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.


“Flesh Spheres”

In January of 2014 I made my second trip to visit Odd in Norway.  It was during that visit that I first met the Italian painter, Roberto Calò, and together we began experimenting with underpainting, flesh tones and color temperature (including the turbid medium effect), through a series of spheres.

I would now call those “flesh spheres,” and they are something I continue to experiment with.

For obvious reasons, I was pleased to discover this article published on the Artists Network, which first appeared in the Artist Magazine in September, 2015:

Painting fleshtones, written by Koo Schadler.

Caravaggio’s Contarrelli Chapel in High-Res and Head-On

If you visit the Contarelli Chapel in Rome’s San Luigi dei Francesi, you can see the paintings that made Caravaggio a superstar.  The only down side is having to appreciate The Calling of St. Matthew and The Martyrdom of St. Matthew at oblique angles.

Thanks to Factum Arte’s extraordinary images you can now see the images head-on with a close-up look that only Caravaggio’s brush could have bested.

The video they created about the creation of these images—and subsequent facsimiles of the paintings—is also worth a look.

“The Four Techniques for Illusion and Volume”

For those out there like myself interested in technical art history, you can download an excellent free document in PDF presented by the Getty Conservation Institute called Historical Painting Techniques, Materials and Studio Practice.  This was called to my attention by Prof. Celeste Brusati at the University of Michigan, and I thank her again for doing so.

One of the essays is by Leslie A. Carlyle entitled “Beyond a Collection of Data: What We Can Learn from Documentary Sources on Artists’ Materials and Techniques”.  Under the heading “Technical approaches used for creating the illusion of volume” she says:

A basic goal of all representational artists—to present an illusion of volume—is accomplished in painting through the juxtaposition of dark and light values, and of highlights and shadows.  This illusion is accomplished traditionally through one of four basic techniques.  A brief analysis of these techniques will illustrate the possibilities of standardizing the visual examination of paintings and the usefulness of the visual markers that can be established as a result of this approach.

These four techniques are:

  1. Basic Technique
  2. Transparent Oil Technique
  3. Highlight and Impasto White
  4. Direct Surface Blending

Very straightforward, seemingly obvious, but I had never before given it much thought.  I am always appreciative when someone can take the complex—like oil painting—and makes it simple, which Ms. Carlyle does.  Each take several paragraphs to explain, so refer to the actual document for the details.  If nothing else, it’s a nice Rorschach test to take to find out which technique you identify with the most.  Worth a look.

Is Burnt Umber Evil?

Some time back in 2012 I read Virgil Elliot’s Traditional Oil Painting.  He refers to Burnt Umber as a Problematic Pigment:

The author [Virgil Elliott] has all but dropped burnt umber from his palette, owing to its high degree of absorbency when dry, which causes varnish to sink in, leaving chalky-appearing “dry spots.”  It can be useful as a minor ingredient in a paint mixture when faster drying is desired, such as in instances where raw umber would not produce the right color.  Both burnt umber and raw umber are essentially clays, which have a natural tendency to shrink when dry and swell when saturated with a fluid.  However, since burnt umber undergoes a heating process in its creation, it is the worse of the two in that regard.  Raw umber does not seem to be quite as problematic.

Also around that time I was having a series of phone conversations with some of the employees at Kremer in Germany and was advised not to use umbers at all (burnt or raw) in that they tend to creep to the surface (I’m paraphrasing), and unfortunately I didn’t ask for an explanation with regard to the chemistry.

Jump to September of 2013 when my research into alkyd mediums led me to a paint maker named Pip Seymour.  Not knowing where to buy his paints in Rome, I called him.  I was so pleased to discover that he was both amenable and patient in helping me better understand the chemistry behind painting that he readily became a victim of his kindness; the more answers he provided, the more questions I asked.  In a follow-up phone call I decided to get his analysis of burnt umber and, in my effort to keep the question as succinct as possible, I decided to phrase the question with a touch of drama: “Is burnt umber evil?”

In essence, his opinion was to keep it simple (which he wisely applies to most of his analyses).  He did suggest the importance of stand oil as a binder/medium with such a color in that it helps to keep the pigment particles even as they dry.  He went on to say, “Changes in surface appearance may enhance the aesthetic within a painting – but that understanding can alter over time just as the organic composition of all oil paint layers can change.  The most crucial factor is the realization of the image at the moment of creation.”

A couple of days after that phone call, I sent him the following email:

An extraordinarily bizarre thing happened on the evening after our last discussion: I was organizing some of my many, many PDF files on technical analysis, when one in particular caught my eye. It was on Caravaggio’s time in Malta, and, as I had just finished reading a technical analysis on the Beheading of John the Baptist, I chose that one to read before going to bed that night.

Now, you may remember that my second question to you last Friday was, “Is Burnt Umber evil?” Evil seemed the best word to sum up what I had read previously on the pigment, especially in light of Virgil Elliot’s call for its banishment from the palette.

Well, low and behold, that night I read the following from Caravaggio and Paintings of Realism in Malta by Roberta Lapucci:

“The defect of this technique [working over a dark priming] is that, with time, the chromatic balance is altered, reinforcing the shadows and absorbing the half tones. Burnt umber has a unique chemcial characteristic; during the drying process of the pictorial film, its manganese molecules tend to migrate towards the external surface to absorb oxygen (the element also needed by oil when it polymerizes). Therefore, by rising up to the pictorial surface, burnt umber eats out the half tones and reinforces the shadowy areas. However, it does not pass through lead white, thus increasing the contrast even more. Such a dark priming layer is used with a chromatic function ‘but not… en reserve’ rather ‘to intensify the contrasts, to make the pictorial layers vibrate and to absorb lights’; some white strokes ‘hardly can cover the dark ground’.

“In 1681 Filippo Baldinucci defines burnt umber as ‘a natural colour, of dark hair tonality, used to pain and to put in the priming layers of canvas and panel paintings. This is held by the best painters to be an evil colorit has such a desiccative power that is does not work well in the priming layers and in the oil layers also due to the other poor qualities, it makes colours change; which is why it fooled many artists, who used it in their canvases, even those who were very good in colour rendering’.” (Yes, it reads “evil”! It was a Twilight Zone moment.)

So there, fellow painters, is the chemistry behind umber… and even a moral judgement!  But is it evil?  I am still undecided.  But I am trying some new browns with a mixture of  yellow earth, red ochre and black.

Notes on Copying Velázquez in the National Gallery

Notes on the notes: this post is long overdue!  My glorious trip to the National Gallery occurred almost one year ago and the following notes I took on my iPad before, during and after my time in the National Gallery.  I had put off publication mainly because I was going to accompany these notes with a video to, but I don’t see that happening any time soon so no need to wait further.

For a look at some of the pictures taken during my time in London, please visit this page on my paintings and drawings website.

Finally, good luck to my friend Peter, who is heading to the National Gallery this January to copy Rembrandt!



December 26th, 2012, writing from Noci, Puglia

For the Painter’s Log – Copying Velázquez

January 11th

Day before the first day of copying, sitting in The National gallery in front of both paintings.

Philip IV is smaller than I imagined in my mind; Rokeby Venus is larger.

(I’m shocked by how small the virgin Mary is!)

Looks like the Admiral attributed to V by Solomon is now attributed to Mazo!

Flesh is darker than I imagined in general, especially in the Pondering of Christ by a Christian Soul.

Is the secret to exceptional flesh really more about subtlety in value and less to do with color?

There will be quite the crowd tomorrow. I must get a good night’s sleep!

Zan and Neil are the two men I met at the Duty Manager office.

Note the color of the wallpaper: creme red/burgandy red with a kind of floral pattern.

Note also the frame around both paintings. I wonder the story and age of each.

Jan 12th – Day One on Philip IV

Have worked for two hours. Pleased so far (see photo) but very difficult to understand the flesh tones. Time for lunch.

Palette so far:

  • Raw umber
  • Ivory black
  • Yellow ochre
  • Flemish white (Doak)
  • Burnt umber
  • Tried some of Doak’s raw olive umber, but it didn’t convince me.

Still don’t have the luminosity in the flesh. See second photo. Is that something that can be achieved alla prima, or will I get that only after it has dried and I can lay in more paint.

Question: try your v flesh? Or t flesh?

Color I forgot to mention: Lapis Lazuli.

Worked the V flesh (michael Harding Transparent Red Oxide + Cremnitz white with walnut oil)… Definitely improved the luminosity, but it does not yet seem to rival the brilliance of the original.

See photo 3: drawing is good, but something not yet right with drawing. Too wide? Yes, I think so, on the right side.

Am stopping for today… 5 pm. So 10:30 to 5 with one hour for lunch.

Carol, Sheila, Pat, Di, Mary… Some nice ladies I just spoke with after cleaning up.  Sitting now in front of the work… Waiting to take a quick video… But the guard is standing right next to me! Guard names: Sheik, Me-lanie, Boris.

Review of today’s process:

  1. Block in with raw umber and ivory black.
  2. Flesh started with vermilion, flemish white, ivory black, yellow ochre… Some touches of Lapis lazuli.
  3. Added burnt umber to palette for shadows and hair on right side.
  4. Eyes of black and some lapis.
  5. Kept edges soft!
  6. Built surface of background. Continued search for correct color. Mixed yellow ochre with ivory black to get more of the green tint.
  7. With flesh tacky (semi-dry), I started to lay over V flesh mix. Worked well… But I think I can still push further with this technique.
  8. Pushed shadows with a mix of burnt umber and vermilion.

Brushes used: hog bristle for background, bull hair for flesh and sometimes the da Vinci synthetic for small details.


