Sentries - SOLD

Trying to figure out techniques of Old Masters I chose a simple composition and dramatic light. I am mesmerized by chiaroscuro effect (a contrast of light and dark) in the old paintings and especially Caravaggio. It has proven to be very hard to find a good detailed description of oil glazing method the way they did it back then. I read numerous books containing sparse and cryptic outlines, and as a result tried a sequence of steps that some authors attribute to Caravaggio himself, others call it the Dutch or Flemish technique used by Jan van Eyck and his contemporaries.

I planned to document each step, but it didn’t work that way. I would get all caught up painting and forget to stop and photograph various stages. But I have the main steps captured.

Sentries - Imprimatura

I did a detailed charcoal drawing of my still life on gessobord. I fixed the charcoal with workable fixative and let it dry. Then I covered the entire surface with initial oil layer called Imprimatura. I used Burned Sienna for that because of the fast drying properties of oil earths and to create warm undertones. I let that dry completely.

Sentries - Grisaille underpainting

The next stage was Grisaille underpainting. This is a monochromatic painting, basically a grayscale to establish values, and is done using lean oils in dark and white. It is sometimes called Dead Layer. Or when it is done with an earth color, like I did here using Burnt Umber, it is called Verdaccio.

It is a very important step and has to be done just right because it is hard to fix values later. I spent a lot of time here. Then I let it dry for several days.

Sentries - first glazes

Now it was time to bring in color glazes. I had a bunch of trouble here because I couldn’t figure out my glazing medium. I tried using my general Galkid Lite oil medium, but it was too thick and viscous to spread out the way I wanted. I got another medium recommended in one of my books, but it gave me a blindingly shiny paint film, so sparkly that I thought I’d have to junk this painting. Finally I tried a very liquid medium, practically a plain linseed oil, and it worked. While I was struggling with my medium problem I stopped taking photos because I thought I would have to abandon this painting and start over. The photo above was taken when I managed to quiet down the shine.

It didn’t take many glazes to get to the final values, maybe 4 or 5. Probably because I spent all this time with my Grisaille layer, and my values were well defined. At this point the painting was pretty much painting itself. When I got close to completion I added details,  dots and imperfections on the pears’ skin, deepened the background and painted the texture on the wooden box. Then I added one more glaze of colors to the pears to unify everything. Finally I painted the last glaze of pure medium to even out the sunken areas. Finito!

Many of my friends and family are of the opinion that I should start marketing my work. These little painting tiles are perfectly sellable, they say. I finally gave in and after some research and oscillation chose an online gallery Daily Paintworks. Check it out for many wonderful original paintings and an amazingly talented group of artists. I am happy to be in such a great company! Here’s the beginning of my galleryon the Daily Paintworks site.

6″ x 6″ (15 x 15 cm) oil on gessobord panel.

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  1. Reply
    lesliepaints August 4, 2011

    Thank you for sharing your approach to painting these. They absolutely glow, Alex. I can see the resemblance to Carravagio for sure!
    Oh yes. I agree with your friends.

    • Reply
      Alex Zonis August 4, 2011

      I had so much trouble figuring out how to do this technique that I felt I had to share what I discovered. It seems a vast majority of painting today is done using direct painting method. Maybe they teach how to do Dutch method in art schools, but I’ve never gone to an art school. Even my painting teacher is not very sure about this, he paints Alla Prima mostly. He gives me a good critique after I finish a step, but doesn’t teach me about next steps or technical intricacies of the old practice. And there are so few books that talk about it. I am very pleased I was able to come up with some semblance of the steps that create this kind of light in the painting. Thank you for finding the resemblance to Caravaggio, Leslie! It is dear and also a little funny because Caravaggio is an ultimate painting authority to me.

  2. Reply
    Balaji August 4, 2011

    This is superb!!!
    And yes, thank you very much for sharing your technique.

    • Reply
      Alex Zonis August 4, 2011

      Thank you, Balaji! I am glad you find this useful!

  3. Reply
    pointypix August 4, 2011

    Alex this is wonderful. You know so much about technique that you absolutely put me to shame – I am too impatient to learn new things very often and just start slapping the paint on and see what happens (it would probably do me good to actually read one of the many books on various painting styles and technique that I have!) The light in this painting is just stunning and your friends and family are so right – if anyone could sell their art work it would be you because I have yet to see anything even slightly mediocre on your blog – from pears to people you manage to capture them all beautifully!

    • Reply
      Alex Zonis August 4, 2011

      Wow, what a comment! Thank you, Nicola! Light did indeed come out to my liking, as the writings on this technique predicted. Still I was surprised at the result!
      As to knowing however much or little about various techniques, I am just technically inclined. Even my teacher commented on that. No-one else in my class is interested in technical aspects of painting to this degree. And still many are wonderful artists, as are you. It takes all kinds. Some go as far as grinding, baking and cooking their own pigments, mixing their own paints, making custom mediums. On the other end of the spectrum artists paint with whatever happens to be available and within reach. People of either group make good paintings and bad paintings. I don’t think it matters or shows in the final result how educated or well read on techniques an artist is. I love your work, it is free and spirited and clever without a heavy burden of Italian or Dutch terminology. If you are interested in that stuff, go ahead and read up on it. If it puts you to sleep, forget about it and just paint.

  4. Reply
    Beth Parker August 4, 2011

    This is so beautiful, Alex! It just glows! Thanks for sharing your stages. I agree that you can easily sell your work, too!

    • Reply
      Alex Zonis August 4, 2011

      Thank you, Beth! We’ll see how well the marketing of the art goes. It is not easy to sell art, just remember Van Gogh…

  5. Reply
    lindahalcombfineart August 5, 2011

    Your diligence paid off with this beautiful painting. I think your work is clearly commercially viable. For me it is always a trade-off between the business-side and the painting-side. I’ve never had enough time to devote to the business side. I agree with several comments above. This painting glows!

    • Reply
      Alex Zonis August 6, 2011

      Glad you liked the painting, Linda! Business side deserves time indeed, but who wants to do this when they can be painting instead… sigh… Thank goodness for online galleries!

  6. Reply
    Carol King August 8, 2011

    Hi Alex, Your sentries stand alert and at attention. Each one a slightly different shape, yet each glowing with ripeness and beauty. I absolutely love the light and the shadows. Boy you don’t fool around. When you want to learn something you go for it all the way. It seems like you are already a master at oils. Thank you for sharing the steps with us. And good luck with your on-line gallery. I’m sure your work will FLY off the virtual shelves.

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