What is Indirect Painting? Part II

In Part I on this topic we explored the history of indirect painting. In this post, we’ll look at why indirect painting is different from direct painting – why it creates a different “look” and how it can be used to create an extraordinary range of optical effects.

First, let’s talk about transparent paint. During my training as a landscape painter, I was not really given any information about transparent paints and what, if anything, they might be used for. In fact, I tended to think of them as a nuisance and to avoid them, because generally their tinting strength is lower. Like most direct painters, I vaguely understood that it was a good thing to keep the darks thin and the lights thicker.

Eventually, as I began to explore indirect painting techniques, understanding the properties of transparent paint and how they can be used opened up a a whole new way of looking at the surface of a painting.

Here is a diagram showing what happens when light strikes the surface of a directly painted work.  The light strikes the surface of the painting and then bounces off. This mimics how light reaches our eyes on lit up form and is why opaque paint works so well to depict bright sunlight for example.

Direct Painting Illustration
Direct Painting Illustration

 

 

Indirectly painted works, on the other hand, are composed of distinct layers of paint, some passages applied transparently as glazes, others applied translucently as scumbles or velaturas and others in opaque paint. All of these layers may be visible when one looks at the surface of the painting. So what happens when light strikes an indirectly painted work? Here’s a diagram.

 

Indirect Painting Illustration
Indirect Painting Illustration

Essentially what happens is that light passes through the surface of the painting (rather than reflecting back as it does off an opaque paint surface) , strikes the ground or other opaque layer, and bounces back out, creating that “glow from within” look.  So, when you combine different surfaces – all transparent, transparent glaze over an opaque layer, scumble over transparent, etc- you get all sorts of different effects because the light is entering and reflecting and refracting back in different ways on different parts of the painting surface.

This creates an optically complex look that just cannot be gotten any other way. Because the light travels back through the layers, it enters the eye in a more diffused state and creates both a glow and luminosity that enhances the atmospheric look of the work. Shadows look deep, transparent and mysterious, scumbles create air and atmosphere, softly covering forms,  and opaque passages look even more brilliant.  In a way, looking at an indirectly painted work is a bit like an archaeological excavation – the viewer peers through layers of paint and time. The surface invites a long, lingering look.

Autumn Sunrise, Lennox Woods Deborah Paris
Autumn Sunrise, Lennox Woods
Deborah Paris

 

Farm Pond Morning Deborah Paris
Farm Pond Morning
Deborah Paris

 

Winter Morning Deborah Paris
Winter Morning
Deborah Paris

P.S. Our annual online class Painting the Luminous Landscape- Introduction to Indirect Painting for Landscape Painters- starts July 10th. Come see what all the fuss is about! Join us!

What is Indirect Painting? Part I

Most of you are direct painters. This is the primary way that oil painting has been taught for the last century or so, although indirect painting held sway prior to that. I was trained to work in a direct, alla prima way as many of you have been. When I decided to explore indirect painting techniques, there wasn’t a lot of information out there, especially for landscape painters. So, it took years of research- study of past masters, as well as art history, and texts on methods and materials- to figure out a bit about this way of working. Even today, there are just a handful of landscape painters who are using these methods.

Indirect painting simply means that the surface of the painting is built up in layers rather than all in one go. There are many different ways to do this. All of them rely on creating distinct layers of paint which will create a different optical effect, a different “look” than a work painted directly in opaque paint. This is achieved by using transparent, translucent and opaque passages and building up the painting in layers.

 

Before we explore the technical side of indirect painting, let’s look at a little art history.  Prior to the late 14th century, the medium of egg tempera was used for painting. The earliest oil painting technique was developed in Flanders in the late 14th and early 15th centuries. As a result this method is referred to as the Flemish technique. Using a wood panel, artists transferred a highly refined drawing onto the panel. The drawing was then restated in ink or thin paint and sealed with varnish. Once that was dry, the artist would commence painting transparent glazes into the shadows and applying layers of thin translucent or opaque paint into other areas. Each layer of paint was allowed to dry before continuing work and the painting was finished by adding subsequent glazes and building up the lights with opaque paint. Highlights were finally added with thicker opaque paint. This produced a highly realistic, more linear image, usually with fairly hard edges.

