Recently I had the privilege of being asked to conduct a couple of still life painting workshops for QAGOMA Members, as one of the events organised around the "Portrait of Spain: Masterpieces from the Prado" exhibition. About ten enthusiastic people, with a range of artistic experience took part in each workshop. For our subject we used the beautiful vegetable, fruit and bread still life centrepiece in the Spanish-themed La Sala del Prado within the ‘Portrait of Spain’ exhibition at the Queensland Art Gallery.
In order to keep the workshops suitable to a range of experience levels, and also in order to relate the workshop to the methods used by many of the old masters in the exhibition itself, I suggested we take the groups through the "wipe-out" painting method, sometimes called the Bistre method. If you have done any painting classes with us at Atelier Art Classes, you will be familiar with this method. The method uses just one colour paint - usually a dark neutral, in this case raw umber. The canvas is covered with this paint, such that an approximately mid tone is produced, with lights made by wiping back into it to the required degree and the darks produced by painting more heavily.
Using oil paint, the surface remains active for at least several hours, even with a relatively fast drying colour like raw umber. This allows the process to be very plastic - changes can be made easily. This plasticity and the fact that the complexities of colour are left for a later time make it easier to take a broad approach to laying in areas of the composition, steering the painter away from a process that has them work on just one object or area at a time without establishing the tonal and colour context first. It also allows the strategic softening of edges that we see in great artists such as Velazquez and Goya.
The power that tonal composition and sense of light has to move us is exemplified by many of the works in this exhibition (The room of prints by Goya are a case in point). The relationship between choice of painting method and the expressive intent of the painter is vitally important to understanding painting in general.
Here is the demo piece I made for the workshops using this method.
I often employ this method or variations of it heavily in my own work. Some time ago, I uploaded some step by step examples of this method to the Atelier Art Classes blog which can be seen at: