Robert’s Painting Approach
I build my paintings with three different layers of paint known as the indirect method. First, I start off with a drawing of the main elements onto the surface where I then work on my 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 my 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, I paint 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 I want to achieve, takes time. The paint is applied thicker on this layer and a medium is used; I use a 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 (Background)
The fun layer, the layer where the magic happens! This is when I start to use a medium (Stand Oil diluted with OMS) with my paints, this adds “body” to the paint, helping to keep the paint wet longer so it can be manipulated easier. I typically work from the background to my foreground because of the logical overlapping of shapes as they proceed closer. This layer takes much longer to paint because we are trying to capture the details and nuances of the scene before us.
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 to 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.