PART TWO - PUTTING PAINT ONTO CANVAS
The Chiaroscuro, glazes, solid painting and scumbles.
(or if you prefer; daubing, smudging, drowning and more daubing and smudging!)
To all those who can already paint, I apologize for the 'assumption of no prior knowledge' stance of this post. It's just that when I was learning myself, I couldn't find many (old) sources of information that didn't already assume too much
knowledge! Degree of Finish
A common mistake is to try to do too much too soon. With your drawing, you can go from rough sketch to refined, finished product in one sitting.
With your painting, however, you should be aiming toward refining you work; layer by layer by layer; only achieving 'perfection' at your last sitting.
Having studied old master paintings in museums, art fairs and galleries the length and breadth of Europe, I would say that their guiding maxim must have been....
"Do as little work as you can possibly get away with but not so little as to let anyone
think they can do it!"
For demonstration purposes, I am going to do a quick painting sketch of a face using the absolute minimum number of layers - to avoid confusion - so I don't expect it to look very refined when finished (especially not in unforgiving acrylic). After each stage, I will describe any 'improvements' I would normally make but have avoided for the sake of simplicity.
I'll describe the brushes you need at each stage. Anything specialist is not an absolute must - (round) hogs hair can blend very well (particularly with oil paint) as long as it's a clean, dry, fluffy and a large enough.2. Paint...
For both acrylic and oil, you'll need a red, yellow, blue, black and white BUT not any old hue!
You have to know a bit about the nature of pigments for these methods of (fine and thin) painting but again, I'll save that discussion perhaps for a cold winters evening. For now, please take my word for it, you'll need:Yellows
Naples Yellow (optional - by the time you've scumbled white over yellow ochre, you pretty much have Naples yellow anyway!)Reds
English red - it is not just a patriotic statement; it was the earthy red that has been prized by old masters forever!
Transoxide red, or oxide red or similar - I've run out of English red in acrylic (which I'm using for this demonstration) so I'm using transoxide red instead. It's a little brutal - especially for a woman's complexion - but it's all I have.
Burnt sienna - same applies as above.
Vermillion - for extremities, cheeks, lips, etc. and for the solid highlights.
Permanent red (optional - I was commissioned to paint copies of some 19th century painters work - bouguereau, et al - and it took me ages to work out that they must have used a red similar to the modern 'permanent red' to make the pinks for their highlights. I quite like the effect, so I now use it quite a lot).Blues
Ultramarine, French ultramarine, etc
Cobalt blue - save up and buy the genuine article - not cobalt blue 'hue' - it's beautiful!Blacks
ANYTHING BUT LAMP BLACK! - which rarely dries thoroughly, flakes and is often lifted off by varnishing (I don't think you can get it in acrylic anyway).
Oxide black - is the best
Ivory black - is not ideal if used alone (too inflexible) but mixed with yellow ochre ( = verdigris) or English red ( = bistre) for your under-painting, it'll do fine.Whites
Lead white - if you can get it or dare risk using it.
Titanium White - a safe alternative
Zinc white - OK, but not alone.
Mixed white - as for zinc.
Other colours, which I would normally have to hand for skin tones but am not using here:
Raw Umber3. Mediums(i). For Acrylic
A mix of any acrylic medium, (which says it,'s suitable for glazing) and a retarder. I prefer the gel type retarders, because they don't end up streaming down your hand, dripping onto your trousers, drying and looking like something else!
Just put a drop or two of each on your palette mix them together and then mix a little with your paint. If you use retarder alone your paint will become brittle - mix it half and half with a medium and you won't have to worry too much about the ratio of paint to medium.(ii). For Oil
Choosing a medium to use with oil seems to be one of those things which tempts procrastination more than almost anything else. Just take the advice of Thomas Couture (who took the advice of his master Antoine Gros, who shared it with Jacques Louis David, who learned it from his predecessors, etc, etc) and use 50% cold pressed linseed oil mixed with 50% turpentine (artist quality not DIY quality) for your under-painting. Then, with each successive layer, reduce the amount of turpentine by 10% and increase the amount of oil accordingly (the 'Fat Over Lean' principle). When you've done so many layers that you've run out of options, you've no choice but to use 100% oil and wait longer between drying times.
When you have practiced and learned the techniques you MAY want to experiment with the optical effects that other, more complex media may give you (resins, etc) but they WILL NOT improve your drawing or painting ability, so why add this complication?
