into warm greys, cool greys and ac­cents.

2 Value study

Af­ter a round or two of rough pen­cil sketches, I fix on a com­po­si­tion and do a black and white study in graphite to un­der­stand the value scheme I want to fol­low for the fi­nal paint­ing. This doesn’t have to be su­per fin­ished, but it’s es­sen­tial to avoid a lot of guess work dur­ing the fi­nal stages. Be­cause the light fall­ing on the ground is so strong, I treat it as my pri­mary light source along with some am­bi­ent light.

3 Un­der­paint­ing and first pass

Keep­ing the value study in mind, I start on the can­vas with acrylic very quickly and lay in the ba­sic shapes. While ap­ply­ing my first thin pass of oil, I’m mind­ful of lo­cal colour (mostly warms) and the light source, and how it af­fects the ob­jects in the com­po­si­tion and the colour pal­ette.

4 Thin and thick ap­pli­ca­tion

Now I use thicker paint on some ar­eas while leav­ing some ar­eas thin, to cre­ate con­trast in paint ap­pli­ca­tion. I also start to ob­serve and im­ple­ment Mancini’s pal­ette more in this step while work­ing on smaller shapes and defin­ing forms.

5 Ap­ply­ing the pal­ette and fin­ish­ing

I keep work­ing on smaller shapes and forms un­til I’m fin­ished. I try to take as much as I can from Mancini’s pal­ette, such as al­ter­nat­ing be­tween cool and warm greys for most of the paint­ing, and us­ing reds in ac­cents to move the eye of the viewer around the paint­ing. How­ever, it’s still quite dif­fer­ent com­pared to Macini’s work, be­cause of my cho­sen value scheme.

The ac­cents of reds help the eye to move around the paint­ing.

No­tice how most of the pic­ture is painted us­ing greys and ter­tiary colours.

The sec­ondary fo­cal point. The pri­mary fo­cal point.

Cool greys.

Ac­cents of colour.

A pat­tern helps to add some in­ter­est to the wall, while still read­ing as a flat sur­face. Us­ing lost edges is a great way to let the viewer fill in the gaps and add so­phis­ti­ca­tion to your paint­ing. I use th­ese as el­e­ments to help the viewer’s eye move from the char­ac­ter to the light.

I try out a pro­file sil­hou­ette of the dog to make it look more in­tim­i­dat­ing, but I later re­vert to my orig­i­nal idea.

Shad­ows of warmly lit ob­jects are usu­ally said to be cool. Cre­at­ing tex­ture and hatch­ing pat­terns at this stage helps be­cause they of­ten show through later, un­der the thicker lay­ers of paint.

I cre­ate this tex­ture by dab­bing paint on the can­vas with the brush. I re­tain this thinly ap­plied sec­tion of the folds from my first pass. The thickly painted ar­eas on the face make it look more three­d­i­men­sional and tex­tured, be­cause they’re placed next to the flat and thinly painted back­ground.

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