Tuesday, August 18, 2009

A Painting System

Recently I taught an introductory oil painting workshop in one of the bright, new studios at Cactus Art in Calgary. There were 10 students of varying ability but huge commitment and we had a wonderful day.
We painted 11 x 14 landscapes alla prima on gray-toned canvases that I'd prepared earlier in the week by adding 2 extra coats of gesso and a gray ground.
One of the things that I stressed was that no matter what the subject, I always start my paintings in the same way; it's a formula that saves a lot of waffling and indecisiveness.
First I coat the entire canvas with a thin wash of a warm, transparent colour. This sets the tone for the whole painting and also eliminates the drag of a dry canvas.
Next I do a value painting of the subject using dark, warm colours - often a reddish-purple. I use size 12 brushes for this or house-painting sized brushes if the canvas is very large.
After that, it's just a matter of going back in with local colour of varying translucence and building marks. I love the show through of underlying marks so I never totally obscure something that I've brushed on. The initial wash is always visible in some places in the final painting.
The rest of the painting is a progression of marks woven together in increasingly light value and opaque paint.
Though it's a painting done in one session, the paint can stay quite fresh as long as there isn't much overbrushing. I settle the marks into the work by adding new colours and different stroke directions on top of them, not by stroking back and forth along the same mark which makes a dull, monotonous passage. Ideally, I lift the brush and reload it after 2 strokes, one from each side of a loaded brush.

It's good to develop a system that works for your painting so that you never have those insecure moments as you stand in front of a blank canvas, not knowing how to start. The first marks of my system eliminate that and help me get into the flow of painting much faster.


Bob Young said...

Hi Ingrid,

Regarding your "Painting System" blog post, I have one question: When laying down your values-only underpainting, do you use a viewfinder? Or do you rely only on comparative measurements along the brush handle?

Thanks for any thoughts!

Ingrid Christensen said...

Hi Bob,
I use a viewfinder sporadically - mostly for plein air. When I'm in the studio with a photo reference, I get a quick idea of cropping from the viewer and then it's all measuring with the brush handle.

Thanks for looking back at the archives of the blog!

Happy painting!