  1. Try T flesh mix?
  2. Try softer brush for background?

January 13th

First steps:

  1. Block in background color and clothes with soft brush. Try and get color and value as close as you can. If background is greenish, then clothes are more bluish? What is the color of the black in light??
  2. Face, check the drawing: height and width.
  3. Use test strip to check flesh color. Not sure T flesh is answer. Put V and T on test str and see.
  4. Make sure shadow colors and values are accurate.

First session complete (see next photo), about one hour on the background. Used yellow ochre and ivory black with a touch of raw umber, but I wonder if the solidity of the background wouldn’t benefit from more raw umber?

In the black shirt used straight ivory black with some Lapis lazuli… The black in the clothes is certainly more of a blue black.

Brushes note: the block studio bristle worked much better than the Jackson’s black hog bristle.

Flesh: I held up the V flesh on the grey ground to the painting and it appears to brighter than the flesh on the actual painting. Curious.

Next step, darken shadows in flesh.

Eureka! Shortened the forehead… Made a big difference. Next photo. Now must fix hair.

2pm, next photo. Hair looks pretty good, but I wonder if it is still too wide.

Finding wonderful colors with raw umber, white, vermilion, burnt umber.

Used my verdaccio middle grey on the collar.

I thought that I would need naples yellow in the hair, but instead stayed with yellow ochre, white, raw umber and burnt umber.

Note the solidity of the paint! Also, have been using very little oil.

Next photo… Batteries running low on camera.

5:45, no more photos as batteries are dead.

Drawing is better, though something still leaves perplexed; I continue to suspect that the head is too wide…or maybe i just need to push the forehead back up?

I am using the Doak raw olive umber dark with the ivory black. Working well. Better covering power, which was needed.

January 14th – The Day After

Great stories to tell…

Marguerita. Or Maria Marvel! (read with your best indigo Montoya / Banderas Puss-in-Boots Spanish accent):

“Oh, this is wonderful, but the head is longer, you see? You must make it longer. But you are almost there… You are so close!”

Moments later, “I think I know what is wrong; the eye drops, you see. His right eye, which is on our left, it drops. You have a straight line, but there it drops.”

I said to her, “ok, stand there and watch, I’m going to fix it.” Michelangelo, the hand of David and Marble dust came to mind.


“Oh, yes, much better. It is wonderful, you are very close.”

I told her to come see me in Rome. We’ll see.

* * *

Julie Jackson: she started to talk to talk to me about paints, Michael Harding, then medium and she noticed there wasn’t any smell of turps… Only walnut oil, I told her.

Then: “I run a life drawing course at the Royal Academy on Wednesdays, would you like to come?”


* * *

Maurizio and Daniel, some nice end of the day critics. But just before :

“That looks nothing like him.” without turning I chuckled; I knew it was Angela. And Kareen was there. They took some fantastic pictures. And Angela had some really good guidance, especially regarding the flesh. Which brings me to the ultimate lesson: solidity.

January 16th

Eowyn and I mixed some paint yesterday and made some really interesting discoveries: for a good flesh base, the best formula appears to be Doak Flemish white with a touch of Williamsburg Lemon Yellow Ochre and a tickle of Vermilion… Later adding some of the Italian Roman Black Earth to get a nice shadow tone.

We also muted and warmed up the Galena Grey / New Titanium White mix by adding a “wash” of burnt umber, Italian black roman earth and flemish white.

January 17th

National Gallery: 2 days before the Venus. Sitting in front of her as I write.

It really is about solidity: the ability of a color to hold a space and how visual strength of the color depends on its thickness.

I had previously asked the question: “are there areas of painting that are painted thinly but represent the illusion of solid forms, like stone, flesh etc?”

But it is the opposite that should be examined: are there areas that are painted thickly, yet not intended to hold the space? The thickness of paint, I think corresponds to two things: 1. The importance and power of the space and area and 2. The importance it plays in the overall balance of the composition.

Sweet Venus! See you day after tomorrow.

January 19th, Day 1 on Venus

Flesh tones are MUCH darker than anticipated. Using only vermilion, Flemish white, roman black earth and a touch of lemon ochre. Also, using walnut oil to draw, but stand oil and calcite to mix the body of the paint.

Still perfecting the drawing… Though I have played with some of the flesh colors on her bottom. Now back to the drawing…

January 20th, Day 2, 10:20 am, Last Day

Right away I saw the drawing that needs adjustment: bottom buttock needs to be longer to the right, maybe higher up.

Angle of back also need to arc a little higher to the right.

Head position looks good but I think the right arm needs to come lower. Yes, looking at it now the bottom of her thumb must be even with top left of where her shoulder meets her neck.

Need to make background much darker to get a better sense of light in figure; when my painting sits beneath the picture it appears to be brighter, but when it is on the easel it appears darker.

I have a very pink figure; I’ll need to think of ways to make her a little more golden and a little more blue (purple) in the shadows.

No guts, no glory.

11:46 am

Okay, I think I have figure a few things out:

  1. The drawing is better: elongated the lower buttock; lowered the right shoulder; fixed the arch of the back.
  2. Used some burnt umber with the roman black and red to work the shadow where the back meets bed sheet.I
  3. It’s the warm over cool! Plus the use of bull hair! Have used the Titan flesh over yesterday’s mixes.
  • Plus ivory black to cool them off when needed.
  • Note the Titian flesh is Cremnitz white in walnut oil + a Dan of crimson lake. It works well because of its transparency.
  • Should also note that I’ve added some damar to my walnut oil.
  • Also of note: my premix of lemon ochre and vermilion.

Now going to use a second bull hair brush to work the shadows around the neck…

2:18 pm, just back from lunch. The head needs to be smaller.

Saturday, January 21st – The Day After

Understanding flesh tones:

  1. Work only with roman black, lead white and vermilion. Get the drawing with a walnut medium. Use hog bristle brushes and a mix of black and red.
  2. Build form with solid contrasts, use palette knife if needed. Also use calcite carbonate to extend paint. CaCO3 Use stand oil as medium. Soften edges of form with large soft hog bristle. Let sit for day.
  3. Now starts the process of working from cool to less cool to warm. In the Venus copy, I’ve now switched to a medium of walnut oil with damar.
  4. Build flesh with the Titian Flesh: Cremnitz white in walnut oil + crimson lake. Switch to bull hair brushes to get better diaphanous flow. Vary the warm and cool with vermilion, lemon ochre and black; cool over shadows, warmer on flesh…. Though in some cases shadows will go warm (lower back of Venus where she is lying on the sheet).
  5. After building and smoothing form further with the above, use big bristle to unify.
  6. Now switch to Velazquez flesh and warm up the lights and reduce further the contrast between light and shadows. Then final touches with big brush, and there you have it.

Color Palette of Venus and Resulting Affects

Ground: galena grey + new titanium white, washed with burnt umber, lead white and roman black earth.

Roman Black Earth: top right background with varying body to creat the gradiation.

Lapis Lazili + Lemon Ochre + Ivory Black: bottom blue drape and covering chiffon. Note the extraordinary transparency covering her lower buttock! Also worth remembering that this was painted over an initial layer of blue painted with black and blue ultramarine.

Vermilion + Crimson Lake + Lead White: top right curtain, ribbon. Note: ribbons were one shot! Laid in shadows first, then pulled the whites and reds over the top.

Flemish White: laid over the under painting for the white sheet.

Sent from my iPad

Notes on The Practice of Oil Painting by Solomon J. Solomon

Annotation Summary for: Practice of Oil painting by Solomon J. Solomon

Page 11:


Page 13:


Page 15:


Page 41:

“spaces left” = negative space

Page 41:

The trickyness of foreshortening.

Page 42:

Drawing a means ro a definite end… Painting! Knowledge and accuracy!

Page 45:

Study the skull. Skin is of of different texture when tightly drawn versus loose parts where it is more fleshy.

Page 49:

Chapter II construction of the human figure.

Page 49:

24 inches high is the advisable size for a figure drawing…

Page 49:

Proportion is the first thing to consider and the most difficult to preserve.

Page 50:

Head = the proportion key.

Page 50:

First, get likeness to confirm correct proportions, then, and only then, the ears; from the ears, the neck.

Page 50:

Refer constantly to hand glass.

Page 51:

After head is satisfactory, draw neck and shoulders.

Page 52:

Success of a figure lies in the head to the neck to the shoulders…

Page 53:

One of the most difficult problems to contend with: placing the head on the shoulders.

Page 53:

Observe people, make mental notes of how their head attaches to their shoulders.  Use the negative shapes to help you remember.

Page 53:

Plot armpits from shoulders, then distance from collar bone to armpits.  From there you can indicate the pectoral markings.

Page 53:

Use head and neck as standard to plot the navel; find the triangle as it exists from pecks to the navel… This helps indicate the character and action of the torso.

Page 54:

Follow closely the center line from the neck to the base of the torso.

Page 56:

Use plumbs to establish relative positions…

Page 59:

In your drawings, everything must dovetail and fit…

Page 63:

Chapter III Construction of the head

Page 63:

Of great importance: the placement of the ear.

Page 63:

Ears: length of the nose; tops in line with the brow, lobes in line with the nostrils.

Page 64:

Answering shapes of the face.  Example: a smile…

Page 75:

Copy the heads by Holbein!

Page 76:

Foreshortened passages always appear wider than they actually are… And how to correct this!

Page 81:

All solid masses have their beyond.

Page 85:

Chapter IV Characterisation

Page 87:

Reference frequently the model and drawing in a mirror!

Page 87:

Axiom: as we depart from the proportions of nature, we weaken the result!

Page 88:

Reynolds: the eye sees no more than it knows.

Page 89:

The delta of the face!  Shapes of the head…

Page 91:

Make it a rule never to draw one side without the other.

