Secrets of the old masters

Learning painting technique from Van Dyck

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This video below is as close as you can get to going to the museum with me and looking at a painting together.

I’m going to point out points that I think are important that will help you to understand the painting process. Specifically the process used by Van Dyck so you can add these techniques to your own arsenal.

Just a little background first: Van Dyck was the painter that basically set the path for the British School, and thus the American school. From the mid 1600’s all through the 1700’s and into the 1800’s. He was Flemish, but found a lot of fame painting the royal court of England. He was the top pupil of Rubens whom he learned his craft from.




You know all those paintings of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and all those other dead famous Americans? That grand style was started by Van Dyck.

Here is a video of a portrait painted by Van Dyck that is in the Metropolitan museum of art with notes and things to look at, under the video.

1) If you pause the video around 12 seconds you’ll see a screenshot like the one below.

Screen shot 2013-01-18 at 6.41.30 AM

What I’m trying to capture is how he painted the hands and his use of, what is known as, the optical gray.

Note: Van Dyck used a layering process. One layer of paint over another over another and he had to use a certain medium to achieve this. This is not simply a guy who is scrubbing on his color on an absorbent surface (like so many students do today). He could paint very thinly, yet by his use of the right medium his paint didn’t look weak. In fact, his skin is made in such a way, it was like he was painting with “pink milk”
If you’d like to learn to understand painting mediums, like a master – check out my Action Plan “All About Mediums”

There are many “academic” procedures around today and a lot of ways of instructing students that go into a lot of premixed tones.

Sometimes a large value scale from pure white to pure black with ultra fine nuances in between is given a number scale from 1 – 10. 1 being white and 10 being black and 8 variations between those 2 extremes.

Other ways that are taught are to use bit by bit modeling where the painter mixes every nuance of color on the palette and then applies it, working inch by inch – in basically one layer of paint.

This is clearly not how Van Dyck worked. It’s not the traditional way. He would get the variation of tone by applying his paint in varying degrees of thickness over an undertone.

If you can’t see this at the 12 second point in the video, I have other footage of the hands at around 16/17 seconds and another time as well.

2) If you pause the video at 32 seconds, you’ll get a screenshot like this:

anthony van dyck technique of painting hands

What I discussed above is very clear here too. This hand is not painted with 1 layer of solid paint modeled all the way around. That grayish area near the inside of the wrist is not a result of first mixing a grayish color and then blending that with a more flesh like mixture in the same paint layer.

There is an underlayer that shows through the overlayers and color and tonal adjustments are made at the end with veilings, scumbles, etc.

3) Mass tones: He uses the mass tone all over. Meaning the general color and silhouette shape carries the bulk of the form in it. Sometimes with just slight additions of lights and darks.

Look at this screenshot from around 7 seconds in.

van dyck painting of a face

Besides the face also showing signs of modeling by the use of varying paint thickness – which I cover and go over in detail in my Instruction Manual The Secrets of Oil Painting Techniques Made-Easy – look around at the hair, the clothes the sitter wears, etc. His use of mass tones is very substantial and holds most of the painting together. But, you’ll see no “cut out” look from him (yes, I know lots of you have problems with that, but that’s very correctable as well, also covered in the instruction manual)

For Further Study

If you want more in depth instruction about oil painting mediums then go order yourself a copy of The Action Plan – “All About Mediums”

 

oil painting technique – what’s it all about

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When people want to know about oil painting technique, what does this really mean?

What was the technique of Rembrandt? What was the technique of Monet? What do they want to really know and understand?

Well, let’s first define the word technique. It’s definition is as follows: A way of carrying out a particular task, especially the execution or performance of an artistic work or a scientific procedure / method of performance; way of accomplishing.

So, when we ask to learn the technique of oil painting, another way to say it would be “How do I go about the task of creating an oil painting, can you show me the method to do so?”

If you notice, the words technique, method and procedure are used alot. I have found that in general ll of these words can be used interchangeably to mean the same thing when people want to learn about painting technique. Being in art school all those years, I can confidently say that is the number one thing the students want to learn – A method to use to be able to execute their oil paintings.

No student wants to just “wing it” with no method, no procedure, and just hope it all works out in the end.

jaimeMany well known artists had differing methods. Many artists that belonged the same “movement” in painting followed similar procedures to each other. Of course there were some slight differences as all people are different and everyone does things differently, that’s just life.

For example, most neoclassical painters painted with a similar method to each other. Most impressionist painters painted with a similar method to each other.

But, before you can get into the “fun” part of painting technique I have to say – when you want to know the technique of oil painting, it actually starts with the pre-painting technique.

That means, if you want to replicate the technique of certain old masters, before you even make a stroke of paint on your canvas, you have to know if the materials you are using are similar to the materials they used.

I know I know…

Learning about materials, for many people, can be boring, but there really is no way around it.

In fact, I’ll tell you why it’s so much easier to have the surface of your paintings look more like modern painters…

Impressionist Technique

You know why it’s easier for you to obtain a similar surface look to more modern painters? Because you are using the same materials they used. Picasso and Matisse used paint that is very similar to what you can go buy today.

There may have never have been a Monet or impressionists at all if it wasn’t for the invention of the paint tube.




The technique of the impressionists is very direct and simple. If you want your painting surface to look like Monet’s painting surface you simply have to take your paint from palette to canvas very directly, over and over matching the colors and shapes as you see them.

It’s all on the surface and there is nothing underneath that is hidden from view.

Yes, there are some slight nuances, and as you get more advanced, these may interest you. Like Monet was said to have drained excess oil from his paint by squeezing the paint on absorbent paper before putting it on his palette. This made his paint dryer and helped him to get the look he was after. Or, you may wonder if he used bristle brushes or sable brushes, or other nuances like that but for the most part his technique was very direct. Mix opaque paint on your palette and bring it from palette to canvas. It’s not complex, not layered and fairly easy to grasp.

This is not the case with other painters

Old Masters Oil Painting Technique

Rembrandt, Titian, Joshua Reynolds, whoever you want to name, couldn’t go order their tube colors and canvas from dick blick.

Therefore when talking about the technique of oil painting, as far as the old masters go, it helps to break it up into 2 areas. Painting techniques, and pre-painting techniques.

Yes, those materials again…

I know that no matter how many times I will talk to people about taking the time to prepare your own canvas or even try to grind your own paint, many of you will just not do it. That’s fine, but if this step is part of the technique for the look you are after, you won’t achieve that look – plain and simple.

If you’re cooking a thanksgiving turkey and you want to get juicy breast meat, but you simply won’t take the time to brine the turkey or prep the turkey in other ways and just shove it in the oven without any prep work at all, you’ll never get that juicy breast meat the way you would if you followed the pre-cooking techniques.

These painters applied paint in a less direct way with materials that were more different then the ones we can buy today.

A list of techniques and procedures to learn

So as far as the actual painting technique I have a come up with a list of notes below of the process of making a painting that I think will cover the confusion people have about oil painting techniques. Then…the real biggie will come after that.

1) The drawing stage – meaning what are the first marks to make on the canvas. Do you use outlines? How detailed are these outlines and what do you use to make these lines?

2) The layering procedure – indirect painting – This way of painting is not simply match exactly what you see and apply it on canvas in 1 layer and you’re done. If you are going to paint in more than 1 direct layer you have to know the layering method. You have to understand how you are going to build up the painting from a blank canvas – starting with the toning layer of the canvas.

3) The first application of paint – By this, I mean other than making your first drawing lines from number 1 above. Before you even get to the actual application of the paint, where on your picture do you start? The middle, the top, The area that is furthest back in your painting? Once you know where to start, how do you apply this first application? Do you scrub it on the canvas very thinly, apply a more solid layer of paint, etc.

Also, you what brush do you use for this application of paint, what colors and mediums do you use?

4) Further applications of paint – When you are painting in a layering method, are the layers planned methodically so you have to stop at a certain point and let a layer dry or do you paint as much as you can in one sitting and then have to know how to proceed if a part of your painting has dried before you wanted it to.

Those are the 4 most basic and generalized main steps of the procedure of carrying out the task of making a painting using the “old mater painting technique” that I can think to break it all down into.