Allergic to turpentine? Many artists use spike lavender oil to thin and mix their paints with and as a glazing medium as an alternative to the noxious turpentine. I have no experience using it but have seen it mentioned in old treatises as a viable alternative, if a little slow drying.STAGE ONE - Drawing Transfer
On the left, you can see a pencil drawing I did of a rather 'caricaturized' female face (eyes oversized, etc - I'll come back to discussions about the canons of the face at another date). On the right, you can see the outline of this head transferred onto an old scrap of cheap canvas (start with cheap canvas but don't stay with it once you begin to get good results as the weave is often ugly and mechanical. 100% linen - not cotton - is the best stuff and Belgian linen generally considered the best of all - another time!)
I'm also going to skip over the discussion about drawing transfer methods at this point and get straight down to the more interesting bits....... except to say, that I did this one using my trusty piece of home made duplicator paper ( a large piece of paper upon which I covered one side with brown/red pastel) . I place the paper over the canvas and the drawing over the paper and simply trace the outlines. I use a coloured pencil to trace the outlines, just so that I know what I've done and what's left to do. I keep the duplicator paper rolled up in a polythene sheet around a strong cardboard tube. Even with frequent use, one of those rectangular sticks of pastel spread across the (1m or 3 feet squared) sheet of paper should serve you well for at least one or two years .
STAGE TWO - Fix Your Outlines
Why? Because you're going to be rubbing your brush back and forward across your (usually powdery and fugitive) outlines over and over and you don't want to lose them. Because the paint is going to be transparent, you should always be able to 'pick up' your outlines again if necessary.
The earliest form of fixing outlines used ink.
Use a narrow Brush and fluid, flowing paint.
NOTE that I haven’t outlined the outer edge of the lips, only the centre line.
ALSO, I have lined the lower edge of the eyeballs for demonstration purposes but this usually isn’t a good idea either.
Leave to dry.
STAGE THREE - The Chiaroscuro
a. Take two brushes, one smaller than the other, with the small brush mix English red with Black to form a colour called 'Bistre' (originally made from the oak and hornbeam soot of Paris chimneys). Mix with your medium to a fairly thin consistency and start to place it in the shadow areas with your small brush, using your drawing as a guide.
b. Take your larger, dry brush and spread it out by gently rubbing (to rub = frotter; hence the 'frottis' technique) the surface of the canvas. NOTE that normally, I'd spread the paint a lot more with the loaded brush and keep the big, dry brush simply for erasing brush strokes and smoother blending but I didn't think this would come across well in a photo - so I just daubed it on with one brush and rubbed it around with the other. If you're going to copy this approach, make sure you have a large stack of big, dry brushes handy!
c. Here's the 'finished' under-painting (well sort of)...
As you can see, I've already made a mess of it ( the large shadow underneath the eye on the right). That's what you get for running back and forward fiddling with camera's instead of concentrating on the job! Never mind, it's a good opportunity to demonstrate how a painting might be rescued. I think I can correct the size of the shadow in the final stage because it's in an area of light where I'm going to end up using opaque pink anyway.
DO NOT OVERWORK - put the paint on, spread it around and leave it alone. If you ignore this advice, you'll end up with blotches that just won't go away. If you leave it to dry and apply more thin layers, you can usually overcome and correct any mistakes and problems.
LEAVE TO DRY (an absolute minimum of a week for oil, a day for acrylics). The Italian masters used to put their paintings out in the hot Italian sun to speed up drying times and to 'bleed' excess oil from their pictures. Many experts believe that there are sound chemical reasons for doing this which explains why their paintings have lasted so well.
It is worth pointing out, that linseed (or walnut) oil does not dry by evaporation but by oxidisation. So the heat of the Sun would not have speeded drying per se, just the extremely dry micro-climate that such heat produced near the surface of the painting.
Trying to speed drying near a source of artificial heat doesn't work! Putting the painting in a room with less humidity does
Normally, I would apply a few more 'spot' glazes in areas where the shadows need to be strengthened (shadow side of the nose, eye sockets, under the nose and lips, etc). It depends on lighting conditions and how well the appearance of the skin tones fit with the painting as a whole. Now is when I would usually start to introduce areas of 'blue' as well.
For the moment though, I'll stick to my plan of doing the minimum amount of work possible.
STAGE FOUR - Glazing
For this stage, you'll need a soft brush which you can load with quite a lot of (very fluid) paint and a dry, soft brush just to erase the brush strokes and ugly streaks.
