An Artist’s Diary – Page 4

Most people think of all oil painting as the plastering on of thick gobs of of pigment with heavy-bristled brushes or with palette knives in an “Impasto” technique. Certainly this is often so and with wonderful effect. I am using some of that technique in this painting. However, some of the Renaissance masters did the base painting in black and white only, then lay on a  series of transparent color glazes over it (letting each dry before adding the next). This gives a wonderful luminescent quality as though the figures in the painting glow from within. Even if you do not use this method for the entire piece, eyes done in the way can be quite remarkable.

I never knew the masters used this technique until about 20 years ago, but I hit on the idea by accident. I was having problems with a portrait. I had made so many corrections on it that the paint was becoming “muddy”. I finally wet a paper towel with solvent and cleaned off the thick flesh paint, leaving only the outline of the facial features. Still, a delicate film of yellow ocher remained with the white canvas showing through. Now the flesh seemed to glow like that of the old saints. There was more work to be done in modeling the contours of the face, of course, but I got the idea and built on it. I have also applied aspects of this technique in the Ezy Boy painting.

Textures can also be achieved by using aspects of this method. Rocks are perfect for this. Paint the rock with an opaque “rock-like color”. Use thick, stiff “bled” paint. Let the brush strokes show. Dab here here and there (like a stucco wall), even incorporate bits of sand or other texturing materials into the paint. Let this paint dry slightly, then scribe through areas of it with the tip of a palette knife, ice pick, etc., accenting the angular planes of the rock, cross-hatching some areas, pricking others, etc. so that the white of the board or canvas shows through. When dry, come back with a dark pencil, lightly hitting the raised areas or use a “dry bush” effect over the raised areas in the same way. “Dry brush” means the paint on the brush is barely wet enough to transfer to the surface (no more). These textural effects can remain as they are, or you can come back with a transparent or translucent glaze of color over them to alter the color beneath or to simply tone it down.

Tree trunk textures are nice in this too. But this time I tried another method.I sketched trunks and limbs in pencil first. Then I filled them in using a little light brown/sap green/ocher color mixed with my Turpenoid Natural (since it has a slightly oily texture, but it fast drying). Now I let the brush move about in the mixture, making subtle dabs and swirls, giving them just a slight nuance of texture. These trees were at a distance so I did not want heavy texturing on them. But I also prefer subtle texture on the bark and leaves of closer trees. Some paint every leaf or every nugget of bark, but I have observed that most of the masters do not. Look at the work of Constable or Turner (late 18th, early 19th centuries) or Monet (late 19th, early 20th centuries) or the great illustrator, N.C. Wyeth (early to mid 20th century – father of Andrew Wyeth). Note in each the skillful subtlety of their approaches which capture the essence of the subject without making it overpowering the rest of the painting or looking too contrived.