Now, embedded in those 4 main procedural steps are isolated techniques as I’ll call them. I touched on them in the 4 steps above by asking some questions after listing what those 4 steps were, but they are all under the umbrella of one main problem…

How do you apply the paint

When it boils down to it, this is THE BIG QUESTION. Numero Uno.

I could almost reduce this entire article that talks about oil painting techniques, and questions people have such as “What was the technique of Rembrandt?” etc to this one simple statement.

How did “so and so” put the paint on the canvas, and you can change the “so and so” to your favorite artist.

Let’s use an example…How about Titian? Even if he isn’t your favorite artist just go with it for a minute to understand what I am saying.

So, what is the oil painting technique of Titian? Meaning, how did Titian apply his paint to canvas.

Well, let’s assume you have followed a similar procedure to his pre-painting technique and your canvas was a warm brown to begin with. Now he had to do stage 1 from above and do his drawing stage. How did he apply this drawing, what paint, what brushes, mediums, etc.

What layering procedure did Titian use. This article isn’t going to be an in depth report on Titian’s technique, but for the purposes of understanding oil painting technique I will sum up his layering process this way…

Titian used his first layers of paint to establish tone values and his colors were not what the final colors were going to be. Those final colors would come later in the “further applications of paint” (number 4 of my 4 stages from above ) He knew this, so if a woman was to have a strong blue cloth draped over her, the underpainting layers would not have this strong blue and that was fine, he was using this layer to get the darks and lights of the cloth the way he wanted it, without the real final colors.

Ok, so he knows his layering process, now…So back to the main question – how did Titian apply his paint ( and remember, that paint was not like our paint of today )

From my own research (and I’ve done a ton of research on him ), I can tell you Titian used a lot of rubbings with bristle brushes to apply his paint. For instance, he didn’t use a soft sable brush and lay on his paint in a very methodical manner in the way some painters from the 1700’s and 1800’s did. He more likely used his brush and paint like you would use charcoal on paper. He would work from dark to light – or in his case, the dark of the canvas to bright lights made with a thicker application of white –

Now, certain isolated oil painting techniques (rather than the general constructing procedure ) that you would have to learn to be able to paint like him – How he would apply the paint inside those 4 procedural steps would be

How to paint shadows – meaning what colors, what thickness of paint, rubbing them on, making your surface wet with medium before applying the paint? etc.

how to paint highlights? – same as above.

how do you blend – how did he get his soft edges, and many times his paintings have very soft edges.

How did Titian use veilings (called velaturas in Italian) and glazes – these are all special ways to apply paint to the canvas that produce certain effects. If you know what the effects are, you can add them to your own arsenal of oil painting techniques ready to use when it would benefit you.

The technique of oil painting is broken down to the procedure to produce an oil painting and how to apply the paint within that procedure.

The isolated techniques of applying paint are like the letters of the alphabet and the general procedure is like combining the letters together to form words.

How to mix colors for oil painting

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This article will cover different meanings of “How to mix color for oil painting” such as how to get the right color, the physical mixing of the paint itself and more.

(If you like this article, don’t forget to click the “Facebook Like” button)

2 Color Philosophies

First, as a background, it is important talk about two different color mixing philosophies, for lack of a better term.

The first one would be, from what here on out, I will call “formulaic color mixing”. So, let me explain what I mean by this…The old masters did have formulas for mixing colors.  It’s quite obvious when you look at their paintings. I mean the skin color of many of their figures are the same no matter who they actually painted. Most of Rubens’ women all have the same skin color, same of Rembrandt, Titian, I could keep going, but you get the picture.

rubens painting of a woman 1Remember, they were making many commissions and were running workshops. They were not how we think of the painter today, alone in his studio sitting at his little easel. Their workshops were like factories producing products. I think everyone can understand that a factory has to be very efficient otherwise, it would go out of business. Plus, their paintings, many times, were of very important people such as Kings, Queens, Duke’s and all that nonsense. These people either could not, or would not sit for long periods of time and multiple sittings. When they did grant the artist a sitting, the artist used the time to establish a likeness with a drawing and made “color notes” such as a purple robe, or if the person had more ruddy skin or olive skin.

