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What technique did Da Vinci use to depict smooth skin?

What technique did Da Vinci use to depict smooth skin?

Question from Yasmin, Drawing Academy student

Dear Natalie and Vladimir,

Every time I see a drawing or painting made by Leonardo, I’m in awe of how he managed to achieve such smooth transitions in skin tone. I was wondering if you could shed some light on how he did that and what technique he used.

In this drawing, for example, I don’t see any traces of cross hatching.

What technique did Da Vinci use to depict smooth skin?

My guess is he used charcoal on top of sanguine and then did lots of blending, but for me, these mediums always produce much harsher marks, and the transition between light and dark can never be so smooth. What was his secret?

Looking forward to your answer, and thank you in advance!

Feedback from Vladimir London, Drawing Academy tutor

Hi Yasmin,

Many thanks for your question.

Yes, you guessed it right – charcoal and sanguine can be easily blended.

The “secret” of smooth transitions is applying very light pressure on sanguine or charcoal sticks, so they won’t leave harsh marks to begin with. Then such light marks can be blended using a stiff-bristle brush or a rag, for example. The process can be repeated several times layer by layer, gradually deepening tonal values.

Smudging sanguine with a piece of cloth takes a lot of medium off paper. With time, such cloth accumulates sanguine dust and can be used on its own to make very soft and smooth gradations.

For deeper tones, you may blend sanguine marks with a finger.

Also, when drawing on toned paper, it is easier to achieve smoother blending.

What technique did Da Vinci use to depict smooth skin?

Keep in mind that in 500 years, some particles of charcoal dust are lost, so Leonardo’s drawings may look different from their original look.

I hope this helps.

Best regards,
Vladimir

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