Page 97:

Curves of the arm…

Page 101:

Once you have settled on proportions, paint the arm and hand in one sitting… Rarely are they posed twice alike.  Van Dyck anecdote…

Page 101:

The Legs

Page 102:

See that the foot plumbs well under the head… Use the plumb-line.

Page 103:

Images of legs…

Page 109:

Light and shade

Page 113:

The head, the feet, the knees and the lower part of the abdomen are generally richer in colour, and therefore lower in tone, than the rest of the figure.

Page 113:

VERY IMPORTANT: with but very few exceptions, every figure or solid object has one predominating light passage, and it stands to reason that every other light passage must be lowered in relation to it; the same applies to shadows.

Page 113:

YES! Definition of breadth.

Page 114:

“Where every one is somebody, then no one’s anybody.”. The secret? Squint!

Page 114:

How to manage when the light is too brilliant to be rendered by pigment?

Page 115:

The highlight on porcelain…

Page 116:

Photography is unwarrantly abused…

Page 116:

Ah, so how tone plays a role in its placement in space.

Page 117:

Do not paint the figure out of context…

Page 117:

Lay a sure foundation for your house, or the superstructure,which painting is, will be futile and of no avail.

Page 118:

Painting, Materials, Colors.

Page 120:

THIS IS WHAT RECENT PAINTINGS HAVE SUFFERED: You may take it for granted that no sense of freshness can be preserved after three, or at utmost four, coats od a similar tint have been laid solidly over each other on the canvas… When the grain is gone, all attempts to regain clearness are hopeless.

Page 120:

Steel plush mat.  Erase paint and renew texture.  What is this?

Page 121:

READ TO KINGSLEY: Oft-recurring exhibitions…

Page 123:

Originality is not affectation, but the frank expression of a personality.

Page 123:

Ground: a distinct tooth is a necessity.

Page 124:

Avoid toned ground… Leads to dullness. Hmmmm…?

Page 124:

Make sure palette is not less than 18 inches in length.

Page 125:

Get used to large brushes an inch or more across.

Page 125:

Palette knife should be trowel shaped.

Page 126:

Charcoal used for initial drawing.

Page 126:

FIND: wire plush mat as scraper!

Page 127:

Put cardboard between stretcher and canvas to avoid ineradicable ridges.

Page 127:

Colors and choice of pigments/palette

Page 128:

Excellent break down on various colors.

Page 129:

Bituminous pigments are responsible for destruction of Reynolds paintings.

Page 129:

Use fresh colors every day…

Page 130:

Do not starve your palette.

Page 130:

Luminosity is the rarest quality to attain and one of the finest.

Page 130:

Scrape up the paints on your palette to use as greys…

Page 130:

Mix some masses of light, half-tone, shadow to expedite the work.

Page 131:

Palette layout.

Page 131:

Paint quantities indicated by size of circles…

Page 133:

Monochrome study.

Page 134:

Canvas size: 24 x 20 inches… Rarely use a canvas smaller than this.

Page 134:

If your painting is too brilliantly lighted, the image will suffer….

Page 135:

Bingo! After drawing with charcoal, blow off all but the faintest indication of the line, then paint over with a sable brush with raw umber.

Page 135:

Starting the monochrome copy: raw umber and white; mix 3 tones.

Page 138:

The actual painting stage really only begins when you paint into paint!

Page 138:

Let breadth and simplicity be you watchwords.

Page 140:

Textures in monochrome…read and reread.

Page 143:

Chapter X Still life in Color: learning alla prima.. Direct painting… Though “serious work” should be prepped in monochrome.

Page 144:

Charcoal drawing, blow away unnecessary blackness, clean with bread, paint in background first.

Page 144:

Mix middle tones, matching colors as you would silks or wools, and cover the rest of the canvas.  Then paint shadows, then highlights, then broken passages.  Before adding a different color over another, remove precious color with a palette knife.

Page 145:

Put painting next to still life, walk back as far as possible, compare with a hand-glass.

Page 145:

Be content only when the apples loom eatable.

Page 145:

In other words, see that the high lights are exactly their right tone, and not too light, and that all other lights and light masses are subordinate to what happens to be the highest light or light passages.

Page 145:

The part must always be subordinate to the whole.

Page 145:

If at the end of the day it is not satisfactory, scrape it away with a palette knife.

Page 146:

Paint with greater solidity; with less oil.

Page 146:

I ought perhaps to tell you that, except for the backgroun and shadows, you might paint all the more solid light passages without medium, if you wish to complete your study at one sitting.

Page 147:

Chapter XI: silver and china in color

Page 147:

Keep your color pure.  Lay in the whole as before directed (the still life… Do this over the verdaccio underpainting)

Page 148:

You will get into messes often enough, and you must learn how to get out of them.

Page 149:

Begin with the object stronger in light and shade to set the key.

Page 151:

Chapter XIi Hints on Arrangements, Solecisms in Composition.

Page 152:

Study particularly the placing of heads, half and full length portraits and figures, and the main structural lines and color masses of decorative designs.

Page 152:

Placement of a head on a 24 x 20 inch page.

Page 153:

EXCELLENT! All pictures should be decorative… And there should be just accident enough in their arrangement fr them not to appear obviously arranged.

Page 156:

Creation of Adam and the Raising of the Brazen Serpent.

Page 161:

Chapter XIII painting from life in monochrome.

Page 161:

The sense of solidity and subtle modeling are due to the relation of tones, it is well to cultivate the habit of reducing every part and every color to it’s equivalent tone value.

Page 161:

Study the lighting of heads by Velazquez and van Dyck… A reproduction on your easel above the canvas might well seve as your guide… Gia’ fatto! 😉

Page 162:

Use brush to measure, paint slightly smaller than life.

Page 162:

Draw and then shade with charcoal, use q dry brush to model.  From time to time put the drawing as close as possible, go back as far as possible and compare with a mirror.

Page 162:

Make all corrections in charcoal… Which resists little to a brush and none to bread!

Page 162:

Much correcting in paint is fatal to lucidity.

Page 162:

Set palette with white and raw umber.

Page 163:

The pure color of raw umber should be deep enough for the initial darks…

Page 163:

It is food practice to make the best use of restricted materials.

Page 163:

On managing your edges!

Page 164:

The planes of Velazquez…

Page 164:

Mark the quality of the skin in the forehead and bridge of the nose and the contrasted pulpiness where flesh is free of bone.

Page 164:

Check flesh values in relation to white…

Page 164:

Be careful in modeling round the eyes to preserve the globular feeling beneath the lids and to realize something of the liquid quality of the eyes themselves.

Page 165:

If there is any objectionable hardness or thinness, soften with a large dry brush.

Page 165:

Look to it that map of light and shade be correct. If necessary, use a penknife to scrape away the dark.

Page 165:

If a part dries dead; breath on it, then wipe off with a rag.

Page 165:

Cover the whole with wet paint?

Page 166:

It’s the recovering with wet paint that confuses me… With the same color?

Page 166:

Bonnet anecdote…

Page 166:

More to learn from honest failure than mild success.

Page 167:

Chapter XIV Coloring a monochrome.

Page 167:

Coloring a monochrome means preparing the monochrome several tones lighter than nature, as if a semi-transparent paper were laid over a normal tonal study.

Page 167:

Then, when dry: paint the highest lights with Strf white; the shadows with Indian red and ivory black; the Greys and halftones with all colors mentioned + cobalt and a little oxide of chromium when needed… Covering the whole with a new skin of paint.

Page 167:

Begin with fluid mixture of middle tone, always higher in tone than nature, yet relatively just.

Page 168:

When the secon stage is dry, glaze in the yellow and red tones.

Page 168:

Sir Joshua Reynolds Painting method…

Page 169:

Reynolds obviously used his final colors with reference to the effect that was beneath them.

Page 169:

With the idea before him of a subsequent fuller coloring to be superimposed over a higher key in order to reduce the whole to the appropriate tone of nature.

Page 169:

Pure glazing may lower overmuch; add a little white with warm colors to obviate the loss of brilliancy.

Page 170:

Experience with this, as with all things, is a necessity.

Page 171:

Chapter XV Painting direct from life.

Page 171:

The palette for painting from life… two whites, yellow ochre, light red?, vermilion, rose madder, cobalt, emerald, oxide of chromium, raw and burnt umber and ivory black.

Page 171:

Star with Turp so the color dries dead and leaves the paint slightly absorbent… And that way, subsequent paintings with oil or varnish are less apt to shine unduly.

Page 174:

Never putdown two touches where one would suffice!

Page 174:

Use brushes that are awkwardly large; practice will enable you to manipulate them.  They will sweep up the unnecessary detail.

Page 174:

Above all, assure a homogeneous skin… And look at heads by Velazquez!

Page 174:

Comparison of prepared and direct method…

Page 174:

A rich impasto, variety of texture, the beauty of underlying grey tones, a lasting luminosity, a sense oof oneness, are the distinguishing characteristics of the “monochrome.”. Vitality and spontaneity are perhaps more closely associated with direct painting.

Page 175:

Titian is said to have warmed his flesh with asphaltum, which is of a golden hue when applied thinly.

Page 175:

The grey tones are the severest test of a colorist’s capacity.

Page 175:

The greatest advantage of monochrome is this: if the glaze applied is not the desired hue, the glaze may be removed while leaving the underpainting in tact.

Page 176:

Further, if necessary to paint over, the white and light greys can only enhance the overpainting.

Page 176:

It is given to few to achieve a result which implies swiftness, dexterity, sureness, and just observation of color, tone and character in every touch.

Page 177:

Part II. Methods of the Masters

Page 179:

Chapter I methods of the masters.

Page 179:

FIND: book recs from Solomon… Mr. Hamerton’s. “Graphic Arts,” Eastlake, Mrs. Merrifield’s “Ancient Practice of Painting.”

Page 180:

A visit to the National Gallery… It is a sign!

Page 181:

Exceptional! A discussion on technical excellences… Have no counterpart in any other medium of thought.

Page 183:

Bronzino: Venus, Cupid, Folly, Time.

Page 187:

Chapter II Italian Schools

Page 187:

“”Luminosity” is the supreme test of the painter’s craft.

Page 187:

There is no caprice in Nature’s apparent favoritism.

Page 188:

Over-modeling is inimical to brilliancy and freshness.

Page 193:

Andrea del Sarto

Page 194:

Guido Reni – Grey Ground

Page 204:

Chapter III The School of Titian

Page 205:

Titian’s Method

Page 205:

Flesh initially painted with a color similar to the terra rossa ground, and the flesh was done very solidly…

Page 206:

The rich glazes were applied with fingers and thumb, and finally the whole was gilded either with a golden varnish or with asphaltum

Page 211:

Most notable achievement: the underlying grey.

Page 218:

Veronese on shadows and “passing clouds.”  the point: invent your own shadows to move the eye and manipulate the composition.

Page 218:

Titian was the first to break up landscape masses with accidental light and shadow.

Page 218:

Madders glazed over a white ground with touches of Naples yellow like golden threads.

Page 223:

When oil and not varnish is used the glaze may evaporate.

Page 223:

Never trust in a glazing where a partial stumble is not added.

Page 223:

Mrs. Merrifield Titian anecdote: removal of glass frame… The glaze had evaporated and stuck to the glass!

Page 229:

Chapter IV the Italian school continued.

Page 229:

FIND: artist Paris Bordone, portrait of a lady.

Page 246:

Chapter V The Flemish School

Page 251:

Rubens technique

Page 252:

Quote from Rubens on keeping white out of shadows and keeping color pure in the light.

Page 258:

Venus and Mars: note the warm brown shadows, broken touches of light and then the liquid melting of the scumble over the warmer ground.  Liquid opalescence.

Page 258:

Van Dyck: witness the same scumble on the cheek of “van der geest”

Page 261:

Van Dyck portrait of van der geest

Page 263:

How best to copy this painting… Step 1. Brown grisaille; 2. Load light areas with stiff white and varnish medium; 3. Paint thinly the color of the whole, glazing the mouth and separately drawing some of the hair.

Page 264:

Look for grisaille study of van Dyck entitled Ronaldo and armida.

Page 265:

Chapter VI The Dutch School.

Page 266:

Rembrandt: portrait of an old lady

Page 266:

The woman bathing…

Page 268:

Note the rich unctuous properties have never been so thoroughly exploited.

Page 269:

Woman bathing…

Page 271:

Christ before pilate gives a clue to the first laying in…

Page 271:

An, so we are back to the woman bathing…

Page 271:

Here he explains how to paint the woman bathing: grey and white with loaded brush paint the shoulders and breasts, the chemise with a very liquid white added on a Greer ground with some touches of a palette knife; then shadows fairly transparent.  IS HE RIGHT?

Page 272:

Ever keep the big things in view.  Simplicity is the greatest virtue and the last achieved in any art.

Page 272:

Criticism of Rembrandt’s looseness; his reply, “I’m a painter, not a dyer.”

Page 277:

Luscious silver grey of the underground!

Page 277:

When wisely and discreetly left, the deposits of a real, not assumed enthusiasm, fired spontaneously in the warmth of production– then and then only, like the moving passion of the orator, they move us to a real admiration.

Page 298:

The Spanish School: Velazquez!

Page 298:

In every sense a realist, he stated the large facts with the broadest touch.

Page 298:

Unerring draughtsmanship and a just appreciation of value…

Page 303:

Compare early Philip to the Admiral

Page 303:

pLog!  This is it: “The Admiral is bathed in air. The solidifying force of finely contrasted values and subtle colour-contrasts is now the master’s secret, which henceforth is to be a model throughout the generations.  He now knows that a living illusion is not enhanced  by rigid draperies accentuated equally throughout, but that movement is imparted by free handling, that real texture of surfaces was more perfectly suggested by color and tone-relations than by minute imitation of the passages detached from the general envelopment.” Again, the word “envelope.” isn’t that also I. The Carolus-Duran document?

Page 304:

The Admiral is a masterpiece of construction, bigness and tonal relief…

Page 304:

The figure of the Venus is first prepared in white…

Page 309:

Venus figure prepared in white, Indian Red and Black.

Page 309:

The small Philip IV is one of our treasures and should be copied.

Page 309:

WHite and red ground?

Page 309:

Pink greys suggest Indian red in the ground and in the last painting.

Page 312:

One of the finest examples of big yet subtle modeling: Vealazquez’s dwarf!

Page 316:

The finest example of the French school is Watteau.

Page 319:

Wax, medium and cracking.  Joshua Reynolds: all good pictures crack.

Page 320:

There is always danger of pictures suffering that are done with a thick paste of color entirely concealing the grain of the canvas.

Page 320:

Gilded vs. silvery

Page 322:

Reynolds: example of the essential vs. non-essential.

Page 355:

Chapter XII

On Copying

Page 356:

To be a painter, he must first be a sound craftsman.

Page 356:

Later on you may attempt Van Dyck or Velazquez’s Phillip IV…!

Page 357:

Aids to Composition.

Page 358:

You may desire to make natural effects your chief aim, and if their lies your strength, by all means do; but do not at the same time forget to make the decorative.

Page 359:

Dipping draperies in a mixture of clay and water so they hold their form…

Page 360:

Solomon’s secret: covering a mill board with aspinall’s enamel and then, after it dries, cover with ivory black water color… Then pull out the light…!

Page 361:

Analysis of Titian Composition.

Page 369:

Titian analysis continued…

Page 377:

…make the search for the beautiful in all things your real pilgrimage through life.

Page 383:

Time invariably sobers the spirit that ostentatiously dissociates itself from the powers that were.

Page 387:

Let this thought make you tolerant.

Page 387:

PADASOR: know before hand the your fancy of today will give place to a new one tomorrow…

Page 278: Dutch school continued… Fran’s Hals

Page 309: practice of oil painting Solomon Page 309

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The Obfuscation of Lazarus… and Subsequent Illuminations

This past Sunday, July 8th, I went to see the newly restored “Raising of Lazarus” by Caravaggio on display through the 15th in Rome’s Palazzo Braschi.  This was a “must see” for me, as the painting’s actual home is in Sicily.  Having just visited Malta, this would also allow me to follow another chronological step forward in Caravaggio’s development: his escape from Malta took him first to Sicily.  It was also a chance for me to finally visit the Palazzo Braschi, a place I have passed innumerable times (it’s right next to Piazza Navona), but until now, have never been inspired to visit.

With great anticipation I made my way up a grand marble staircase and through a series of corridors to where the painting awaited behind a make-shift entrance of panels printed with facts and details of the restoration.  The darkened atmosphere reminded me of Malta; my excitement grew as I re-imagined the way in which The Beheading of John the Baptist had been so splendidly illuminated.

When I turned the final corner to see the painting, I couldn’t believe it.  Glare.

The painting was lit so poorly that it was hard to see from a distance.  Worse, the closer I got to the painting, the harder it was to see, especially key parts of the painting like the raised hand of Lazarus or the beckoning hand of Christ.

Shame on the museum and the curator of the show for such incompetence.  I turned to the guard next to the painting and told him as much.  He smiled and held out his hand, though I wasn’t quite sure how to interpret the gesture.  As I shook his hand, I heard a woman’s voice over my left shoulder say, “I agree with you entirely,” and turning to see she too held out her hand, she added, “I am the person who restored the painting.”

Wow.  That might be the first time ever that I’ve carelessly run my mouth and benefitted.

I spoke to Anna Marcone briefly about the restoration and in particular asked about how Caravaggio prepared the canvas, the composition and the pigments.  Here are my notes:

  • The darks were made up mostly of a Sicilian version of Terra Brusciata (“Burnt Sienna”) and black;
  • The canvas was not first covered with a lead white base.  Instead he covered the canvas with a mix of the Terra di Sicilia Brusciata and black and then scraped the drawing in with the tip of the brush handle;
  • Ochre for yellow, Vermilion for red.  His blue was an Azurite;
  • The red of the robe on the right differs from the one on the left in that it is painted with a combination of Vermilion and Lead Tin Yellow (Naples Yellow with Lead).

After my extraordinary chance encounter, I took some time to try to try and get a better view.  Perhaps what struck me most about the painting was how easy the darker moments of the painting could deceive my eye: just when I thought it couldn’t get any darker I would stumble across an even blacker patch of paint, like the moment under the lower hand of Lazarus.

I suspect that Caravaggio had by this time acquired a significant understanding on how to manipulate the lower range of his palette.  It would be interesting to know how much the diversity of that palette was the result of premixed values or if it was achieved through multiple layers of the same color.

I did spend some time visiting the rest of the museum.  I was struck by two other artists and their work:

Portrait of a Master Forger

Helpful Video on Photographing Artwork

A video that a friend passed on to me about a year ago.  Still helpful.

My Notes on “Notes on the Science of Picture Making”

Notes on the Science of PictureMaking
by C. J. Holmes
Published 1920

Page 10: Cover

Page 15: Interesting commentary on Cubism… Share with Kingsley

Page 16: Cubism is “decorative rhythm”

Page 16: Fascinating observation on the relationship between form and color and simplification and distortion.

Page 17: On color and it’s connection to shadows and light…

Page 18: Chiaroscuro… Out of favor except for Rembrandt.  And da Vinci.

Page 19: Notes on the art of Rembrandt by same author?

Page 19: If we then wish to paint for eternity…

Page 19: Ruskin maxim: let your white be precious and your black be conspicuous.

Page 19: Find this book: notes on Rembrandt.

Page 20: Brown shadows= the royal road to the facile picturesque.

Page 22: Toc

Page 26: Fault lies with those who have led Men’s thoughts away from the practical side to dream over enticing abstract terms such as Truth and Beauty.

Page 26: Find Walter Pater’s essay the school of Giogione.

Page 27: Ruskin on Reynolds.

Page 27: Considerations on turning the notion of ideal beauty to practical account…

Page 28: Men who achieve lasting fame break from academic precepts.

Page 29: The fault in pursuit of ideal beauty? Insipidity.

Page 29: The problem with Roman copies of Greek originals…

Page 30: Imitation often equals “coarseness, stiffness, emptiness… Eclectic generalization.”

Page 31: “Greatness is departure from a canon”… But doesn’t the canon provide the springboard?

Page 32: “To resemble another artist or school of artists is a sign of inferiority.”

Page 32: “genius is different from all previous standards; while close correspondence with any of these standards, howerpver immediately pleasing it may appear, will be a certain proof of mediocrity.”

Page 33: “if one half of the energy which artists have devoted during the last one hundred years to abusing and discrediting their fellows had been spent ob creative work…”

Page 34: “beauty and Truth have led to disastrous anarchy…Classics and Romantics, Realists and Idealists…”

Page 34: “Technical traditions and canons of beauty are valuable only as a starting point.”

Page 35: “the man who never goes beyond the tradition of his age can never be more than a sound craftsman… For Genius, tradition is always a base from which a further advance may be safely made.”

Page 36: “The true logical foundation of the Fine Arts is inextricably connected with their concrete function, materials and processes; and no abstract philosophizing which has neglected these essential factors, has produced any fruit but fine words, conflicting judgements and bad painting.”

Page 40: Chapter 1

the Value of Emotion

Page 40: “Expression without string feeling, enthusiasm, emotion, is not art.

Page 40: Definition of painting: “personal experience emphasized by emotion in flat decoration.”

Page 41: Double meaning of “experience”…

Page 42: A dis to Bouguereau!

Page 42: Learning the technique from a master vs. Learning Not to see like them; the greater the master the more abject the submission of the followers.

Page 43: This definitely happened to the followers of Caravaggio…

Page 46: The importance of a good frame.

Page 46: Find: Mr. A. Clutton Brock, The Burlington Magazine, Oct. 1907, vol. xii pp. 23-26… The emotional base of painting.

Page 47: “Emotion is the keystone of poetry… And painting.” interesting analysis of poetry compared to science and philosophy in previous paragraphs.

Page 48: “only a dunce or a pedant would sit down in cold blood to write an epic.  Yet thousands of painters seem to sit down in cold blood and expect to paint good pictures.”

Page 48: Working without emotion…”we set ourselves in fact to rivaling the camera, and enter upon that prosaic contest with a heavy handicap against us.”

Page 48: Seize “on the facts of the subject that are essential to pictorial expression an reject all others.”

Page 48: The devices of the painter’s art: rhythm of line, spacing and disposition of masses, light and shade, color, handling of the paint… In pursuit of harmony.”

Page 49: “perfect fusion of visual idea and professional experience = great painting.”

Page 50: “the artist in short runs into the most peril the moment he has nothing to struggle against.  That is the real trouble of those who practice art with success.  The stimulus to do battle for their convictions is removed, and their work, which should be a constant effort to conquer adverse circumstances, becomes an easy routine.”

Page 50: “yet emotion by itself is worthless…”

Page 51: Read this to my drawing class… Again, The Karate Kid Method.

Page 52: “… Images formed in the mind’s eye…” As Odd said, “you must see it in your mind.”

Page 53: “the painter’s… First business is simply and solely to make a beautiful picture… Every addition which is not sn addition to it external beauty is an excrescence.”

Page 54: For the author, Rembrandt bests Raphael, Van Dyck and Rubens.

Page 55: Chapter 2: The value of Theory

Page 55: The latter of these two alternatives is commonly the more unpopular.

Page 56: “…only to become slaves to a fraction of such a science.” This guy is spot on.

Page 57: Reynold’s discourses will ever be the enthusiastic student’s favorite book.”

Page 57: Reynold’s explanation of genius.

Page 59: “in a well-known passage, leonardo points out hoe, by constant practice, the eye may be trained to measure spaces accurately.” Find this passage.

Page 60: Rules and principles are not an end in themselves, but a means to an end.

Page 60: Sometimes rules become regarded as a substitute for invention… Till the artist becomes a hack…possessing considerable facility of hand but nothing else.

Page 61: Find: Burnet’s “Treatise on painting”… The most complete compendium in English of the traditional practices of the old masters.

Page 62: Chapter 3 Invention and Nature

Page 62: Rubensvs. V in inventive quality.

Page 63: “toy landscapes” this is what Odd did.

Page 63: A picture must “retain it’s hold on the minds of men.”

Page 63: The dangers of painting “always with the model before us.”

Page 64: MEMORY “How to pick our way between two extremes?… I think we shall be wise if we adopt the system upon which all great creative artists have worked… To paint our pictures from memory”…!

Page 65: Composition: division of space, arrangement and organization of elements.

“…essential to fix the general disposition of lines and masses.”. Do this with quick sketches.

Page 66: Bingo!  And once again, Odd! “the mere fact of working from a slight sketch keeps the mind on the qui vive and the memory active, while the absence of nature leaves the intellect free to select just those elements and no others which have pictorial significance.

Page 67: “when we come to paint our picture we shall have the rough sketch to inspire us and the finished studies to help us where our memory fails.  Executed with these aids our work should lack neither spirit nor solidity and we can comfort ourselves with the thought that we are working on the system which makes the best possible use of such brains as we possess.”

Page 68: Chapter 4 pictorial conditions and pictorial emphasis

Page 69: The Four Qualities: Unity, Vitality, Infinity, Repose.

Page 70: Velazquez: cool deliberate science

Page 71: Infinity = timelessness?

Page 71: Sargent, for want of Infinity, is among the Brilliant but not the Supreme

Page 72: Excellent summary of the Four Qualities: if Unity then may be said to give a painting coherent structure, vitality to inspire it with the breath of life, Infinity to redeem it from shallowness, repose may be said to endow it with good manners.”

Page 72: “new wine of portraiture put into the old bottles of Velazquez.”

Page 72: “Design is dependent upon subject matter.”

Page 73: Pictorial design = “emphasis subject to pictorial condition.”

Page 74: Condition and Emphasis Chart!

Page 75: Formal Analysis!

Page 75: The need for a “systematic method of inquiry” to “localize faults” and “discover the appropriate remedies.”

Page 75: Illustration or Picture? Major Rhythm Makes the difference.

Page 76: Chapter 5 Emphasis of Symbol

Page 77: “symbols… subject to limitation of material and the purpose of view.”

Page 77: “‘truth to nature’ has been themotto in all periods of art”

Page 78: Reynolds: “The business of a great painter is to produce a great picture, and he must not allow himself to be cajoled by specious arguments out of his materials”

Page 78: “Pictorial symbols must have a relation to nature and art.” goldsmith / flower example is a good one

Page 78: “if we neglect the relation to nature our work will be shallow, mannered, or absurd; if we neglect the relation to art it will be bad painting”

Page 79: Unity of Symbols: Gainsborough landscape and figure, both loose suggestive touch.

Page 80: Puvis de Chavannes, Blake, Daumier… Good example of drawings of figures in landscape.

Page 80: If drawing = verisimilitude, so too must color.

Page 82: Yes!  This is the journey: to go from “a rapid sketch in pen and ink or some emphatic medium” to “a powerful finished picture.”

Page 82: 3 reasons why sketches have vigor…

Page 83: Misled by “sincerity” and “truth”… The “swift” and “fluent” is lost.

Page 84: “is not the faculty of wise selection a greater faculty than that of undiscriminating imitation?”

Page 84: “imitation is for the student… Instinctive separation fo the pictorial from the non-pictorial is the attribute of the master.”

Page 84: *** The Rock Example!

Page 85: Silverpoint example…

Page 86: “Loss of emphasis results in a dull drawing, however capably done.”

Page 87: Every medium dictates it’s own essentials and has it’s own set of pictorial symbols.

Page 87: “All painting which in any degree relies for it’s attractiveness upon imitation of texture is inconsiderable; yet, since texture is a thing which the veriest ignoramus can recognize when imitated in paint, the pictures which make it prominent are usually sure to be praised by the multitude for the moment.”

Page 88: There is no fixed rule as to essentials. They vary infinitely with the subject and the materials, and all great painting is a constant process of discovery and invention: discuvery of the essentials of the matter in hand, and invention of the pictorial symbols best adapted to represent them in the chosen medium.”

Page 89: This is why I like bug hero’s sketches better than finished works.

Page 90: Rembrandt’s best etchings…

Page 90: This is it: “lastly, the perfect pictorial symbol will suggest life and vigor by the seeming ease and swiftness of execution.” Seeming the key word. This is Velazquez! Share with painting class.

Page 90: Rubens, Gainsborough, Sargent…

Page 90: “… Sargent’s power is aped without a tithe of his power and knowledge…”

Page 91: Find book of Gainsborough drawings…

Page 92: Critique of pointillism…

Page 92: “Every complexity which diminishes the clearness of the symbol we employ to represent them, every moment that we linger over the strokes we apply to our canvas, must in some degree, diminish the vigor of the result we obtain.”

Page 93: A painting must catch “the attention for the moment by its vigor” but must also “hold and enchant the attention by it subtlety.”