The ‘loaded’ brush for glazing is usually of the flat type, with rounded bristles. Softer, finer bristles hold more paint and spread it more evenly but again, with practice, you can use almost any type of brush. If you’re uncertain, lay your painting flat in order to glaze. When you’ve learned to get the consistency of your paint just right, you won’t need to do this any more.
a. Spread your yellow ochre paint evenly across the whole of the surface of the skin.
b. Smooth out ugly streaks or brush strokes with a dry, softer brush. I'm using a pony hair brush but if you keep your brushes clean and fluffy, you can get on just as well with hogs hair if you're using oil paint. I find that I need something softer for acrylic because - even using a retarder / medium - the surface starts to 'skin' very quickly and a rougher brush starts to lift that skin (instead of gliding smoothly over it).
LEAVE TO DRY
IMPROVEMENTS: There's no theoretical limit to the number of glazes you can apply. The final colour you are aiming at depends on the lighting conditions of the rest of the painting. As a general rule for skin tones though, a few more than this will add to the 'diffused' effect and level of refinement. Too many and your skin will lose it's vibrancy and start to look like mud. So it's just a question of practice. I have often read that Titian applied up to 40 glazes. Well he might have done to his shadow areas but if he had done that to his skin tones I don't think we would know his name.
With other objects (fabrics, metals, etc) use your glazes to keep pigments separate and pure, i.e. if you want orange, glaze red over yellow or vice versa (obviously allowing each glaze to dry first). This way, your pigments will maintain their pure brilliance.
Having said that, it is good to mix techniques in the same painting for the sake of contrast (some areas transparent, others opaque), otherwise your painting can start to look like a collection of cellophane sweet wrappers!
If your name is Jean Auguste Dominique INGRES, add a few highlights and go home. For the rest of us.......
STAGE FIVE - Scumbling.
a. Dab on white paint, as you did with the bistre in stage three but this time starting in the highlight areas as opposed to the shadows.
b. With your big, dry, fluffy brush spread your white paint across the highlight areas and into the mid-tones with a gentle rubbing action.
KEEP THE WHITE AWAY FROM THE SHADOWS. Once you've accidentally scumbled over unintended areas of shadow, only a large amount of re-glazing with bistre, browns, ochres, etc will regain lost depth.
That early mistake is still showing through badly but there's still hope!
LEAVE TO DRY
Apply more white paint to the absolute highlights to make them more 'solid'. What you're aiming for is near white in the absolute highs, a 'halo' of pale creamy yellow around those highs falling away into cream for the mid tones and edging toward orange/brown (or orange/ green, orange /blue - depending on lighting conditions) on the edge of the shadow areas.
STAGE SIX - Solid painting (and a little more glazing).
Glaze over the upper cheeks on the shadow side of the face with vermillion (smooth it out with a soft dry brush). Do the same to the tip of the nose, the chin, the earlobes etc.
Mix a very tiny amount of the vermillion with white and paint in your highlight areas with fairly solid (but still thin) paint - blend the edges with a soft brush if necessary. It is this contrast between pinks and creams which gives skin tones their natural colours. If sunlight is weak (early morning or in a 'cool' room), there will be less pink in the highlights and more blue. So the highlights will look a little purple and the shadows a little more green.
Hooray, the shadow 'incident' seems to be correcting itself!
STAGE SEVEN - Finishing details
OK, I know I've rushed this stage a bit but I'm trying to fit this in with paying work, sorry.
Anyway, lips in vermillion, whites of eyes in blue/green/greys (leave a little of the ochre showing through if possible), darken eyelashes and eyebrows and that's about it.
HERE SHE IS......
It has been quite difficult to leave the painting alone and stick to my original plan of using the absolute minimum number of stages and glazes - especially given the number of obvious improvements that could be made.
Still, I hope I've done just enough to give you the basic idea?
Apart from taking more time to strengthen shadows, etc, one major improvement at this stage is usually to glaze your entire skin area or even your entire painting with burnt umber ( possibly with a tiny touch of cobalt blue mixed in). It tends to have a wonderful 'unifying' effect on all of the tones.
If you've been working in oils, you can even add new pinks into this burnt umber glaze while still wet to re-state the highlights (called wet into wet painting). It doesn't work with acrylics though, for reasons I've already mentioned.
FINAL STAGE - varnishing
Try not to think of varnishing as an optional extra. Using these techniques, you will find that the painting won't show it's full potential until varnished. If you're using oils, you'll have to wait a year before the final varnish but in the interim you can use Retouch Varnish
as a temporary protection. The varnish deepens the shadows, diffuses the light and adds another layer to the levels of 'deception'. Try it, you'll see what I mean!
I've had enough for now and I'm sure you have too. In the next post, I'll talk about alternatives, more improvements, shortcuts and try to answer any questions you might throw up.