PAINTING THE FIGURE
For those in love with painting figures - as I am - it is a real gift to have the opportunity to paint such a miniature. It is an outstanding piece of work beckoning the painter, and it is no exaggeration to say that rarely have I been so captivated by the painting possibilities of a figure.
Thus it is not strange that I felt rather anxious to start painting as soon as possible, though I must confess I was also a bit frightened that I would not get the results I wanted. There is no doubt that the figure is a real challenge for a painter, a challenge that should match the extraordinary drama of Napoleon's retreat so marvelously captured in the model.
My intention was to paint a cold general shades o as to treat properly the finely sculpted face. Another important point was the effect of dirt and stains found all around the garments and equipment, especially on the redingote (coat) and bandages or rags wrapped round the trousers and boots. The main technical problem here concerns the concept of colour temperature. There are certain feelings of warm and cold associated with colours in the sense that those colours that remind us of the sun or fire (i.e., yellow or red) are classified as 'warm colours'; while on the contrary, those related with water or snow are called 'cold colours' (i.e., blue and green). This a very interesting matter for a painter of miniatures and truly indispensable in this piece. Those painters not familiar with the subject are prompted to get some good books usually available in specialized shops. Incidentally, you can check the article on colour theory that appeared in the last Andrea Miniatures catalogue.
Back to our figure the main goal is to keep all hues cool enough to represent the terrible frost temperatures of the retreat, usually ranging between twenty and thirty degrees.
Accordingly, I used a mixture of sienna with some bits of blue and white for the face's base colour. The lights were painted by simply adding white to the base, and the shadows adding more blue and a bit of brown. Understandably, blue -the cooling colou r- was used generously while warm colours (red or yellow) were completely disregarded. All the processes of lightening and shadowing were applied in a very subtle way, with heavily watered strokes. At the end I added some delicate blue shading on the cheeks and below the eyes plus some reds below the nose. At this stage I decided to strive for an even higher contrast and painted some more lights adding a bit of white to the mixture.
For the moustache and the beard I used black with dark brown.
One of the most appealing features of the figure is the shako (hat): its shattered, broken look plays a symbolic role in the whole arrangement of the piece and it is also finely detailed. I started by preparing a base of gloss black, matt black and dark brown, and added grey for the lights. The shadows were treated by adding heavily diluted black. As a last touch I added some transparent hues of blues and browns.
The cockade was painted with a mixture of white and grey. The red area was painted with a red 'cooled' with a bit of Prussian blue and the blue component was painted with a mixture of blue and matt black. The metal button is gold washed with smoke color.
The scarf around the face was painted with dark red and black treated with grey. Shadow areas were treated by adding more matt black to the base.
The cloth covering the neck is a mixture of grey, black and white with washes of smoke and black for lights and shadows respectively. As an option it can be painted black as a part of the shako cover.
The base for the redingote or overcoat was prepared with a medium grey, matt black, and, again, the ever-present blue. Tiny, successive additions of more grey mixed with white were enough to produce the lights. Shadow areas were painted by adding matt black to the base. The last - but not least- treatment was the weather- ing of the garment beginning with the inner sides. I painted the edges with grey added to the base mixture to represent wear and tear. Then I distributed generous spots of this same colour and others along with a new mixture made by adding khaki and dark brown to the base. The next step was the addition of some transparencies with very thin dark brown on the light areas and with Prussian blue and black for the shadows.
The sash is the only concession to colouring: I thought a cool purple would add strength and some pathos while some bluish shadows would enhance the pictorial quality of the piece. The base colour was made from magenta, blue, grey and white. Lights were created by adding white, and shadows by adding more blue.
Weathering was done with the grey and khaki noted previously.
Trousers could be painted white, brown or blue according to regulation though in fact any colour would be possible during the retreat when the only concern was to survive and men dressed in all available garments. I chose blue because of the colour balance I desired for the piece. The light colour was white added to the base mixture and the shadow agent this time was more black added in the same way. Again, I used grey and khaki for weathering.
The rag or bandages covering the left leg were painted with a khaki lightened with white and the shadowing was painted adding matt black to the base plus a bit of smoke. Dirt and stains were represented with smooth strokes of smoke colour and grey.
On the right leg the base is white mixed with grey and a bit of blue. Dirt and stains were created in the same way as before.
I painted the haversack as cowhide with light spots of grey mixed with white and some smoke in the shadows. Darker spots were painted with a darker brown as a base, marking the edges with a lighter brown and shading the inside by adding black to the base.
The musket stock has a base of dark brown and gloss black with veins in wood colour and black. The barrel, bayonet and lock were painted with silver and gloss black. Brass parts such as the sling buckles and trigger guard were painted gold.
The ammunition pouch was painted with black and brown using khaki for the lights.
The belts were painted using white, grey and a bit of blue as a base and adding white for lights and more grey for the shadows.
When the snow effect was added the shivering infantryman was finished, frozen in time forever to remind viewers of the terrible retreat of that winter so long ago. But there was still a positive side effect that couldn't pass unnoticed to me considering I painted this figure in the middle of the summer: I felt very refreshed!