The Indian Artist: Methods of The Craft

Good morning everyone! I hope that you all are well and had a nice three-day weekend. As I have found myself more and more obsessed with oil painting since my last piece, I have come to learn a lot about the various different methods of applying paint to create a beautiful composition. My post for this week will be outline the main oil painting techniques that have been used throughout history and are now  at any artists’ disposal.

  1. Alla Prima (Wet on Wet) – This is a great method for quicker studies and less rendered pieces of work. A favorite amongst Van Gogh and Monet, Alla Prima is a very direct method of painting in which the paint is not allowed to dry between layers, thus labelled “wet on wet”. The aim of this method is to finish the whole painting before the paint starts to dry. This allows a piece of work to be completed much more quickly. It takes great skill to apply paint to the canvas in the exact color and form that is intended.
  2. Glazing – Glazing is an interesting and great technique for beginners to master. Glazing is the use of transparent layers on top of an opaque base layer that has already established shadows, tone, and value. When subsequent layers of color are applied they have a glossier finish. This creates an impressive multi-faceted look. I have never really experimented with glazing but it is a wonderful way to bring life to a more dull object and is used quite often with still-life work. This was an approach used by Vermeer in much of his work.
  3. Scumbling – Scumbling is a great way to bring texture to a piece. Scumbling refers to the technique of using a dry, stiff brush to apply thin layers of paint to canvas. Generally the paint is applied directly out of the tube over top of an already dried base. The result is that the image does not have a smooth finish, with some of the underpainting still exposed while demonstrating bright, pure chroma overtop. J.M.W. Turner was a big fan of Scumbling as can be seen in his piece “Snow Storm, Steam-Boat off a Harbour’s Mouth”.
  4. Underpainting – This is perhaps the technique that almost all oil painters use. This can be done with various mediums from creating a graphite sketch, carbon copying an outline, doing an acrylic base painting, or simply using washes of natural colored oil paints. The most common is using a color such as Burnt Umber or Burnt Sienna to tint the entirety of the canvas and create a sketch of the subjected being painted. I use this technique combined with gridding and graphite sketches before I really start applying any opaque paint to the canvas.
  5. Impasto – This is one of my favorite things to implement in a painting and also my favorite to observe in other artwork as well.  Impasto painting was a key feature of many of Van Gogh’s works as well. Requiring deliberate strokes of thick paint, each mark of the paintbrush is clearly visible in the finished piece. When using this technique, paint is generally mixed directly on the canvas. When used on choice areas of a piece, it can create a beautifully capturing and three-dimensional effect, making those areas more prominent. You could even use a palette knife instead of a brush for impasto. Be careful though, these areas will take a very long time to dry so reserve them for the end of a session!
  6. Grisaille – This is a very advanced technique of painting and one that is not as common anymore. Used frequently in the Renaissance Era for portrait painting, Grisaille refers to the art of painting in monochrome, using black, white and grey to show light, dark and shading. With the large variety of chroma and color available now, this technique has fallen out of favor. However, it is still used as a method of underpainting. Creating an entire rendering in black and white and then establishing hue overtop. Painting and drawing in black and white is used very often with beginners to help develop an understanding of tone, shadow, and value.
  7. Chiaroscuro – Perhaps one of the most striking techniques to witness when done successfully, Chiaroscuro is a method of creating high contrast in your painting. The subject is generally shown lit up by a source of bright light in an otherwise dark (sometimes bitch black) environment. Chiaroscuro was used a lot by renaissance artists such as Rembrandt and Caravaggio and said to be developed by Leonardo Da Vinci. This method creates a lot of drama and ambiance in a piece, pushing a subject into the foreground and creating a 3D illusion. When using this technique, it is a good idea to start with one light focus, such as a lamp, and work outwards from there. My current oil painting is aimed at implementing Chiaroscuro.

Oil paint is a beautiful and extremely versatile medium if you have the knowledge of how to use it. I hope this post gives a little insight into the diversity of oil paint and the diversity that an artist can implement if knowledgeable. As I always say, if anything that I discussed in this post stands out, or if any questions arise please feel free to comment and share your thoughts!


Looking forward to next Monday!


~ Riya


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Riya Aggarwal

My name is Riya and I am currently a Sophomore at Umich. Art has been a huge passion of mine from a very young age and in this column, I look forward to sharing my perspectives and outlooks on life (and specifically my culture) through my personal work!

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