Verdaccio layer – beginning

Chris wrote some questions about the piambura layer examples in this post here. Chris, thanks for the interest and questions. Sorry it took a few days to get back to you, it’s been a… trying week. Your questions:

Is the white layer done in one go. – For these studies the white piambura layer was done in one day. I don’t see any reason why the piambura couldn’t be done in multiple sessions, though, if needed – for instance in a larger or more complex work.

is the white paint thinned at all – The white paint is not thinned with a solvent, but painted quite thinly so that in the darker halftones the imprimatura shows through. The lead white does some interesting optical mixing with the brown underlayer, giving the impression of a blueish tone. From what I’ve been told this can actually help to neutralize subsequent warmer skin tones.

My instructor advocates using a bit of Canada balsam mixed in with the paint for some stages. I didn’t follow his instruction on this, because I think it’s generally a bad idea to incorporate natural soft resins into an oil paint layer. I tried it out on a color comp thumbnail, and I didn’t really like the way it handled anyway. Can’t really see the up side here.

Do i need a smooth surface – We’ve been painting on oil-primed linen, Claessens 13, which is like canvas but a pretty tight weave. So, smoother than regular canvas, but not as smooth as panel. I just picked up a small traditionally gessoed panel, and I plan to try this technique with that. I don’t see any reason why this technique couldn’t be done on any number of different surfaces, but each will give a different effect since the layers of paint are pretty thin, allowing the texture of the ground to show through. Linen is considered by many to be one of the best surfaces for portrait painting, because of the tight weave and fairly smooth surface.

First verdaccio attempt

First verdaccio attempt

When do you think your next post will be. Well, now that you mention it… I’ve begun on the verdaccio layer of the first portrait, which you can see at right. It probably looks pinker than you’d expect a verdaccio to be – after all, verdaccio means green first. However, this style of verdaccio involves both green and red. The green is chromium oxide green, and the red is a complex mix called sinopia. (It isn’t really sinopia, though – more about that later. I mixed up quite a bit of this red and tubed it up to use for the figure next month.) Each color is mixed into the other, making a very grayed warm and cool, one leaning slightly green, the other leaning slightly red. From these two piles ramps of eleven values each are mixed. This is just a little preview; I’ll make sure to post pics of the fully-arranged palette in the next post – it’s a bit of work to set up! – and hopefully the finished verdaccio layer.

This is all stuff I’m learning in class, and painted from life, which always adds to the challenge factor when learning a brand new technique, at least for me. When the class is finished I plan to do one or two studies on my own, working from photographs so that I can really focus on the technique itself, and I’ll try to take those up to fully-rendered classical paintings. I’ll also make some changes to the colors I’m using, simplifying and making more traditional choices. More in two weeks!

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