Here is a painting by Jan van Eyck  (Flemish, 139-1441) executed in the Flemish technique.

 

Screen Shot 2015-06-15 at 2.36.22 PM

 

The new innovations of oil painting spread like wildfire throughout Europe. Italian artists in particular adopted the new medium although resistance by some (including Michelangelo) remained.  By the late 15th and early 16th centuries Venetian artists, particularly Titian (1488-1576) and Giorgione (c.1477-1510) began to invent further innovations to the Flemish technique. The limitations of working on wood panels and the difficulty of making alterations to a work in progress sparked a shift to the use of a canvas support and a more painterly process for execution which is called the Venetian technique.

The innovations of the Venetian technique involved the use of canvas, stiff brushes and an underpainting rather than a drawing. As a result, the edges in paintings produced this way tend to be softer and the resulting work more atmospheric and painterly. Generally the underpainting was executed either partially or completely in opaque paint and was called a grisaille when executed in neutral greys. After the grisaille dried, glazes would be applied to the shadows and the light areas built up with thin opaque paints. Titian is generally credited with “inventing” the scumble (light opaque paint applied as a translucent layer) and the velatura or semi-glaze which can be transparent or translucent.

Man in a Red Cap Titian
Man in a Red Cap
Titian
Christ Carrying the Cross Titian
Christ Carrying the Cross
Titian

Eventually use of the Venetian method and its many variations became widespread all over Europe and was used for centuries by masters such as Rubens, Vermeer, Rembrandt, Poussin, and Ingres.

Self Portrait Rembrandt
Self Portrait
Rembrandt

Indirect painting, using the Venetian method or its many manifestations, offers the artist the widest range of options for both application of paint and optical effects which can be achieved.  In Part II we’ll find how how and why!

 

P.S. Our annual online class Painting the Luminous Landscape- Introduction to Indirect Painting for Landscape Painters- starts July 10th. Come see what all the fuss is about! Join us! 

 

Water: Color in Reflections

Painting water is an endlessly challenging subject. In addition to understanding the visual science of how we perceive reflections, as artists we also need to think about how to best depict those perceptions in color!  Here are a few helpful color notes to think about when painting reflections:

~the depth of the water (the deeper it is the darker)

~the amount of light coming from the sky (in sunlight we see more color)
~how clear or muddy the water is (muddier water will reflect more light and we see more “water color”)
~from what position we are viewing it (looking straight down we see more of the water color and looking out at an angle we see more of the reflection).

Let’s imagine standing on the bank of a small pond. As we look down into the water on a fairly perpendicular line, we will see the bottom of the pond (sand or mud). When we look a bit more closely we may also see some reflection of the sky. As we look out at the pond at more of an angle, the view of the bottom disappears and the reflection from the sky or trees becomes predominant. What this means usually is that the color in the near shallow water will be a bit warmer and darker (partaking of the brown bottom) and become lighter (reflecting the sky) as you look out toward the center of the pond.

Now look at the trees reflecting into the pond on the far side. If the day is sunny, you will see more color in both the sky reflection and the trees. On a cloudy day or when the light is low, these colors will be grayer. Generally speaking, in reflections of darker objects, you can see more of the color of the water.

Here is a wonderful example of some of these concepts at work in this painting by contemporary American landscape painter Joseph McGurl.

Joseph McGurl
Joseph McGurl

You can see the concept described above at work in this painting. The near water is yellowish/brownish green- partaking of the brown bottom as well as the water color. Also notice the shadow cast by the fish on the bottom. As you look out into the pond the reflection of the sky is seen-darker in the middle where the zenith of the sky is reflected and lighter toward the far bank where the light from a lower part of the sky is being reflected. A few horizontal light lines (reflecting the sky color) here and there complete the illusion.

