Have you ever tried painting bones? It may have been something you did in art school or in studying the human form. Bones are not a typical subject because of they can carry emotional content, which can be different for everyone.
Having created a large body of work entitled, “No Time for Idle Hands,” that featured the hand as the subject to communicate my visual message, I drew and studied the hand/arm bones many times. This was necessary for me to learn how to ultimately paint the hand correctly and with feeling. I created this series of paintings from 1994-2000.
Recently, I have decided to return to the subject of bones but with a twist. This series is entitled “Your Inner Core.” My focus for this body of work is on the important role our skeletal system plays in our lives, despite our tendency to forget them because they are difficult to see and feel. We often do not give them the attention we should until something breaks or we are in pain.
Where and how did I begin to learn about painting bones that I had not drawn, painted or studied previously?
First, I did some preliminary research on the internet, which is full of images of bones. Photos of bones taken be other people does not tell the story. I needed the real thing – a life-sized human skeleton. Hence, I began calling the offices of my doctors, asked anyone I knew and even posted a request on Facebook. Through a circuitous route I was able to have access to a skeleton that was in a local biology classroom. After several hours of sketching and many photographs, I had my first group of resources. I was jazzed!
Next I had to tackle the artistic problems and my goals in painting bones. They are listed below.
The challenges of painting bones:
- Many of our bones are symmetrical
- There are many long shapes
- The negative emotional content that bones can carry
- We really don’t know what live bones look like
My goals in painting images of bones:
- Make them feel alive!
- Create interesting compositions
- Use color schemes that are appealing
- Make them feel three-dimensional
- Inspire viewers to look at their your own bones with a different perspective
- Create a sense of inner glow because our bone/skeletal system does protect our inner core.
- Add intrigue and mystery via a surprise element (did you find the glass marble?)
For the 24×30 oil painting you see above, “Steadfast Construction,” I started by looking at several of the pelvis photographs I had taken. This vital bone structure is symmetrical which makes the composition/design of the painting a challenge. The pelvis also has many interesting shapes in it that can make it comical. For example, some people can see eyes, hats, elephant ears, etc. What images can you see in this black and white photograph? This adds to my artistic problem solving. Ultimately, I chose one of my photo reference of the pelvis that has slightly turned angle, which makes it more interesting.
Then, to make the pelvis look alive and appealing, I chose a color scheme that is both harmonious yet creates come contrast with the inner glow behind the bones. You can see the analogous colors of blue, purple and magenta. The color opposite of purple is yellow, as you know. This color scheme is called the analogous complement. It a common color strategy found in many paintings. In fact, many artists use it unknowingly because it is a natural color scheme to gravitate toward.
In this diagram you can see the analogous complement color scheme of violet, red-violet and blue red, with a yellow green as its color complement. This color scheme is used often in floral paintings.
Does the pelvis in “Steadfast Construction,” feel alive? I would love to hear your opinion.
If you know of anyone who would be interested in this or my other bone paintings, please forward this post. Your ideas are always welcome!