Painting Classic Oil Portraiture – Simplified Grisaille Method

Painting Classic Oil Portraiture - Simplified Grisaille Method

Our 2 Day Portraiture in Oils sessions at The Old School House Arts Centre are valuable and enjoyable experiences for all participants. In the 2 day workshops we start with a simple charcoal drawing on primed canvas and proceed with thin, transparent glazes of oil paint mixed with fast drying alkyd medium. This method allows for a completed portrait in as little as 1 to 2 days.

Watch highlights and in the words of one of the participants “consistent, clear directions”.


Look What You Can Learn in 2 Days

It's All About The Drawing

Working in vine charcoal, we establish the placement of the head and the focal point. We determine the source of light and subsequent linked shadows. We establish spatial relationships between key features, continually simplifying and linking shapes. The charcoal drawing is set in a fixative spray, ready to painted over in glazes. At this point it can be painted over by the blocking-in method, however in a classic grisaille method the charcoal drawing can simply be glazed over.

Glazes and Washes in Oil Painting

Much like watercolour, glazes in oils help when evaluating colour, darks and details.

Always work “fat” over “lean”, working with the thinned down washes first. Generally the common classic mix of 1/3 turpentine, 1/3 oil and 1/3 damar varnish is a typical medium to mix into your oils. These are slow drying so in order to speed up the drying time you can add alkyd medium. Thinned even more with turpentine, you can get interesting textural effects in the negative space surrounding the head study.

Think of “glazes” like transparent apple juice and “washes” like milk. Oil paints, like any other medium, have properties in each pigment that lean towards opacity or translucency. Glazes allow light to penetrate through in a glowing manner, whilst washes are useful in lightening areas however not as “glowing”. They tend to block the light. Consider laying down most of your translucent glazes first, with subsequent washes.

The Final Details

To finish the painting we can add different areas of paint consistency. Thicker impasto brush work or knife painting alongside translucent glazes creates good design elements that contrast. Allowing the drawing to show through keeps the work authentic and “in touch” with the artist’s creative process.

We may want to finish the painting in a less developed way, whereas others may want to develop the piece more. In any case, we don’t want to overwork the painting, 

“To gain new ideas we must constantly be exposing ourselves to the treasures of the world. We need to keep our eyes and our minds open. Remember, the creativity of God is everywhere. We simply need to see it, and then let that spark new ideas.”
― Stephen Altrogge 
Author: Create – Stop Making Excuses and Start Making Stuff

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