The color on the skull needs to be a warmer white, but otherwise good so far. Still have to put local color on the back wall, pitcher, plate below the pitcher and darker background fabric. Then I can begin modeling the shadows with darker tones.
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!
These are my class notes from our egg tempera demo in the Survey of Painting Materials class. Enjoy!
The lecithin of the egg yolk is the emulsion binder for egg tempera. (More info on egg yolks here: http://www.joepastry.com/2013/egg-yolk/ or http://imaginationstationtoledo.org/content/2011/04/the-anatomy-of-a-chicken-egg/
- Separate the egg yolk from the white
- Roll the yolk around in your hand or a towel to get any remaining binder off (dilutes the binder)
- Hold onto the yolk “sack” to squeeze out as much of the insides of the yolk as you can
- The fresher the egg, the better; the older the egg gets, the more it loses lecithin and protein
- Add about 1 tsp of water to your egg yolk
- If you want your paint to dry faster, use less water; slower, use more water
- 1/2 tsp to 2 tsp is usually a good range
- never use more than 2 tsp, the paint won’t bind properly
- Add 1 drop of vinegar to preserve the egg in the refrigerator
Before adding pigment, it’s best to let the egg/water/vinegar mixture rest for about 10-15 minutes to bind together properly. If stored in a good cold fridge, the mixture can last up to a week, week and a half. Trust your nose! Give it a good whiff every time you take it out. If it smells funky, it’s time to make a new mixture. The fresher the egg the better, preferably organic. It really makes a difference! The binding qualities are better with fresher eggs.
Our professor recommended this book, which I will hopefully obtain a copy of soon: The Practice of Tempera Painting: Materials and Methods by Daniel V. Thompson
The benefit of egg tempera over oil paint is that the color doesn’t fade or yellow over time (the egg protects from UV light). The yellow of the yolk goes away as the paint dries, but the colors stay clear & fresh.
Some artists like to lay down a verdaccio underpainting first (usually a greenish-grey tinted painting – the color is a mixture of black and yellow ochre or green oxide). For an example, please see my earlier post about the verdaccio underpainting I did for my Wyeth study: Verdaccio underpainting.
Verdaccio underpaintings help set the composition of the image and are especially helpful with portraiture, as the greenish undertone compliments the warmer skin tones as they are thinly layered over the top. Botticelli built up many layers of color in this way, green underneath and warm tones over top. He even painted freckles and other marks on the skin and then added a couple more layers of color to help make the freckles feel as if they were truly part of the skin tone. This is called “pedimenté” (not sure of spelling) – when you are able to see changes in the layers underneath the top layer of the painting.
For underpainting with egg tempera, you can use:
- Water-based ink
- Dry pigments
Then, basically, just slowly build up the layers of the painting, allowing each layer time to cure in between, so you don’t pick up color from the lower layers or cause chipping if the previously painted layer gets too wet and brittle. It’s good to start with darker or mid-tone colors first, and build up to lights. The lights are a little more translucent, so you can still see some of the color below coming through.
Other techniques that can help the egg tempera look more realistic and add depth:
- Occasionally use dry brush to block in hair and areas that need to pick up more light
- Scratch through upper layers down to the underpainting to hint at really fine hairs or lines
- You can actually use white with egg tempera in the final layers, unlike watercolor, since egg tempera is more opaque. If the egg tempera mixture ratio is good, you can scratch through the layers. If it has too much water, it will act more like watercolor and won’t scratch away.
When you are done, apply a couple of thin layers of the egg yolk, vinegar and water mixture (allowing dry time in between) to even out any matte vs. shiny spots & to seal in the color. When those layers are completely dry, buff with a really soft, lint free rag, to give the piece a final luminous sheen.
Other valuable sites:
I worked on my Wyeth study for a few more hours last night, and I think I can finally call her complete! About 12-16 hours worth of painting in about 5-6 painting sessions.
This is where the painting was after the 4th class session:
This is my finished piece:
And for quick reference, this is the original painting detail I was doing the study of: