Trying to figure out techniques of Old Masters I chose a simple composition and dramatic light. I am mesmerized by chiaroscuro effect (a contrast of light and dark) in the old paintings and especially Caravaggio. It has proven to be very hard to find a good detailed description of oil glazing method the way they did it back then. I read numerous books containing sparse and cryptic outlines, and as a result tried a sequence of steps that some authors attribute to Caravaggio himself, others call it the Dutch or Flemish technique used by Jan van Eyck and his contemporaries.
I planned to document each step, but it didn’t work that way. I would get all caught up painting and forget to stop and photograph various stages. But I have the main steps captured.
I did a detailed charcoal drawing of my still life on gessobord. I fixed the charcoal with workable fixative and let it dry. Then I covered the entire surface with initial oil layer called Imprimatura. I used Burned Sienna for that because of the fast drying properties of oil earths and to create warm undertones. I let that dry completely.
The next stage was Grisaille underpainting. This is a monochromatic painting, basically a grayscale to establish values, and is done using lean oils in dark and white. It is sometimes called Dead Layer. Or when it is done with an earth color, like I did here using Burnt Umber, it is called Verdaccio.
It is a very important step and has to be done just right because it is hard to fix values later. I spent a lot of time here. Then I let it dry for several days.
Now it was time to bring in color glazes. I had a bunch of trouble here because I couldn’t figure out my glazing medium. I tried using my general Galkid Lite oil medium, but it was too thick and viscous to spread out the way I wanted. I got another medium recommended in one of my books, but it gave me a blindingly shiny paint film, so sparkly that I thought I’d have to junk this painting. Finally I tried a very liquid medium, practically a plain linseed oil, and it worked. While I was struggling with my medium problem I stopped taking photos because I thought I would have to abandon this painting and start over. The photo above was taken when I managed to quiet down the shine.
It didn’t take many glazes to get to the final values, maybe 4 or 5. Probably because I spent all this time with my Grisaille layer, and my values were well defined. At this point the painting was pretty much painting itself. When I got close to completion I added details, dots and imperfections on the pears’ skin, deepened the background and painted the texture on the wooden box. Then I added one more glaze of colors to the pears to unify everything. Finally I painted the last glaze of pure medium to even out the sunken areas. Finito!
Many of my friends and family are of the opinion that I should start marketing my work. These little painting tiles are perfectly sellable, they say. I finally gave in and after some research and oscillation chose an online gallery Daily Paintworks. Check it out for many wonderful original paintings and an amazingly talented group of artists. I am happy to be in such a great company! Here’s the beginning of my galleryon the Daily Paintworks site.
6″ x 6″ (15 x 15 cm) oil on gessobord panel.