Wednesday, 16 November 2011

Linseed Oil - Staying Loose

Linseed Oil #2 - oil on panel

Occasionally - either accidentally or deliberately - I revert to a much looser style of painting, allowing a large amount of the ground of the painting and the canvas to show through. For me, this is usually a raw umber tone. When using the stained canvas itself as a major unifying value within the painting, I'm always surprised by how little actual painting work needs to be done to make the painting work.  When I do this, I do no real underpainting - using a fairly dry brush to just block in the basic shapes and suggest the structure of the subject, as quickly as possible -  whilst allowing the stained canvas to hold the piece together in a unified way. The umber ground acts a middle tone for the entire piece and does the bulk of the work. All that's really needed are the darkest darks and the lightest lights, along with some suggestion of structure and mass in the middle range. I suppose the key is to put just the bare minimum onto the canvas to make it look like the subject. The painting comes together surprisingly quickly and, when it works out, I think is much more interesting to look at - warmer and more dynamic.

Anders Zorn was a master of this technique in his looser work as well as Sargent in most of his portraits….

Anders Zorn - Antonin Proust

Anders Zorn - Coquelin Cadet

John Singer Sargent - Robert Louis Stevenson

I know this isn't a new or surprising technique, but I'm always aware that I don't do it often enough. Staying aware of this approach and keeping it in mind is the challenge, and like most people I never know when to stop and usually end up overdoing it and spoiling the simplicity of the painting. 

Keeping this in mind I picked up the old linseed oil bottle again and had another shot at it, trying to stay simple and let the underpainting do most of the work.  The result is above.


Michael William said...

This is amazing Neil. The quick umber sketch underneath that you speak of reveals itself beautifully from underneath the thicker top layers. I have been an admirer for some time and you are actually one of few daily painters that inspired me to start my own blog, so thank you! It's good to see you putting up new work again.

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