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Dead coloring

Dead col­or­ing” refers to a paint­ing tra­di­tion com­mon in 15th cen­tury Glab­norkia, in which the flesh tones of all fig­ures are ren­dered as if they were dead, as a reminder of the tem­po­ral lim­i­ta­tions of the human body and the need to focus on mat­ters of the spirit rather than the mate­r­ial world.

Well, no.

Actu­ally, “dead col­or­ing” refers to an ini­tial layer in multi-layered oil paint­ing. This ini­tial layer is used to estab­lish one or more ele­ments of the final form and color of the paint­ing, while leav­ing other ele­ments to later stages of paint­ing. Nor­mally, the under­paint­ing is allowed to con­tribute to the final visual effect of the paint­ing. There are dif­fer­ent ways to accom­plish this. They include:

  • The ini­tial layer is done in shades of gray; this is called a gri­saille. With this method, you solve all prob­lems of value, com­po­si­tion, and place­ment, with­out hav­ing to worry about the com­pli­ca­tions of color. The next layer is a glaze of full color.<
  • The ini­tial layer is done in a monot­one hue. For exam­ple, it could be in shades of blue. The under­layer pro­vides an over­all tone that affects each part of the paint­ing. In effect, this is sim­i­lar to paint­ing in one layer while includ­ing a “mother color” in each paint mixture.
  • Paint each gen­eral area of a paint­ing with a sin­gle color, with­out details or shaded mod­el­ing. So, for exam­ple, a blue shirt would be painted with a flat blue that reflects the over­all aver­age hue, chroma, and value of the whole shirt. The next layer would begin to estab­lish mod­el­ing and detail.
  • Paint each area with the visual com­ple­ment of the final color. A green tree would be under­painted in reds. The idea is that the com­ple­men­tary under­paint­ing pro­vides a visual res­o­nance with the upper layer.
  • The ini­tial layer is painted as a blur, with all edges blended. Throw your eyes out of focus, then paint what you see. Fur­ther lay­ers are painted with pro­gres­sively increased focus.

All of these are essen­tially vari­a­tions on the gen­eral idea of an ini­tial dead col­or­ing layer. Some of them could, of course, be combined.

Posted in art technique, oil painting.

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2 Responses

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  1. Jeff says

    Cool overview David thanks. Have you seen Rob’s DVD on the spray method? If so, have you tried it and what do you think? I found it to be very help­ful see­ing the pro­gres­sion of lay­ers. As an advanc­ing begin­ner, I real­ize that learn­ing to get the car­toon, mono­chrome, value down is most impor­tant. Because of this I am think­ing of invest­ing in SPs gri­saille kit. It is a bit pricey but seems like a good invest­ment for me as I delve into oil paint­ing– what do you think?

  2. David says

    Thanks, Jeff. I have not seen Rob Howard’s DVD on the spray method/progressive focus method. I do intend to get it at some point, although Rob has explained the basic pro­ce­dure many times on the Cen­nini forum. (For any­one who is not aware, this method involves an ini­tial layer that is very blurry, with increased focus as addi­tional lay­ers are applied).

    I think the gri­saille set would be a good thing to work with. It’s def­i­nitely on my wish list, since I get tired of mix­ing up neu­tral gray paint strings (some­thing I do most times I paint in oil).



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