Here is another example by Clyde Aspevig, another contemporary American landscape painter. Here parts of the water are moving so the reflections are less apparent, but you can still see their color. In the near pool where the water is more still, the color of the water and the bottom of the river overtakes the reflection from the sky and the transparency of the water allows us to see rocks on the bottom.

Clyde Aspevig
Clyde Aspevig

 P.S. For centuries the depiction of water has challenged artists. Its unique properties- transparent, reflective, moving, still- create wonderful visual opportunities. In our annual Painting Water online class we learn how reflections are created and how to depict them, how the depth of water affects its color and value, how to depict still and moving water, techniques and color palettes for water and using water features in your compositions. This class starts June 12th. Join us!

Let it Snow!

Many of us are facing bitter winter weather just now. So, it seemed an appropriate time to talk about…painting snow!

Two of the main concepts to keep in mind when painting snow are value and color temperature. When painting a light, highly reflective surface like snow we are hampered by the value limitations of our materials. Our white paint is the lightest light we can muster. In order to effectively represent snow and its surroundings, we must darken its value just a little, as well as the other planes in the landscape likes trees, hills and sky.

Because of its reflective surface, the color of snow is affected by the colors around it, most particularly the sky. That is why on a bright sunny day when the ground is covered with snow, you will see those intense blue shadows. That’s the zenith of the sky reflecting into the shadows. Recognizing the source of that color and maximizing it helps to describe the snow. In this painting you can see contemporary American landscape painter Stapleton Kearns doing just that. He has used a warm white for the sunlit portion of the snow and cooler whites to depict the planes turning from the light and the shadows. This is a great example of how one might model the snow on a sunny day.  Notice too how the value of the sky has been lowered just a bit and the rest of the scene brought into that range as well. The warn notes in the foreground logs provide a temperature counterpoint to the overall cool cast of the painting. Finding opportunities to include a warm note in a snow painting adds variety and richness to the snow filled world.

Stapleton Kearns
Stapleton Kearns

But, often when we paint snow, it’s not a sunny day. Here is a lovely tonal homage to snow by American painter John Carlson American ,1875-1947), author of Carlson’s Guide to Landscape Painting. The color of the snow reflects the muted sky color, and the close values of grey, brown and violet in the near and distant trees evoke a quiet winter day in the woods. Subtle warm notes in the trees and plants sticking out of the snow provide the needed variety in temperature.

Carlson snow
John Carlson

Here’s one of my favorite snow paintings by Frederick Mulhaupt (American, 1871-1938 ). Mulhaupt has used value masterfully here. The counterchange between the light tree trunks and darker confers behind is echoed by the small triangle of dark water on the left. The violet sky is darker than the snow which helps to set it off and appear luminous. Subtle temperature and value changes within the snow describe the ground plane underneath, and the dark bits of earth peaking through lead the eye to the central arrangement of trees. The remaining foliage on the trees provides a warm counterpoint against the violet sky. Quite an orchestration!

Mulhapt snow
Frederick Mulhaupt

In this painting, I wanted to evoke the memory of a day in snow filled woods. The quiet muffled quality of sound, the intimacy of the deep woods, and my part in it were all on my mind. I used subtle value and temperature changes to depict the foreground snow and describe how it began to pile up on top of grasses, plants and tree trunks. Warm notes in the foreground provided a counterpoint to the violets, greys and browns.

Winter Woods Deborah Paris
Winter Woods
Deborah Paris

Finally, here is a painting by Marc Dalessio (American, contemporary) which he posted recently on his blog. He helpfully included a photo of the scene he was painting. This provides a great example of how he has manipulated value and temperature to create an effective design. Note how the snow value has been lowered and its temperature cast shifted to a very light blue green. Notice also the warm note of pink on the edge of the shadow underneath the main tree on the right and a similar note on the other side of the road. He has also darkened the value of the trees in the distance just slightly and the main tree as well, providing needed darker notes (along with the tire tracks).

Dalessio snow photo
Dalessio snow photo
Marc Dalessio
Marc Dalessio

Orchestration of value and color temperature is the key to success in snow paintings. So, go out and paint some snow!

