The classical flemish method, developed by the Old Masters of the 15th century in Europe, of applying thin layers of oil paint produced some of the greatest works in realism. Today, contemporary realists can build on these same techniques and incorporate new technologies to continue the tradition of realism art. I have developed a great appreciation and love for the Flemish Method. The yellow ochre, burnt umber and dead layers create a depth and elegance in the painting. The process is very time consuming and can take over a year to complete; but the results are rewarding. The efforts invested create a depth and richness that resembles traditional realism art.
The reference photo is often the starting point for most realist and hyper-realist artists. At times a combination of photos are used to achieve just the right image for the final piece. Once the image is selected, the canvas or panel is prepared with at multiple coats of Gesso to an smooth finish. The image is then scaled appropriately and transferred to the canvas or panel to produce a clean and detailed line drawing.
Burnt Umber Under Painting
The burnt umber under painting is a two step process. First, a thin layer of yellow ochre is applied to provide an even base and seal in the line work. The Yellow Ochre is allowed to completely dry before the second stage of burnt umber is applied in thin layers similar to a color wash. Several layers of the umber are applied with dry times in between to achieve the correct mid-tones for the burnt umber under painting.
The next layer is the grisaille, sometimes referred to as the dead layer. This is an opaque monochromatic foundation layer. Operating in just the mid tone range, and using the umber under painting as a value guide, the dead layer completely covers the burnt umber under painting. The dead layer is essential in establishing values for the color glazes that will follow. The dead layer must be completely dry before the first color glaze is applied.
First Color Layer
The first color layer is applied thinly as a glaze over the monochromatic dead layer. The dead layer provides the foundation of grey values so the artist does not have to be concerned with an over complicated pallet of colors. Only three colors were used in this example for the first color layer. As more glazes are applied, the color will become more and more richer.
Final Color Layer
At this stage the painting begins to develop a depth as the lighter tones from the dead layer come through; having the same effect as light shining through a stain glass window. The darks become deeper and colors become richer. Over time oil paints become more transparent and the painting becomes more vibrant.
The final layer is reserved for highlights and reflections. These details are the final touches that bring the painting to life. They provide the photo realism and polished feel to the painting.