Then, they could rely on their formulas for the colors later in their studio. The sitting with the model could be done to establish tones and once you have the right tones, you could put any color in those tones. Maybe they had three different skin mixtures they relied on and depending on the person’s skin they would use whichever was closest.

This formulaic color mixing would be for landscapes too. They would have certain basic mixtures they could use over and over again. A certain green for foreground trees and maybe a different bluish green for background trees to give the impression of distance. On those large pictures you say with landscapes in the background, you can be sure Titan wasn’t walking through the park trying to find a scene he liked and then painting the landscape outdoors.

And of course, he couldn’t photograph it and use it later.

Even for still life they wouldn’t so much focus on the exact color they saw, they would focus on representing the color they saw with the color paints they had. If the final painting of a bowl of fruit didn’t exactly match the color of the fruit they used, who cared?? The painting would be viewed on its own rather than next to the subject matter so people could compare it to the real thing.

Remember that sentence people!

Okay, this formulaic color mixing all changed in the 1800s when painters started to observe nature more closely and started to paint outdoors more and started caring more about representing what they actually saw. The older formulas of applying paint were not used as much as a direct application of paint.

Artists such as John Constable and Camille Corot were among the artists who really took the painting right in front of nature to the next level. They would still finish off their pictures back in their studio but they were more concerned with getting the actual observation of nature and applying paint to mimic actual light effects and colors.

Of course, the impressionists took it even further. They started painting the complete picture in front of the subject so they were really less concerned by applying painting in a formulaic way and by mixing colors in a formulaic way. They essentially forgot what the subject matter was and just painted, very directly, what the light did to the subject matter and it’s local color.

So when they were painting Jimmy outside in bright light under a tree, Jimmy’s skin color may be strong, but dappled with shadows from the leaves. But, if they then painted Jimmy in their studio in subdued light, Jimmy’s skin color would be totally different.

Bye bye skin color formula.

I’ll refer to this as the impressionist color mixing to distinguish it from the formulaic color mixing.

So there you have it.

1) In the old way, (formulaic mixing) they relied on their formulas, such as – I’m going to paint Jimmy, so here’s my normal shadow color mixture I use and here is my normal body tone mixture, etc. Premixed colors, applied by formula.

2) The new way made painters more aware that color and light effects can be fleeting and more people became concerned with capturing the actual colors rather than painting by some mixed premixed color formulas.

Physical Mixing of Paint

So how about the actual physical process of combining paints on your palette. Well, most of the time it is simply dipping your brush into one color and bringing that color into a clean area of your palette and then dipping into another mound of paint and bringing that into the same area of your palette and then swirling the colors around with brush until the mixture is achieved.

Nothing too complicated there, but here are some tips and notes on the actual physical mixing together of colors.

1) When you are mixing a color with white, start with the white always and mix the color into white. For example if you are making pink, don’t start with the red and add white into it. Start with the white and add the red.

2) As a general rule, start with the lighter color and mix the darker color into it. And, there is nothing lighter than white.

3) Know the tinting strength of your different colors. How much of a color do you need to change the color combination you are mixing. As an example – Venetian red is a strong color. A little of it goes a long way. Even more of it will turn your first color venetian red as if you didn’t even start with the other color. So when you using a color like that it’s beneficial to start with the weaker color first and take ever so slightly little amounts of the stronger color and add that into it.

4) If the paint globs up at the ferrule of your brush (the metal part holding the hairs) – clean your brush before you apply the mixture you just made. You’ll be much happier 🙂

How to get the color you want

Another meaning of how to mix colors for oil painting is “what colors do I mix to get X” Where X can be anything from skin, to hair, to trees, to sky.

Just a note: Like I said above, sometimes you’re better off using the color that you need rather than fussing around trying to get the actual color that you see. That goes beyond the scope of this article and it will be covered in my other instruction.

The 3 properties of color

There are three properties of every single color. These are the things you have to get right if you want to get the color you want. If you get these 3 things right, you’ll get the right color.

First, the body color, prismatic color, color family – any of these definitions will work. This means is it orange, red, blue green etc.

Second, the tone of the color. Meaning how light or how dark it is. There are dark reds and there are light reds.

