Master of pin-up girls, Serge Birault shares his unique and instantly recognizable style with us, as he demonstrates how he painted his image Alexandra Potter and Tentacle!
Strangely, I don't like painting robots. I'm a fan of Hajime Sorayama and I like painting metal, plastic and shiny stuff, but robots hold little interest for me. When I saw some photos of Alexandra Potter wearing a white, latex robot suit it inspired me to make a ‘techno' image and give robots a try.
Alexandra is a model from Cologne who wears ballet heels, which would seem impossible to walk in but somehow she can. George Petty, who painted pin-ups in ballet shoes, also inspired this work, particularly the pose.
I worked on an A3 format canvas at 300 dpi. When working at such a large scale, you need to be precise. I work in quite a chaotic way and I did my sketch very quickly. I focused on the composition, which is quite simple and, as I mentioned before, inspired by George Petty.
I searched for photo references of Alexandra's face. I usually work with strong light and contrast, but for this image I was influenced by my friend Hubert de Lartigue, the French airbrush artist. He works with very soft lights and very interesting tones and I wanted to emulate this.
My technique is always the same: I begin by putting my sketch on a Multiply layer and decreasing the opacity. I then create a flat area tinted with basic flesh tones on a layer under the sketch. I add more layers above this one, creating volume with the Soft Round brush at a very low opacity (Fig.01).
The Soft Round brush is great for creating gradients and soft blending, especially if you work at a very low opacity (0-20%), making it easy to obtain smooth results.
My palette was very basic. I first chose a background color that would work as an ambient light and then next I chose my skin tones. Realistic flesh needs more than two colors and a single gradient. I added a little bit of yellow on the brightest tones and a bit of red on the darkest.
The most difficult thing to deal with when you want to achieve a realistic rendering is thecontrast, which isn't easy with soft lighting. Finding a good balance is something that can take time.
The hair looks quite simple, but it was very time-consuming. To create a convincing result, I used quite a large palette again, adding yellow, red, green and other colors that you wouldn't expect. Each hair was painted individually; when doing this it's important that you always use the same sized brush. I then painted the reflections on a separate layer using the Soft Round brush with a low opacity.
As I said, I wasn't sure of the pose so I tried different things. Latex is not too difficult to paint; you just have to be organized and work in logical steps. On the first layer, I simply painted the whole body in black and I added the details on different layers, painting in the reflections using the background color and white (Fig.02).
Once again, the contrast is the biggest problem. Some of the gradients are very light. As the light is soft, the latex doesn't have to be too shiny. There's no formula for painting latex and vinyl, but you have to define your volumes first and then you can create the reflections.
Alexandra told me that her feet needed to be taller, so I made some corrections (Fig.03). The final silhouette is thinner than I had in mind and I made changes to the proportions several times.