Page 93: …”a Rembrandt or a Claude is pregnant with mystery…”

Page 95: Symbols and Repose: “In the matter of tone for example we must beware of excess of contrast, and in making a forcible study with very black chalk we shall achieve a more harmonious result by towering on a toned paper than by using one which is dead white.”

Page 96: Reconciling “chaos” with “repose”: “Thus, however much we may wish to emphasize the vitality of a rolling plain, of a chaos of tumbled mountains, or of an angry sea, there must ever, in the midst of all this tempestuous movement, be felt the real stability of the Earth, the steadfastness of the mountains, or the vast immobile build of the sea, upon which the largest waves that ever swelled are no more than mere momentary froth.”

Page 97: Chapter 6 Emphasis of Plan

Page 97: Quote for PADASOR: “A well planned work with no particular felicity of execution will more than hold its own against the most brilliant feat of brushwork that is based upon a poor design.”

Page 97: “…that is to say we must decide quite finally what is the principal thing we wish to express. If we hesitate, even for a moment, between two rival centers of interest, we shall be wise to lay our design aside until reflection has settled which of them can best be subordinated to the other.”

Page 98: Pictorial condition of Unity with regard to Plan

  1. A good picture has one subject, one focus.
  2. ‘…the principal feature will have most prominence if it be placed somewhere near the center of the composition.  To place it actually in the center is advisable only in formal compositions; or where the effect of formality can be disguised by an unequal disposition of masses elsewhere.”
  3. Principal effect strengthened and enhanced if supported on each side by secondary masses.

Page 98: “Here we arrive at the principal of triangular or pyramidal composition; which, however disguised, is the secret of almost all stable and compact pictorial designs.  In a portrait the head forms a natural apex to the arms and body.”  Delfina!  Just worked on today.

Page 99: Triangle to Pyramid to Quadilateral to Diamond to Oval.

Page 100: Giorgione’s Fete Champetre in the Louvre… moves the eye away from the pyramid composition.

Page 100: Titian’s Sacred and Profane… two figures and the sarcophagus from a pyramid whose apex we cannot see.

Page 101: II Vitality in Plan

Page 102: “if we can balance the significant lines by a repetition or echo, their emphasis will be enhanced and the rhythmic quality of the design much improved.”

Page 104: Rhythm and it’s connection to vitality and repose.

Page 105: Find: Hogarth, “the analysis of beauty.”

Page 105: Canons on art are points of departures… Maps, perhaps? Once again, it is the journey.  Odd, “you must see it.”. That is the vision of what those things might be like that you will discover… Then there is the journey, and the real discovery.

Page 105: Greek sculptors and their canons…

Page 106: Della Francesca baptism

Page 106: Botticelli’s Nativity

Page 107: Blake’s Morning Stars

Page 107: Titian’s Bacchus

Page 107: Find: Romney’s “Lady Hamilton with a Goat.”

Page 108: III Infinity and Plan

Page 108: Yes!!! “painters are but novices in their craft who compose pictures of which the secret can be exhausted at once.”

Page 109: IV Repose and Plan

Diagonal lines = vitality

Horizontal and vertical = repose

Page 110: “architecture is the most readily accessible means of introducing an element of repose into a composition.”

Page 111: “… Egg-shaped compositions… Depend on rectilinear forms.”

Page 113: “… Compositions architectural in character… Are on the safe side.”

Page 114: Chapter 7 Emphasis of Spacing

Page 114: Whistler a great example of spacing

Page 116: I unity of spacing

Page 118: II vitality in spacing

Page 118: Goya… Capriciously spaced.

Page 119: “whistler shows how little material isvreally needed to make a fine work of art.”

Page 119: Find: Watt’s Jacob and Esau

Page 120: III infinity of spacing

Page 121: Cryptic Michelangelo quote: “a figure should be pyramidal, serpentine,and multiplied by one, two and three.”

Page 122: IV repose of spacing

Page 122: “repose may be obtained by leaving a certain portion of the picture blank; the larger the space, the more restful and quiet the spirit of the work.”. Ex: caravaggio’s Calling, David’s Marat.

Page 122: Velazquez: “carries search for repose to extreme: simple setting of floor and empty wall, but figures are also treated flatly and broadly.”

Page 124: Chapter 8 Emphasis of Recession

Page 124: I unity of recession

Page 127: Unfinished foregrounds can have benefits…

Page 127: II Vitality of recession

Page 127: Raphael… Disput’ and School of Athens

Page 128: III infinity of recession

Page 130: Infinite space in portraits… Go for “mysterious recession and atmosphere suggested by broken tones and vibrant quality.”

Page 130: Corot avoided foreground… Included nothing that wasn’t two or three hundred yards away.

Page 130: “many delightful landscapes are to be found in the backgrounds of figure paintings by the old masters… A painter might take hints from these works and experiment with landscape in which the middle distance.. Was the foreground.”

Page 131: IV repose of recession

Page 131: “Rubens ‘Fall of the Damned’ unpleasant… Christ Presented to the People by Rembrandt.. Shows agai. The effectiveness of empty space.”

Page 132: Chapter 9 Emphasis of Shadow

Page 132: “The arrangement of light and dark masses will be governed by the same laws, be they European or oriental…”  this is the shadow pattern… Or what did Aristides call it?

Page 133: I unity of shadow

Page 133: Unity of tone and unity of mass…

Page 134: Find: pubis de Chavannes

Page 134: “a large easel picture needs to be lighter in key…” not what Merisi would say.

Page 135: Interesting idea on the relation of contrast to scale… Bigger the image, the less dark.  Tell that to Odd.

Page 136: Van Dyck and Reynolds good examples of balance with light and dark.

Page 138: “the most forcible of all oppositions being obtained when the brightest light in a painting is brought into contact with the most intense passage of dark…. Yet this forcible contrast must be employed with caution or it will be destructive of breadth of effect.”

Page 139: Safety lies between these two extremes, in portraiture we may notice how Titian, Van Dyck and Velazquez repeat the contrasts on their sitter’s heads by one or two subordinate contrasts on the light on the hands or on some accessory.”

Page 140: The “chessboard” rule: vertical sections… Ensure that no darks or lights go unbroken.

Page 140: III infinity of shade

Page 140: “when shadows are filled vague reflected lights (this is what Odd is a master of) or when the lights themselves ar aired ad cloudedvwith faint shadows, the objects in a picture do not proclaim themselves at once, but leave room for the play of the imagination in filling up the parts obscured.”

Page 140: “the secret of Rembrandt…”

Page 141: “…real secret not arrangement of masses of light, but quality.” What does he mean by quality?

Page 141: “… But with experience (Rembrandt) found he could rely upon his drawing to give all the solidity he needed… That a better effect was produced when shadow was used broadly, as a means of suggesting the vibration and subtlety of atmospheric tone, and for rendering those delicacies of modeling on which all refined and profound expression depends.  So in all of his mature work shadow is used as a veil, softening outlines which would otherwise looked harsh, suggesting the play of nature’s light upon illuminated surfaces and the mystery of nature’s darkness where the illumination was faint.”

Page 141: I love the ideavthat Drawing = Solidity.

Page 141: Mutatis mutandis

Page 142: Titian: “If light and shadow must have a sharp edge then it must invariably merge softly into the ground elsewhere.”

Page 142: “Titian’s light if examined will always be found to have a delicate half-tone at one edge, which connects them with the tone adjoining them: the shadows at some point will merge imperceptibly into a lighter tone.”

Page 143: When vigor of contrast is lost, unity and subtlety of effect is gained.  … Later works of Rembrandt show this.

Page 144: IV Repose of Shadow

Page 144: Whistler is great example.

Page 145: Interesting analysis of contrast in relation to size of canvas.

Page 146: Chapter 10 Emphasis of Color

Page 146: “most painters are content to leave color to chance…” Hmmmmm, sounds familiar.

Page 146: Find: Prof. Denman W. Ross, A Theory of Pure Design

Page 147: “it is fantastic to think so.”

Page 147: I.e., landscape painters don’t realize that local color will kill harmony.

Page 148: Find: Watts “Mammon” uses the red to emphasize cruelty.

Page 148: Yellow is exhilarating

Page 148: Blue

Page 148: Purple

Page 149: Orange

Page 149: Green

Page 150: Brown, grey and olive

Page 151: “use pure white with the utmost parsimony.”

Page 151: See Titian’s Bacchus and Ariadne for a masterclass on limiting white.

Page 152: “general color of a work decidesmwhat it’s sentiment is to be.”

Page 152: So, general color scheme should sustain sentiment of theme.

Page 152: I unity of color

Page 152: First inquiry: howto ensure a harmonious whole and not a chance aggregate of conflicting hues?

Page 153: “scientific theory on harmony and contrast serves about as much as a canon on ideal proportion.”

Page 153: “Reynolds enunciates that the shadows of a picture should be of the same color… This is naturally most effective when a large portion consists of color, like in a Reynolds or a Rembrandt.”

Page 153: Another Reynolds principle: whites, high lights, should be warm, “as if illuminated by the setting sun.”

Page 157: Test of color harmony on European artists…

Page 158: “Venetians rightly hold the first place as colorized among the various schools of Italy.”

Page 158: “The peculiar glow and vibration of their pigments, the secret of which (probably depending upon the use of a tenpera ground underthe oil painting) has long been lost.”

Page 159: II Vitality of Color

Page 160: “There can be no doubt that the real way of introducing vitality into color is by devising a color contrast of a suitable kind.”

Page 160: On the vibration between laid-over colors and the ground…

Page 160: Something I’ve always considered, but never thought of in this way: “Hence the danger of repainting any part of a picture without ensuring that the new paint is laid over a ground which differs from it considerably in color.”

