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Colouring A Monochrome

The Art Of Painting - Colouring A Monochrome - 1, a brief series of articles on the art of painting and drawing
 
 
To avoid reiteration, I may as well go on to describe the method of preparing a monochrome for subsequent colouring. The preceding exercise represents the first stage. Briefly, then, the study or picture should, as far as it goes, be completed in raw umber and white, with turpentine as a vehicle—with this difference, that the whole is to be painted several tones lighter than nature, as a fully toned study such as you will have just done would appear if a semi-transparent paper were laid over it.
When that stage of the work is completed satisfactorily and is dry, the next will be to paint, with as much freedom as you can command, the highest lights with stiff white ; the shadows with a mixture of Indian red and ivory black ; the greys and half-tones with a combination of these colours and white,modified, as nature suggests, with cobalt or a very little emerald oxide of chromium, covering the whole of the first thin raw number painting with a new skin of paint. Begin with a fluid mixture of the middle tone, always higher in tone than nature, yet relatively just; for you must bear in mind that in completing this preparation you are mentally extracting the red and yellow colours, and translating what would be left in nature, if these two colours were not present.
When this grisaille is quite dry, then glaze and stumble, with oil at first, and, when you have gained sufficient mastery, with varnish and oil mixed, the yellow and red tones as they occur, much as you would tint an engraving with watercolours. "Glazing" is a term which is applied in oil-painting to a transparent coat of colour. "Stumbling" is a semi-opaque painting through which the underlying painting makes itself felt. When employed over a darker ground it tends to coldness. Thus often a grey bloom is obtainable. Examples of its use are indicated later on in remarks on the work of Rubens and others.
There is much prejudice against this method of glazing and stumbling among modern painters ; and yet some such process was, with but few exceptions, practised by the old masters far more generally than those who have not studied this matter imagine. But of this later ; let it suffice for the moment that I quote the words written by Sir Joshua Reynolds when he was forty-seven. He says : " I am established in my method of painting. The first and second paintings are with oil of copavia (fora medium), the colours being black, ultramarine, and white. The second painting the same. The last with yellow ochre, lake, black, and ultramarine, without white, retouching with a little white and other colours."
We have here on his authority the materials and general principles of their use, which in his hands produced such fine results. He obviously used his final colours with reference to the effect
that was beneath them; and in the same way the monochrome ground, the underlying greys, with the idea before him of a subsequent fuller colouring to be superimposed, and on this account high enough in key to allow for the warmer tints, reducing the whole to the approximate tone of nature.
You might well ask why I have suggested a modification of Sir Joshua's recipe. If my readers were Sir Joshuas, I would not dare ; but I have repeatedly insisted on the extreme difficulty one has to overcome the moral influence of what is already under one's eye. In most hands, the black and blue underground would lead to a cold blackness throughout. This is the main objection to f' grisaille " ; but it is to be overcome by approaching fuller colour by degrees. And when this trouble is mastered, the result is preferable to most direct colour paintings. Besides, the grisaille preparation varies with the temperament of the painter.
Pure glazing, when the lights are high in nature, may lower them overmuch. The addition of a little white with the warm colours, rendering them slightly opaque, obviates the loss of brilliancy, as well as the appearance of staininess sometimes left by a glaze.
Experience with this, as with all things, is a necessity.



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