Friday, August 7, 2009

Transparent, Translucent, Opaque

When I look at paintings, I'm drawn to the variety in brushwork and paint consistency more than the subject matter. Paintings in which each mark has the same level of opacity as every other mark are ultimately boring for me to look at no matter what they depict.
The artist Stephen Quiller teaches that a painting can, and should, have a full range of paint consistency from transparent to translucent to opaque.

Transparent areas are the first ones that I lay in. They have pure pigment with no white whatsoever. The paint is thinned with a medium or scrubbed in with the brush but either way, it is see through. It acts like a glaze in watercolour, allowing light to penetrate to the lower layers or to the canvas beneath.

Translucent layers come next. They also allow show through but less so. The paint is modified slightly by the addition of white or an opaque pigment such as cerulean or yellow ochre. These layers give body to the colour and cut the raw look of a totally transparent oil painting. They are also used to lighten the value of an area.

Opaque layers are the final ones that I apply. I add more white to the paint to get the lightest values of the painting and to add a visually-interesting body to these sections. It's in these layers that I get to play with impasto and show off brushwork, the stuff that gives a painting real character.

All of these paint consistencies work together to make a rich surface in the final painting and omitting one of them can result in a tedious and homogeneous final work.