Robert’s Painting Approach

Robert builds his paintings with three different layers of paint known as the indirect method. First he starts off with a drawing of the main elements onto the surface where he then works on his first layer called the tonal layer. It is simply one color, usually Burnt Umber, that is diluted with mineral spirits and the basic values are established in his painting. This layer is solely about the values; little attention is given to any details. The second layer is called the underpainting layer. On this layer, Robert paints in the colors loosely, and the paint is thinned again with mineral spirits. The purpose of this layer is to get a read on how the colors are working as well as building up more value. The next and final layer is the overpainting layer and whereas the first two layers go pretty quickly, this layer, depending on the level of detail you want to achieve, takes time. The paint is applied thicker on this layer and a medium is used; Robert uses 70/30 mixture of stand oil and mineral spirits. 

This technique is a variation of the Flemish/Venetian Old Masters’ technique where they would begin with a Grisaille (a black-and-white underpainting) and then proceed to add glazes of color to create the finished painting.

Below is the finished painting, “Moraine Morning,” which was painted using the indirect method.You will see in the following progress images the indirect method in action and the results that come from using this technique.

Stages of a painting - Drawing/Sketch

The first stage of painting is the draw/sketch stage. This is a basic drawing capturing the information needed so you can move forward with the tonal painting where you will start to establish the underlying values of your painting.

The amount of information and precision captured here is going to be different for every artist; the more detailed the piece, the more information needed.

Stages of a painting - Tonal layer

This stage is painted with Burnt Umber diluted with odorless mineral spirits, nothing else. The more diluted the paint, the lighter it is; the thicker the paint, the darker it is. The purpose of this stage is to establish the base values for the painting not worrying about any details at this point.

Burnt Umber is used because it dries fast. You can use any color you like but it might take longer to dry.

Stages of a painting - Underpainting layer

The underpainting stage is what I call the “ugly stage.” The sole purpose of this stage is to block in the colors that you will be using for your painting. Push through this stage, trying not to worry about if the colors and details are 100% accurate. They won’t be. Not only does this give you an idea of your colors but it also adds more value in the painting making the next layer, the overpainting, a better base to paint on. This is the hardest part personally for me to get through in my painting process.

Stages of a painting - Overpainting (Subject)

Moving forward in our scene with the next shape, which in this case is the subject of the painting, the elk. Since the background is complete, the small delicate hairs on the elk can be painted to give me the result I am looking for. The legs are painted further into the grass area because I need the dark tones to create a background for the grass that will come in the next section of the overpainting.


Stages of a painting - Overpainting (Subject)

Moving forward in our scene with the next shape, which in this case is the subject of the painting, the elk. Since the background is complete, the small delicate hairs on the elk can be painted to give me the result I am looking for. The legs are painted further into the grass area because I need the dark tones to create a background for the grass that will come in the next section of the overpainting.

Stages of a painting - Overpainting (Final)

The completed painting! Working in these four stages is an approach that allows you establish good underlying values. This is the most important aspect of your painting. You might think it is the detail, color or even the subject but it’s not; It is the contrast (the values) that the eye sees first.

This approach is very similar to the Venetian Technique.