P.S. Our Values II online class and Color Mixing  online classes are a great place to learn how to “key” the landscape and to understand the concept of color temperature. Join us!

Painting Fall Foliage

It may be hard to imagine right now, but soon it will be that  time of year– when we are all tempted by the bright colors of fall foliage to throw every high chroma color we can lay our hands on onto a canvas! In many ways, painting this season can be even more daunting than painting the overwhelming green of summer. So put down that cad orange and take a few moments to read these suggestions! Painting autumn colors successfully comes down to paying attention to basics- in this case, value, chroma and temperature.

Value

One of the most difficult notions to overcome is our perception of warm high chroma colors as lighter in value than they actually are. I am not sure why this is, but it does seem to be universally true. When I ask students to identify the values in a painting like this for example…..  (Click all images for larger view)

Screen Shot 2014-09-22 at 10.52.35 AM
Autumn Montclair George Inness

 

they will almost always guess that the lightest foliage areas are a 7 – 8 on the Munsell value scale, rather than  a 5-4. Of course we know from our new best friend Carlson that trees are upright planes and therefore the darkest values in the landscape, right? So, intellectually we ought to know that they would carry a darker value. But, nonetheless, when faced with an electric orange or yellow, the guess is always to the lighter side of the scale. One look at the greyscale version of the painting confirms the folly.

Inness autumn Montclair greyscale_edited-1

One other factor should help us understand, intellectually if not visually, that these colors are indeed in the mid to darker value range, and that is their intensity. As a color is tinted, i.e., made lighter, it also loses chroma. Adding lots of white to a color will inevitably lead to that color being not only lighter, but cooler and less chromatic (duller) than it was before!

 

red chroma 2

Chroma

Chroma refers to how intense or dull a color appears. Colors in nature rarely hit the chroma jackpot in the way manmade colors do. Nature is much greyer and lower in chroma than we often realize. So, careful observation is required to convince our eyes we really are not seeing a color that comes straight off the pop tarts package. This is why in fall, when there actually is some chroma in the landscape, we tend to go overboard and paint it more chromatically and too much of it. Use restraint. That beautiful maple tree will look more fetching against a screen of more neutral trees.

 

 

Screen Shot 2014-09-22 at 11.03.53 AM
Autumn Homer Dodge Martin

 

Temperature

Temperature is perhaps the least understood of color attributes. It takes some time to see and understand temperature changes in the landscape and to know where to look for them. But, we can all agree that a fall landscape will have an overwhelmingly warm cast. Overwhelming. So, for that reason, looking for opportunities to introduce some cooler notes into your painting is very important.

Autumn Moonrise
Autumn Moonrise–Deborah Paris

So, get out there and paint the fall foliage! If you get the values right, use restraint with chroma, and add some cooler notes for variety, you will have a much better chance of success in the field.

 

PS Our most popular online class, Drawing & Painting Trees, starts September 6, 2019. Sign up and you will never look at a tree the same way again. Promise! Information and registration is here.

The Vault of the Sky

What shape is the sky? As landscape painters we must remember that the sky is not a flat plane in the distance, but a vault which arches up toward and over the viewer’s head.

Illustration from Carlson's Guide to Landscape Painting
Illustration from Carlson’s Guide to Landscape Painting

 

The fact that we are depicting a vault rather than a flat plane affects the perspective we see in the clouds, the colors and values in various parts of the sky and the amount and quality of light.

But, it should also affect the way we depict it in paint. Specifically, the direction of our brushstrokes! When we want to depict other shapes or forms we often think in terms of the direction of brushstrokes. For example, we might use a horizontal stroke to help define the volume and girth of a tree trunk, or a short curved stroke to suggest the shape of leaves and foliage. So, when we paint the sky, we should use vertical strokes to help show that it is a vault, arching up and over the head of the viewer. Using vertical strokes will instantaneously add a sense of “bigness” to your skies. Even a cloud filled sky can benefit from some well placed vertical stokes. So, give those vertical strokes a try!