Book Notes Quotes

Book Note of the Day: The Royal Road in Art

There is no royal road in art. In this department of life, as in every other, the student must serve before he can govern. He must learn to construct, to draw, to paint, to observe, and select.

—From the preface of Alfred East's, "Landscape Painting in Oil Colour," Philadelphia, J. B. Lippincott Company, 1908

This book is available as a free PDF file here:

Book Notes

Book Note of the Day: the Importance of Instinct

Velazquez, like every great artist, tempered his method with doses of instinct.

—From Jonathan Brown and Carmen Garrido's "Technique of Genius", Yale University Press, 1998.
Book Notes

“Sinking In” – When Oil Paint Dries Dull and Matte on the Canvas and Why

“Sinking in” is the term used to describe what happens when a layer of paint loses its saturation. If you, like me, often use an earth palette, then this effect can easily be seen when a layer of Raw Umber or Burnt Umber has dried.

So why does it happen and what should be done about it?

It seems a simple question to a problem I believe is rather ubiquitous. As such, a straight-forward explanation and solution should be easy to find, right?

Not so. My understanding of the problem has evolved over the decades in an organic fashion, but never had I found what felt like a clear and direct diagnosis. Until now. What follows is an explanation I discovered that makes perfect sense… from a book published in 1912: The Technique of Painting by Charles Moreau-Vauthier.

On page 105 of the publication (page 157 in digital format) he introduces the topic with the following commentary:

Artists’ colourmen are often reproached for putting too much oil in their paints. They reply that the generality of artists prefer their paints thin, the true reason probably being that dealers are able to keep such colors longer. Some artists, on the contrary, spread their colors for a few minutes on blotting-paper, knowing that oil, in spite of the service it rendered, is a destructive agent.

The effects of its presence proclaim themselves as once in many cases by the sinking in of the paint. I will speak presently of the deterioration of color. The sinking is not, properly speaking, deterioration; it is due to the displacement of the oil in the impasto. The painter is not much disturbed by it, but it is an annoyance to him when he wishes to fuse a new pass with one already completed and when he wants to judge of the general effect.

To explain why this happens and what to do about it, he goes on to say:

If a layer of color be laid upon a porous material or another layer of coloue nor perfectly dry, it sinks in; that is to say, the oil, instead of remaining equally distributed round the particles of colored powder, travels between the particles, and soaks into the porous matter or the older layer of color, which is itself porous if not perfectly dry; the powder, thus deserted by it agglutinant, assumes a dull, indeterminate appearance, especially in the shadows, to which the oil had given depth and transparence. All that is required is to restore the oil the color has lost, or to give it a coat of varnish, the resin of which will fill up the pores of the colour abandoned by the oil; the paint will then recover its transparence and its liquid appearance.

As a special bonus, the author goes on to address another problem that has at times vexed me (see the following post); what to do when the mix of paint and medium ‘beads’ on the surface, i.e., when it looks like water on a duck’s back. He writes:

If the artist paints upon a stratum the pores of which, though empty of oil, have condensed so much in the process of drying that they do not absorb the oil of the over-painting; there is no sinking in, but the impasto lacks cohesion; as the oil of the new stratum does not take root in the stratum below, there is no complete adhesion, and the durability of the work will not be assured. Each time that the painter wishes to add something, he should use a re-touching varnish capable of uniting the strata and thus ensuring the homogeneity of the picture.

To the above I would add that it may be necessary to take take a rag, rap it around your finger, dab it in some oil, then some pumice powder and lightly sand the surface. You could even use some light sandpaper. He concludes with the following:

Broadly speaking, the traditional precept: load the high lights, and keep the shadows thin, will be found the safest rule, and the one most in accordance with the resources of the process. The loading of the high lights enhances their reflecting power, while the lightness of the shadows give more freedom of effect to the oil and the varnish.

I hope that helps you as much as it did me. Please feel free to leave your comments below.

Masters Resources

Anthonis Mor: Technical Info on the National Portrait Gallery Website

Alway a delight to find this kind of information.

Flesh Tones Techniques Travels and Museums

From the Graveyard: Formulas for Flesh – Part I: Caravaggio, Guercino, Reni and Caracci

August 19th, 2018 – Rome

I was looking back through some drafts of posts that I had never published, and came across one that I had started back in January of 2015.

Entitled “Formulas for Flesh – Part 1”, I was clearly still convinced at that time that such a thing existed, despite the Delacroix quote to the contrary.

I publish this now as I see there are many good details from a show I had just seen (I believe at Palazzo Barberini) on Caravaggio, Guercino, Guido Reni and Caracci.

Today I am less convinced that there is a formula for the color of flesh… but I do think there are strategies to be considered in terms of managing luminosity and temperature.

What do you think?


January 28th, 2015 – Rome

I believe there is a case to be made for “flesh formulas.”

Delacroix has a curious quote regarding flesh color:

Give me some mud, I will make of it the skin of Venus, if you leave to me the choice of the surroundings.¹

What exactly does this mean?  On the surface it appears to say that flesh color is ultimately the result of a contextual relationship between the color chosen for the flesh and the color that surrounds it.  Below the surface it could be read as a taunt: folly be upon you if it is a formula for flesh you seek!

But what if I reverse-engineer the quote?

Is it folly to hope for a flesh-tone formula?  And what exactly would a flesh-tone formula look like?  Would it be something like 2 parts Lead White + 1 part Vermilion + 1 part Yellow Ochre?

¹ Jehan-Georges Vibert, “The Science of Painting,” page 55.


pLog Pith

pLog Pith XVII

If the big things aren’t right, the small things won’t matter.
Make it so that small things matter.


Pigment Analysis in Paintings: Titian, Velazquez, Rembrandt

I always enjoy have some idea of the kinds of pigments used to create a certain color, especially if multiple layers are involved.  I stumbled upon a website that has some nice presentations on this very topic.  As an example, Titian’s Bacchus and Ariadne.


Great Interactive Website for a Rubens Show

I hope they will keep this up even after the show ends:

Rubens: The Power of Transformation

Note: I found this via the Art History News website.


Track the Lives of the Old Masters

There is a very clever new website called eVasari: you can trace the timeline, travels and pictures of many different artists… even several together. Attached is a search I did that shows how the lifetimes of Leonardo, Michelangelo and Titian overlap. Really cool.

You can find it here.

pLog Pith

pLog Pith XVI

You follow rules to go somewhere.
You break rules to go somewhere else.
You ignore rules to go nowhere.

pLog Pith

pLog Pith XV

We need to be reminded: there is no beauty without rules and there is no better rule book than nature.

Masters Technical Bulletins

The National Gallery Technical Bulletin: Titian after 1540

Technical Bulletin Volume 36

This special edition is dedicated to the study of Titian’s technique and style after 1540.

Also, here are the high resolution images referenced in the bulletin.


The Palette of Gilbert Stuart

Essays and Enquiries Reviews

The Providence of Fundamentals – Learning to Draw Before You Paint Pays Dividends

Essays and Enquiries Reviews

The Continuity of Light and the Criteria to Capture It: A Review of the Workshop with Charles Weed

Masters Materials Techniques

“J. M. W. Turner and other English artists of his generation relied on the development of innovative gels. “

Link to article.