Third is the intensity of the color meaning is the color strong or is the color very grayed down.

Knowing these three properties, how to think about them and how to see them, etc will help you to mix any color at all.

This applies to both color mixing theories the formulaic one and the more impressionistic one.

redheadAs an example if you want to paint the hair of the redheaded person, I think you would agree as an example, you might aim toward an orange color because a redhead is usually in the orange family as far as their hair color goes. However you just couldn’t dip into something like cadmium orange and paint the person’s hair, you’re going to have to know how to darken the orange to paint the hair in the shadows whether you are using the formulaic color method or the naturalistic color method. Of course, you’re going to have to know how to lighten the orange as well.

And don’t forget – is it a very strong orange or a duller orange?

Indirect mixing of color

I just want to touch on this briefly here. When you lay your color  on in layers over an underpainting you can get a lot of color variation from just one mixture of paint simply by varying how thick or thin you apply that color. The layer underneath will show through a lot, a little less or not at all and it creates variations in color that can’t be obtained any other way.

Personally I love painting this way. It is done using the layering process and underpainting and all that sort of thing. But, in a way it makes painting as close to “drawing” as I have seen.

For Further Study

If you want more in depth instruction, videos, tutorials, and more then check out the oil painting with ethan program

Or, if you’d like a 7 DVD set of oil painting instruction, check out oil painting formula.

 

How to make an underpainting – it makes painting easier

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The old masters would paint in a systematic way.

Each layer of the painting had a specific goal.

They painted with an underpainting before finishing with the overpainting. This made the painting process easier. The problems of drawing, tones, and color could be worked out separately. The artist could then concentrate their full attention on one painting problem at a time.

While Underpainting, there was no color to think about. The painter could devote all of their time to working on the tones of the painting. A very logical thing to do…

…to make things easier!

An underpainting really can be classified as any paint that has dried and is again painted upon.

Your underpainting is where you build your foundation. Your main areas of light and dark are planned out in your underpainting. Some people paint an underpainting in one or two colors and some use a full palette.

Personally, I like to make an underpainting in one or two colors. I will establish the main part of my painting and worry about color later, when I can devote my full attention to it.

Think if you had to type a letter, do a math calculation, and cook a meal, all at the same time. It’s kind of hard to concentrate on all three things at once isn’t it? Painting provides different problems, but they are definitely problems. If your colors are wrong, you won’t be happy. If your tones are too dark, you won’t be happy. Wouldn’t you type that letter better if you were concentrating only on typing that letter?

It is the same with an underpainting. Forget color for now. It’s time to think about tones and drawing. You don’t need the added burden of color right now.

You should want your underpainting to dry quickly because you will paint over it. Therefore you should use mediums that will help your paint dry faster. The less medium in your underpainting the better, but if you add medium to your paint make sure it is quick drying.

Using a medium that has a lot of oil in it is a bad idea. Adding oil to your paint will make your paint dry slower. Of course this is not what you want from an underpainting.

As you add layers to your painting, they should contain more oil in them. This is technically the right way to paint to prevent damage in your painting. Perhaps you have heard about the term “fat over lean”…I will explain this term, to those of you who do not understand, it in a minute.

Your painting can crack, bubble, and other problems will result if you paint a very oily layer of paint as your underpainting and then put a non oily layer on top of this. Why? The layer on top will dry all the way through before the layer underneath has dried all the way through. While this layer underneath is drying it will contract. Literally the paint will move! Your eye cannot see it, but it happens. This moving of the paint will crack the paint layers on top which have already dried and stopped moving.

A good analogy is an earthquake. When layers of the earth that are underground move and shift, the surface of the earth shakes and cracks. We see this as an earthquake. This is what happens in your painting while it is drying. If you have a layer on top has dried, and the underpainting hasn’t, an “earthquake” could result. And then your paint will crack, bubble, and other similar problems occur.

This is one reason you should paint “fat over lean” This simply refers to the amount of oil in your paint.

Oil is known as a “fatty” medium. So fat over lean means that your first paint layers should contain less of a fatty medium (oil ) in them. The layers on top should contain more oil so they will dry more slowly.

