This semester, I’m taking Oil Painting Techniques with Victor Wang. During the course of the class, we will learn three major old master’s oil painting techniques: Jan van Eyck, Titian (Tiziano Vecellio), and Peter Paul Rubens. Currently, we are working on the van Eyck method of painting. I’ll go into more detail later about the other styles (once we get to them!).
We started with a 14 x 16 inch piece of tempered masonite (smooth on both sides) and sanded one side down. Victor showed us how to make chalk gesso the traditional way with Titanium Dioxide, Gypsum and Rabbit Skin Glue (I’ll discuss the recipe in a separate entry) and showed us how to grind it. We then put a couple of layers of the gesso on our panels, sanding in between. Once there was enough gesso applied, we gave it one last good sand to make sure the surface was nice and smooth. A smooth surface is very important to the van Eyck technique.
Next, we got to sort through all the props available for still lifes and pick what we might want to paint. I and two other students are sharing our set-up, so we all had approval/veto rights to select the composition that might be good for each of us at different angles.
Then we each began trying to find the view of the still life that we wanted to focus on and drew the composition onto a piece of newsprint. Once the image was laid out the way we wanted, we flipped the paper over and coated the back with vine charcoal. We then placed this carefully over the gessoed front of our panel and taped the top of the image securely on the back of the panel, so that it wouldn’t move while we redrew over the top of our original drawing, transferring the lines onto the panel below, hoping to keep the proper proportions to everything. Once the image was successfully transferred, the new drawing on the panel was fixed with spray fixative.
From there, each student took a brown pen (I used a permanent ink Pigma pen) and went over the lines of the transferred drawing, setting a firm foundation to each successive layer of painting.
Once the ink drawing was complete, we mixed a verdaccio color (yellow ochre, ivory black and a little titanium white if necessary) and applied all the paint over the surface of the panel, using 1:4 or 1:5 ratio linseed oil/turpenoid medium to help coat the panel and create a seal on the gesso. Chalk gesso is very dry and tends to soak the oil out of anything you put on it, so it often takes a layer of Liquin or linseed oil before each painting session in the early stages to keep the paint from absorbing too much and leaching out the color. The verdaccio is applied and then wiped with a soft paper towel or rag to even out the application and wipe off extra oil and paint.
Next class, we began to define the mid-tones and the shadows of the composition with a burnt umber underpainting layer, to establish the image more fully and begin to add depth. I’m finding this layer difficult, because I’m only using one color and I can only use medium to adjust the darkness/lightness of the image. Who knew it could be so hard to paint deep shadows with one color? This stage goes very slowly because there is a lot of detail to the underpainting, depending on your design, and I’m about 1/2 to 2/3 of the way through this layer after 3-4 painting sessions, after around 10 hours or so of painting so far. From what I understand, the next layer is the local color layer, so I’ll have to post more once we get to that level. Hopefully it will go a lot more quickly!