Page 161: Again, Titian’s Bacchus…

Page 162: Harmony depends on repetition? I would have said rhythm.  Keep greatest contrast near point of interest.

Page 163: “Color contrasts are more lively and forcible if contours are kept sharp.”

Page 163: iII Infinity of Color

Page 163: “In good pictures, even the colors which appear to be unbroken reds and blues resolve themselves, when seen closely, into complex tints of infinite variety.”

Page 164: Achieving great color: “…with the Venetians and Titian it seems to depend upon the laying of a film of semi-opaque oil paint over a luminous ground.”

Page 164: “Turner used thin color on a ground of solid white… Watts used successive scumbles of pigment so stiff as to be nearly dry.”

Page 164: “Every colorist (artist) … Has always had to work out his own salvation in the end, by finding for himself the method which best expresses his personal ideals.”

Page 165: “the knowledge that constant gradations or vibration lies at the root of the whole matter may do a little; but the faculty of appreciating subtle color depends, or seems to depend, upon a fineness of perception in things not mathematically demonstrable, and upon a boldness of invention which must in some degree be inborn,”

Page 165: “Certain methods can be recommended to the beginner… In oil, the use of a transparent brown underpainting, in the manner of Rubens.”. I wonder if mussini brown pink would be a good color for an underpainting?

Page 165: “A sketch is almost always more pleasant in color than a highly finished picture.”. So the trick istoleave some of the finished painting “unfinished”?

Page 166: “Freshness and directness are akin to quality and subtlety.”

Page 166: Yes, but how does Caravaggio fit into this idea?

Page 166: Aha! “even painters like Reynolds, whose contrast of tones is forcible and who admit dark shadows, always take care that their lights shall incline to flatness, and shall be delicately modeled inside that apparent flatness.”

Page 166: IV Repose of Color

Page 167: Apply this to Caesar Portrait: “The most obvious way to achieve repose is the use of secondary and tertiary tones, especially in which blue rather than yellow or red is the dominant quality.”

Page 167: Interesting: again he makes the connection between intensity and scale: glaring reds and purples on a poster vs. an illuminated manuscript.

Page 168: Excellent! How to pick a tertiary in a landscape painting of red and green…

Page 168: “the second way of securing repose in color is by doing away with sharp edges so that tones melt imperceptibly into one another.”

Page 169: “Blurring too often results in ruining the stability of the design.” – this happened to me with Caesar today!

Page 169: “we can make the painting more restful b reducing the pitch of the coloring: the landscapes of Gainsborough… Reduces sharp blues to greysvand turquoise, sharp genes to olive and golden brown.  Rembrandt too.”

Page 172: Part II Emphasis of Materials

Page 174: Chapter XI Processes of Drawing

Page 174: Processes of Drawing

Page 175: “For subtle purity… And portraits, silverpoint is invaluable.”

Page 176: Pen drawing

Page 177: Find: pen drawings by Charles Keene

Page 177: Reference to comics

Page 178: Red chalk: Raphael, Michelangelo, Holbein, Rubens

Page 180: Charcoal: “These dramatic effects, however, come so readily with charcoal that drawings made with it are apt to look showy and superficial.”

Page 181: Brush drawing

Page 184: Chapter XII Engraving

Page 203: Chapter XIII Water-Color and Egg Tempera.

Page 228: Find: Mr Berenson’s “The Florentine Painters of the Renaissance.”

Page 229: Chapter XIV  Oil Painting: The Transparent Method

Page 230: 3 General Headings for Painting: Transparent, Mixed and Opaque.

Page 231: Find: unfinished picture of St. Barbara by Van Eyck

Page 231: Design drawn on gess, then fixed with a flesh tint.

Page 232: When finished the painting was exposed to the sun…!

Page 232: Sunlight and the reference to letters by Rubens.

Page 233: Venice Turp… Then amber or varnish.

Page 234: Rubens Technique: Brown ground over the white, shadows so dark that these were the shadows for the painting; then colors, thinly except lights and half-lights where opaque pigment was laid in with considerable body.

Question: how did this technique impact Velazquez?

Page 234: Rembrandt exemplifies the mixed method… Gainsborough offers a revival of the transparent method.

Page 235: Why was the transparent method superseded?

Page 236: Ah!  Change in scale… And design alterations were nearly impossible.

Page 236: “Realism” was ultimately responsible.

Page 237: Find: Gainsborough’s “market Cart”

Page 238: Pre-raphaelite technique

Page 241: “transparency is of inestimable value to those whose feeling for color is imperfect or underdeveloped.”

Page 241: “it would seem that solid body and strong pigment would outcast a thin coat… But the reverse holds true.”

Page 243: Turner: “principle lights was first fixed by a forcible impasto.”

Page 243: “where extreme accuracy of form is required as in portraiture or figure work even the most gifted painter will hardly be able to dispense with a careful drawing to guide his eye.”

Page 244: Transparency provides greatest unity of color.

Page 245: Chapter XV: Oil Painting – The Mixed Method

Page 245: Velazquez… And the list!

Page 246: Titian is the “father” of the mixed method.

Page 246: Titian’s early work: transparent brown on luminous ground to some completeness; left to dry thoroughly; then color, some transparent, some opaque, tints frequently softened, spread or blended with fingers; first color done in broad flat masses; then painting put aside for some time, bleached out by exposure to sunshine; then painting was finished off with stumbles and glazes: Bacchus and Ariadne were produced this way.

Page 247: Two points about Bacchus: transparent brown underpainting not covered in the shadows and opaque paints were translucent films.

Secondly: though drying between coats was key.

Page 248: Titian’s later method: fully developed image in black, white and red, then left to dry, then glazes.  For Holmes, not as luminous or successful as his previous method.

Page 249: Titian modeled in low relief.  So too V (sometimes), Caravaggio in high relief.

Page 249: Dry your pictures thoroughly!

Page 250: Strong red grounds may sometime be serviceable.

Page 251: Constable, Whistler, then Van Dyck!

Page 251: Rembrandt technique:  Similar to Rubens but… First worked out a monochrome sketch in a fiercely modeled impasto containing much solid white.  Then on the impasto, transparencies… Or opaques when needed.  Even highlights were glazed.

Page 252: Velazquez!  Technique based more on all a prima: one coat of paint containing a lot of oil

Page 252: Find: Burlington Magazine, jan 1908, pp. 102-205 on CJ Ho,mes on Hals.

Page 253: Velazquez:”indeed his fame rests on the fact that no one has combined such decision and finality of brushwork with so much naturalism and pictorial good taste.” paves way for Goya to Whistler to Manet to Carolus to Sargent.

Page 255: On Reynolds… “ghosts!”

Page 255: Craquelure?

Page 256: Reynold’s influence led to 30 years of “brown sauce” .. Watts… Crome? A paint who resembles Velazquez.

Page 256: Find: Crome

Page 257: Turner worked on a thick flake white ground.

Page 257: Constable: Eclisse! Glazing over a bright light then sometimes working into it with a cool opaque color… In later years he used the palette knife to apply touches of pure color.

Page 258: Poussin French heir to Italian Renaissance, Watteau heir to Flemish.  Chardin used both.

Page 259: Daumier and Millet

Page 259: Corot’s method: on luminous white foundation, built up picture in transparent monochrome.  When dry, colors applied in thin films, forcible impasto for high lights.

Page 259: Monticello, Courbet, Manet

Page 261: “The most elaborate effects of quality can be attained by judicious use of glazing and scumbling”

Page 263: Van Dyck, Velazquez…

Page 264: “On the whole it is evident that a firm white ground, if necessary veiled with some simple tint, is the first condition of safety… Next paint should be as thin as possible; if done all a prima, so much the better.”

Page 265: Excellent advice on brushes…

Page 266: Chapter XVI  Oil Painting The Opaque Method

Page 266: Watts and Chavannes back the opaque method.

Page 267: “opaque” fails the infinity test…

Page 271: On Watts!!

Page 276: Part III Emphasis of character

Page 278: Chapter XVIi The Painter’s Aims and Ideals

Page 278: Extraordinary quote!!!

Page 280: “Despotic Art”

Page 281: Massacio and Piero della Francesca…

Page 282: Success in “virtue of the things they omit, almost as much by the assistance of the things they express.”

Page 282: What makes a painting heroic…

Page 285: Individual Art, four types: Dramatic (art of crisis), Lyrical (art of mood), Satiric (art of ridicule), Narrative (art of description)

Page 285: Find: Mr. Roger Fry

Page 286: Rembrandt, raising of Lazarus, dramatic, then T and V

Page 288: Again, Rembrandt. Drama is mostly light and shade.

Page 288: Before or after the moment… Then wat of Rembrandt’s Samson?

Page 289: Lyrical painting… Begun with Piero Di cosimo and Giorgione.

Page 290: Giogione to Titian to V to Van Dyck

Page 290: Lyrical = contemplative, charm us into sympathy with the artists mood.  Dramatic painting is moment of swift and significant change, Lyrical painting, the crisis is remote, time moves slowly.

Page 291: Here is the compare and contrast between dramatic and lyrical…

Page 291: Begin with definition and contrast, end with harmony and fusion.  This indicates the lyrical mood demands more skill and experience from the artist than the dramatic.

Page 292: Bingo! “We cannot convey subtle or delicate feeling in art without a corresponding quality in our workmanship.”

Page 292: Satiric Painting

Page 294: Narrative painting

Page 295: Of all forms, most cavorts by the educated public…

Page 296: “indeed, the great artists of all periods, though they have had the highest regard for truth, have never regarded truth as identical with deceptive imitation though this fallacious identity… Has provided an obvious and plausible critical formula.