Don’t Make It Harder For Yourself

What an underpainting does is divide your painting problems into stages. An underpainting is not a layer to think about color. It is the time to think about drawing and composition. Light and dark. Big shapes. Establishing the main parts of your painting.

Details are not part of an underpainting. Underpainting is a preparation layer. You must keep in mind that you are painting this layer to help you with the paint layers that will follow.

Titian is an artist famous for his underpaintings. It is said he painted most of his painting, the underpainting, using three colors. Red, black, and white. All his stronger colors are then applied in the overpainting after he has worked out his drawing problems.

Painting can be thought of as solving a series of problems.

Painting is hard enough without you making it harder on yourself by trying to solve every problem all at once.

Think of the problems you have to solve.

• Drawing
• Tonal values
• Composition
• Color
• Special effects such as getting a glowing or transparent look.
• And others…

Even if you just take color by itself you have a number of problems that need to be solved…Color can be used opaquely and transparently. It can be used thickly or thinly.

How are you supposed to concentrate on all of these problems at one time? You don’t have to. You can divide the problems up and take care of them separately.

Using an underpainting is a great way to do this. In this way we do not think about color until later. We think only about drawing and composition at first. Getting the right tonal values.

arrows pointing to underpainting showing throughMany people simply use black and white for their underpainting. Some people do a very rough lay-in. Other people do a more complete job on their underpainting.

If you look at the paintings in museums, you will sometimes see the underpainting showing through the layers of paint on top. Sometimes the painting wasn’t finished and the underpainting is very clear.

Look at the illustration to the left. This is a detail of a painting by Rubens.

The arrows point to where you can clearly see his underpainting.

This underpainting was done in brown alone and you can see it very clearly in the photograph.

Here is how I go about painting my underpainting.

I will use only black and white or sometimes a color such as burnt umber and white.

I have no fear of mixing mud because I am using only 1 or 2 colors.

Also, I can freely lighten or darken my painting simply by adding more white or black (or burnt umber if that’s what I’m using.)

I do not use much medium at all. I paint very freely without regards to mistakes!

I can always wipe out areas and start again since an underpainting is the first layer of paint.

If I am not happy with the result I am getting I will simply use my palette knife and scrape off what I have done or use a rag with some turpentine on it to wipe off the paint and begin again.

I concentrate on my tones; getting my light and darks correct. I am making the painting in monochrome. One color. Hey isn’t that great, I don’t have to worry about mixing mud! How can you get mud when you are using one color?

I do not paint very thickly at this stage of the painting process. More paint will go over this underpainting and I am aware of this.

When this underpainting is dry, I can then begin the process of the overpainting. It is at this point that I will gradually add color.

The more I paint over the underpainting, the more color I will add. I will not have to worry about the main “structure” of the painting. It was already taken care of in the underpainting.

When a house is built, you cannot put the windows on the house before you have put down a foundation, added walls, etc…The windows are like color in a painting. And the foundation and walls are like an underpainting.

If you would like full demonstrations on video of me creating an underpainting, check out my 7 Video Instructional series.

If you prefer written instruction, I go very much into detail about underpainting in my Secrets of Oil Painting Techniques e-book. I teach you not only painting processes, but how you should be thinking during the underpainting process. Your thinking will change and you’ll be thinking like an oil painter . This way, you can answer your questions when they come up and end that confusion that you are going through.

 

painting of a girls head

Step by Step To Begin Your Oil Painting

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painting of a girls headI had the following question sent to me – “Pretend it’s the very first time you tried to paint, could you give me a step by step method to get started?”

That’s something many people can relate to. The person also told me the reason for this question…”That blank canvas is rather unnerving!”

So, let me answer the question because I’ll bet many of you have the same question.

First, is the preparation of your painting surface. Most of the time this is canvas, but it can be a wooden panel, even paper. I won’t cover the steps to properly prepare your canvas here because that is it’s own VERY IMPORTANT lesson.

Let’s assume you have the painting surface prepared properly, you most likely will want to get rid of the harsh white of the canvas.

(There are sometimes when you may want to keep the white of the painting surface – for example…When you get more advanced or when you want a very high keyed – bright looking work – Like some impressionists used for their outdoor scenes)

Let me first tell you why I want you to start with a toning layer.

