Grisaille Underpainting of Sarge

There are many methods and techniques that I use to paint a painting. Here is a quickie lesson in an Old Master technique method I sometimes use called Grisaille (or underpainting).

This is a completed underpainting (but not a finished painting) of my pooch, "John Singer Sargent, aka Sarge." 

I chose this subject as a demo because it shows how to handle a full range of value from black (the lab) to white (his blanket). The "darks" are not very dark and the "lights" are not very light in an underpainting.

Because Sarge refuses to sit for hours and hours, I used my camera and a single source of light to capture him in a typical pose.

I begin by drawing the dog on a toned canvas. I added the ball to make the composition more interesting.

I took the figure of the dog and divided it into light and shadow. I use very thick paint in my underpaintings - no canvas will show through.

Still using thick paint, I begin to blend the areas where light and shadow meet. The form is determined by how light and shadow meet - from very quickly and sharply to slowly and softly.

In an underpainting, when I define black and white first, all the other values easily fall into place.

When the underpainting is completely dry I will begin to glaze in transparent color and build light with thick opaque paint. This is what gives my work that "Old Master Look." I do not use this technique in painting a landscape.

This is a palette of my actual underpainting paint compared to the color white. They are various mixtures of raw umber plus titanium white. 

As you can see I only used 5 values. The deep shadows are not that dark and the highlights are not that light. 

The extremes of value come in the top layers of color. The underpainting layer often reminds me of an old sepia photograph.


Susan said...

Oh Karin, I have been reading your blog for hours and then I went into my studio and started another painting only to realize one very important difference between us - you have patience. I swear I am the most impatient artist - I just want to get to the nitty gritty and get the dang thing done. That has got to be why I think my work is crappy. Your detail in everything you do from the sketch to the underpainting to the layers to the completed painting is so detailed and methodical. I've got issues. Big ones obviously.

Over at "RaisinToast"

My Painting Studio said...

Slowing it down so I can photograph it for this blog can make it look complicated and tedious.

The above painting would take an hour - tops - assuming that I don't make any horrific mistakes that need to be corrected.

"Correcting" is much harder than painting.

You might like encaustics - it is really speedy and ever so immediate. Quick results - sometimes I need that too. :o)

Anonymous said...

I know that Raw Umber is one of the quicker drying colours, but Titanium White is not. Presumably you mix the paint straight from the tube without thionners or other mediums. I use a simi;lar method but with very thin paint on a relatively smooth board. As you apply the paint quite thickly to cover the canvas, I wonder how long it takes for your underpainting to dry sufficiently to start on the colour?

My Painting Studio said...

My Raw Umber + Titanium White underpaintings dry overnight because I use a drop or two of Winsor-Newton's Liquin to speed it up.

But I do not add enough Liquin to "thin out" the paint.

I use titanium white because it doesn't contain zinc. Zinc cracks, delaminates and is an archival "no-no."

I covered that elsewhere in this blog - search term: Zinc White.

L said...

Any reason you prefer this to verdaccio?

My Painting Studio said...

Gosh, there probably a zillion correct ways to paint a nice Old-Master-looking painting.

Verdaccio works for some artists for sure, but this works for me.

I figure that I can only teach what I personally know.

Nirvana said...

Hi Karin,

What is a reason for not using grisaille underpainting for landscape?

My Painting Studio said...

Dear Nirvana,

Of course you can use an underpainting on a landscape - the subject matter doesn't matter.

But when it comes to landscapes - I work fast and loose because a "likeness" is seldom an issue. An underpainting would slow me down too much.