Page 296: Interesting note on Leonardo…

Page 297: The best of the narrative painters: Van Eyck, Holbein, Chardin, Vermeer…

Page 300: Th formulas passed down by the masters must be refreshed by the application of living nature…. Narrative painting is a splendid tonic, but proves an intolerable diet.

Page 302: Michelangelo!  Ordered away from sculpture to paint the ceiling!

Page 303: Chapter 18 the painter’s training

Page 304: The training process: all great artist start with precision; precision is modified by a desire for a greater breadth of mass; this desire in turn is exchanged on the approach of old age for a love of freedom of brush work and a disregard for all minor details.

Page 306: Nice anecdote on Raphael…

Page 307: Chiaroscuro is a valuable servant only when ruled by a despot.

Page 308: The lessons learned by Raphael and Titian…

Page 309: Van Dyck and Reynolds… Then Rembrandt…

Page 310: Rembrandt “secures a mastery of certain aspects of human personality which remains supreme and unique.”

Page 311: Rembrandt and Memory…

Page 311: Find: articles on Rembrandt in the Burlington magazine…

Page 312: Development of the artist corresponds to that of the human race:

Page 313: Transition from Dramatic to Lyrical… That should accompany the new body of work: “Breadth and Oxygen.”

Page 313: The common practice of teaching an artist to draw and paint precisely and accurately at the outset of his career is absolutely correct.

Page 314: Relying fully on models vs. A combination of models and memory; the latter is what Odd does. Tim, you must aspire to “give solidity to the things you imagine.”

Page 315: All great artists, however precocious eir beginning, have a long time in attaining to the summary breadth, fusion and emphasis of their final manner.

Page 315: “The artist must remain a student all the time he is attempting to be a master.

Page 316: “No instance I believe is known of a painter regaining the powers of his youth after he has once succumbed to the temptations of indolence or popularity.”

Page 316: “the best remedy for the perilous disease of “middle age”–endless experiment…. Incessant alternation between working form memory and working from the model, until the period of experiment is succeeded by that of experience–of perfect knowledge.”

Page 317: Quote the following paragraphs with keyboard!

Page 319: Chapter 19 the future of painting

Page 328: Taste in the arts…

Page 331: Why evolution of the representation of nature in art is possible: the expression of vitality is not confined to an all-round statement of things in themselves alive, but may be conveyed also, and often more effectively, by an emphatic statement of a few significant features.

Page 332: Unhesitating selection and omission is open to one real peril: emptiness.

Page 336: Chapter 20 Some Popular Fallacies

Page 336: Fascinating: is subject-matter, it’s inward significance, more important than it’s technical expression, it’s outward decorative aspect?

Page 337: “The illustrator, in consequence, has always enjoyed it’s immediate favors at the expense of the true painter… Luckily, ultimate rank is not settled by the popular voice, but by the accumulated judgement of trained minds…and they have recognized that decorative excellence is an essential condition of artistic immortality.”

Page 338: More on the relationship between Decoration and Significance…

Page 339: Identity of construction implies identity of thought.

Page 340: “the advantage of using only a limited number of colors is still rarely insisted upon.”

Page 340: “Truth to Nature” – were this so the best works of art would be those that resemble photographs.”

Page 341: A few points seem clear: On Unity: all the symbols employed in  a single work should be of the same kind and have the same relation to nature.

Page 341: On Vitality: Vitality is enhanced if the symbol states no more than the essential features, if it states them clearly, and if it states them swiftly, for the very swiftness of the execution will convey a sense of power and liveliness to the spectator. This vitality must also be accompanied with the tenderness and subtlety born of long and earnest insight into nature, or the symbol, though spirited, will be shallow.

Page 341: Repose involves that the symbol shall take it’s place quietly in the work for which it has been designed.

Page 342: So long as a painter’s symbols breathe that living force and acknowledge that subtle tenderness, they will possess the essential character of nature, whatever facts, or details, or appearances, they may, for pictorial reasons have to sacrifice

Page 342: On Values and Finish…

Page 342: …and not the Egyptians, Greeks and Romans?

Page 343: Coarse, empty, lifeless… Great words for special people.

Page 343: Values may be unquestionably useful a a means of training students to grasp the general aspect of things, as part of their artistic alphabet; but it is no more a complete solution of artistic problems than knowledge of the alphabet is a complete equipment for the poet.

Page 343: If Velazquez, who is sometimes named as the great master of values, depended for his reputation upon values alone, he might rank lower than the shadowy Mazo.  It is because he could paint the living soul and the princely refinement of his sitters, and could fuse that life and subtlety into superbly decorative canvases, that his name stands high–not because he marched values with conspicuous taste.

Page 343: On Finish… All painters know that it is frequently impossible to retain in a finished picture the freshness and spirit of a rapid sketch.

Page 343: Find: Mr. roger Fry’s “Reynolds’ Discourses”

Page 344: Finish is the balance between Vitality and Infinity.  The question is: where must the painter stop?

Page 344: It would seem as if the painter had to make at the outset a great decision: should the aim be clearness of impression, or should it be richness of content?

Page 344: If richness of content is the objective, fuse details with large masses (titian is the master).

Page 344: Average talent should aim at clearness of impression

Page 345: Another take on “illustration”: a mass of tedious detail = dull illustration.

Page 346: A good ideal: outcome should be the result of a personal experience.

Page 346: All painters except Narrative painters thus produce their effects by the emphatic rendering of some part or phase of nature… Which is the business of the painter’s personality.

Page 347: The mechanical part can be learned with the help of others… But subject matter must be chosen… If done before the labo is in vain.

Page 347: Good Picture= “Personal Experience Emphasized by Emotion in terms of Decoration”… It is only in their perfect fusion that the solution of the problem of painting can be found, and to master the secret of this fusion is the hardest task of all.

Page 348: …until some royal road is invented…

“A Figurative Painter, Literally Speaking”

A time-elapsed evolution of a recent painting, “Knight in an Evening Landscape.”

“Oiling Out”

It looks like some learned practical instruction is finally making its way on to YouTube.  The trick is finding them.  Surprisingly, the keywords “oiling out” produced some interesting results: Read more

Glazing ≠ Luminosity

The truth is: keying up a flesh tone with a near-white color and then glazing over that with a transparent dark (like a raw umber) does not charge the image with an electric-like glow.  Instead, the glaze dampens the luminosity and shifts the hue.

How strange I thought the contrary to be true.  A lapsus?  Or have I missed something?


The Holy Grail of Flesh Tones, Part II: Velazquez

A funny thing happened the other day as I was googling through the web universe in search of greater enlightenment on flesh tones… Read more

Odd Nerdrum’s Ground

I just had a conversation with my Maestro about this tonight… though I have managed to concoct my own “Italian version” of the ground, you can read a super explanation of the actual materials used here on Art Babel.

pLog Pith VIII

A few words now about technique, so that there may be no misunderstanding as to its importance.  It is a poor thing that cannot be abused, and I do not want you to be afraid of the word, or to surround it with mystery. Read more

Why Your Paint and Medium Sometimes Doesn’t Stick: The Beading on Your Canvas and How to Fix It

Yes, I promise, I’m really going to give you the solution.

So, for all of this fuss about paint or medium acting like “beads on a duck’s back,” it turns out the duck knew why all along.  So did Max Doerner.  Which is a good thing, because if it had been left to my powers of deduction it would have remained a mystery unsolved.

Why does water run off a Duck’s back?  Rumor has it (i.e., Yahoo! Answers) that ducks have something called a “preen gland” that produces a waterproof mixture of waxes and oils.

So guess why your paint or medium (when you “oil in”)–or even varnish–sometimes forms beads on an already-painted surface?  Yep, oil.

The solution?  I’ll pass this on to Max…

Read more

Titian: His Colors and Technique

My friend and colleague, the Classicist Paul Gwynne, called my attention to this documentary just a couple of weeks ago: he had it on VHS, but I would have to wait to see it.

Not known for my patience, I immediately searched YouTube… but didn’t find anything.

Well, nothing can cure mediocre research skills like a good case of insomnia.  Tonight (this morning), I found it:

Read more

Sedulous Indulgence and Instruction from Carolus-Duran

Book notes on A Manual of Oil Painting by the Hon. John Collier published in 1887.

sed-u-lous – adjective – (of a person or action) showing dedication and diligence : he watched himself with the most sedulous care.

This book was a great pleasure to read; each paragraph a joyous reminder of all things technically practical and pragmatic.  The biggest surprise for me was finding an anecdote on the teaching methods of Sargent’s teacher, Carolus-Duran:

Read more

The Secret of the Old Masters

This life work was more or less an injury and loss to me in many ways.

—Albert Abendschein, author of The Secret of the Old Masters, published in 1909

As such, I wouldn’t dare be the one to spoil Mr. Abendshein’s efforts by readily revealing the “secret.”  It’s actually a fascinating read: the author spends most of the book walking you through his torment (via his many experiments in pursuit of the secret) until he gets to the end and reveals the discovered secret in a couple of paragraphs.

You can find a link to this book in PDF format in the Bibliography.

Below are the annotations I made while reading this book on the iPad:

Read more

“Getting Started”

Going through some emails today I came across this gem sent from my Dad:

The secret of getting ahead is getting started.

The secret of getting started is breaking the overwhelming complex task into small manageable tasks.

Then, start with the very first one.

Mark Twain
American Humorist, Writer, & Lecturer

“Bianco di San Giovanni”

This white was mentioned in an earlier post on Caravaggio as an “extender white” for oil painting.  However, on a manufacturer’s website it indicates the following:

Bianco di San Giovanni is considered the white pigment par excellence for fresco painting. It is used also in tempera and grounds while it is not advised in oil and encaustic painting techniques.

Clearly there is some confusion.  I will research further…