A funny thing happened the other day as I was googling through the web universe in search of greater enlightenment on flesh tones…
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.
Knowledge or skill is much more easily acquired if one has a definite use for it.
—Charles H. Woodbury, N.A. from Painting and the Personal Equation, published in 1919.
Such a pronouncement isn’t just cause for a zealous quest, but is reason enough to headily believe that such a thing even exists.
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.
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…
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:
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:
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:
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.
American Humorist, Writer, & Lecturer
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…
Today I had a lively in-studio conversation with friend, colleague and restorer Eowyn Kerr on Caravaggio, his technique (did he glaze?) and why a painter should never underestimate the potential of a good table cloth. She was even kind enough to make for me a lovely sketch on how to understand the cross-section of a painting sample (though she refused to sign it) and, in doing so, she suggested to me that Caravaggio did not lay in a lead white base for flesh to then glaze down, but rather, worked with a flesh mid-tone, then made the highlights with a flesh-colored lead white mix. To be specific: begin the flesh with an “extender white” or “shell white” (once known as “Biacco di San Giovanni”) mixed with some yellow ochre, green earth and vermillion, then, over that, the lead white flesh.
Listed in alphabetical order by the author’s last name.
On Art Process, Techniques and Materials
- Aristides, Juliette. Classical Drawing Atelier. New York: Watson-Guptill Publications, 2006
- Aristides, Juliette. Classical Painting Atelier. New York: Watson-Guptill Publications, 2008
- De Boisbaudran, Lecoq. The Training of the Memory in Art | The Education of the Artist. London: Macmillan and Co., Limited, 1911
- Eastlake, Sir Charles Lock. Methods and Materials of Painting of the Great Schools and Masters. New York: Dover Publications, Inc., 2001
- Speed, Harold. Oil Painting Techniques and Materials. New York: Dover Publications, Inc., 1987
On Artists, Art and History
- Alpers, Svetlana. The Vexations of Art, Velazquez and Others. London: Yale University Press, 2007
- Clark, Kenneth. The Nude.
- Holland, Tom. Rubicon.
- King, Ross. Michelangelo and the Pope’s Ceiling. London: Penguin Books Ltd., 2003
- Parenti, Michael. The Assassination of Julius Caesar. New York: The New Press, 2004
On Deck – The Books On My Reading List
- Farington, Joseph. Memoirs of Sir Joshua Reynolds.
- Sir Joshua Reynolds. Discourses on Art.
Books to Look For:
- George Cooke and T.L. Busby. The Cartoons of Raphael d’Urbino.
- Leon Batista Alberti. On Painting.