The most important reason is that it will help you and make things easier for you. The old masters did many things out of logic and necessity. Toning your canvas to get rid of the white was logical.

This tone value will play a role in the building up of your underpainting that you are going to start with.

In the beginning layer of paint, when you either leave this dark tone layer to show on it’s own or lightly cover it will play a role in the painting.

1) I want you to start with a monochrome underpainting.

This is the traditional way and it makes things easier for you and I am all about making things easier for you.

You see, dividing the painting process this way separates all the parts of making a painting into their own sections. You don’t have to deal with all the problems all at once. So, for a beginner I want you to start with a dark brown toned canvas. Again, I can’t cover exactly how to tone tone your painting surface here, I am just giving you the basic steps that you will follow to begin your painting.

2) Squeeze out some white paint (a fast drying white) and black on to your palette.

Note: If you ask “how much?” my answer is enough to use. Don’t get so worried about something so trivial. You squeeze out enough paint to use. If it’s not enough, squeeze out more.

You are going to let the darker tone of your canvas play an important role in your underpainting.

Using one of your smaller bristle brushes and mix up a light gray.

To make this mixture: Start with the white and slowly add the black into it instead of starting the opposite way. It’s easier to make a light color darker, than make a darker color lighter.

3) Start Making Your Drawing.

You will now take that smaller bristle brush and start placing some outlines to make your “skeleton” drawing. (this is just one of the ways you can place your drawing) You can use one of the methods and techniques I demonstrate for you in my “How to begin?” course for how to get a good composition and other ways to get your drawing on your painting surface. I won’t cover that here.

Your painting surface, properly prepared will make the application of paint very easy…much more so than if you were to just buy one of those cheap canvases in a craft store, rip open the packaging and begin.

I will say over and over again – bad preparation and bad materials lead to bad paintings.

If you need to, dip your brush into a little bit of your medium to make the paint you are using a little bit thinner and more flowing, only if you need to.

Don’t just add medium blindly, or because someone told you once that you have to. Only use it if you need it…

The same way you wash a pot by pouring some liquid soap into it, add water and then judge if you need more
water or not.

Do not take much paint on your brush while you are doing these steps. You will build up the amount of paint as you go. Of course, don’t be so scared of using too much paint that you barely make a mark on the canvas.

DO NOT: make one outline and think you are doing something wrong if you adjust it. Nothing is final yet. This is not a paint by numbers set.

You are using just white and black so there are really no mistakes you can make.

You can mix up a light gray and use it thinly so that the dark tone of your canvas shows throw or you can lay the gray on a little thicker to cover the dark tone layer and you will see what a variation of tone values you can attain just by varying the thickness of your gray mixture. The thicker your mixture, the more your toning layer will be covered. The thinner your mixture, the more your original toning layer will show through.

Think of drawing with white chalk on a blackboard.

The picture at the top of this article, was created with the procedure I am describing. If you look at the girls face in her cheek and chin, as well as some other places, you can see the gray underpainting showing through.

4) Divide everything you see, in your mind, into light and dark.

You do not care about the color of any object right now, only the tone values the lights and darks.

You can pick if you want to start with darks or lights of the objects you are painting and then work toward the opposite end…

Dark to light or light to dark.

In the darker areas, you will leave the darker tone of your canvas to show through.

You can add a gray that is darker than the tone value you already have and use this mixture for the darkest darks. And, you can use the light gray mixture that you started with and apply thicker for lighter areas.

For the lightest light you may want to use just pure white and lightly add it into the paint you already have on the canvas.

Do not be scared of making mud, as it’s impossible to do just using black and white.

This would be the beginning of your painting…the underpainting – step 1.

You would continue the painting process which would include going over the underpainting again and making things more definite…adding the coloring layers with glazes and veilings and some direct painting. The adding of details would come later on.

But this covers an overview of a definite step by step procedure to use from scratch. It gives you a way to start from your blank canvas that you can use over and over again to produce any painting.

Further Study

If you liked this introduction, I have an “Action Plan” course  called “How to begin?” that you can check out here

Check out the course

Keep on learning.

Ethan Semmel

 

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