Tuesday, 4 November 2008

Veneer of Vermeer

We can't really discuss Vermeer without entering into the realms of Flemish Painting technique. There have been many different schools of painting throughout history and each has created their own definitive step by step method for completion of a picture.

The Flemish method is widely regarded as consisting of seven steps, working from dark to light and focusing on translucent shadows. It is the building up of the colours in many layers that gives each picture its depth.

Step 0ne.

The artist would complete a pencil drawing often on paper of the finished composition
This drawing would be transferred to the canvas...small pin pricks could be put through the lines of the drawing to create a dot to dot effect.
The punctured drawing was laid over the canvas and dusted with chalk in a
"pounce bag". This would leave a marked outline on the canvas.

Step two

The canvas would be inked. The outlines would be marked with a dark ink so that the composition could still be seen. Pencil marks would be washed away by the oils and so were useless.

Step Three

Imprimatura...this is just the first oil layer. A light wash in a neutral olive/umber hue was laid over the composition. The darkness of this wash could reflect the darkness of the following picture. For lighter swathes of canvas it was kept light but Flemish painters did not reserve highlights. These are all added in the final layers.

Step Four

The Umber under layer... A tonal painting of the composition is completed. This gives you the basis for all your lights and darks throughout the process.

Step Five

The Dead Under layer...The aim of this layer is Penumbra. The picture should look as though it is lit by moonlight. To this end the colours used are white,light ochre,red ochre,burnt umber,blue and black. You have already chosen the tonality in the umber layer and you rely on it for the dead layer only pushing the darks and lights slightly.

Step Six

First Colour Layer...Finally you get to add the colour.The idea here is to make the shadows more colourful with washes and to build up the highlights with a pastier mix of light colour( Impasto )

Step Seven

Finishing layer...At this stage the objects are given their final colour and shape.
Working mostly on the highest of highlights and of course the signature.

Of course this is just a rough guide. Just as many artists play with the rules these days many artists back then would have used two separate Umber layers and more of them would have completed their pictures with three, four or more coloured glazes...often with weeks of drying time in between.

Now that we have visited the Flemish technique it is time to see whether we can adapt any of this information to work in a different( not oily ) medium.
How about coloured pencil ...?
Can we use a similar technique to gain a similar depth of colour in pencil ?

Well...it has to be worth a try !


Karen said...

I am totally hooked and can't wait for the next instalment!

Phil Davis said...

Hi Rachel, I can tell already that this is going to be a fascinating blog.On a purely selfish note, my oldish eyes have some problems with some of the text on the dark background. Look forward to future instalments, all the best, Phil.