Direct and Indirect Tonal Painting

This course covers

  • Theory of representing form and light tonally - tonal scale, edges, shadow shapes

  • Direct tonal painting in Oil Paint

  • Methods of Indirect, layered oil painting

  • "Wipe out", Grissaile and acrylic underpainting methods

Below, from Left: 

  1. An example of a tonal "wipe out" underpainting in raw umber - the well-primed acrylic gessoed canvas is covered with raw umber (without solvent - add minimal linseed oil if necessary, as little as possible. This film is then wiped back to a mid tone, and darker areas are painted in more solidly, while lighter areas are wiped back to the white of the canvas. A good trick is to use baby wipes to wipe the lightest areas as the small amount of liquid in the wipe will help the get back to white without using so much solvent or oil that the paint cannot be controlled. This method allows one to soften the entire picture easily with a fan brush or rag, making all edges soft, and allowing you to strengthen certain edges with paint or wiping back. Thus you can organise the hierarchy of which edges are strongest and which are soft

  2. Three different approaches to the depiction of a subject - a form drawing (pencil) , wipe out underpainting (one dark neutral, in this case raw umber), and grisaille  (in this case raw umber and white).  

  3. An acrylic grisaille of a figure modelled with very clear separation of tonal regions, ie the edges of each area is completely unblended: 9 tones used from a dark brown to white. Notice

Below: The process of one of my still life paintings using a wipeout underpainting in raw umber ivory black. Once the drawing, tonal and edge relationships are worked out (both in terms of realism and pictorial design), the next layers in mixed opaque oil paint begins, with the lighter areas being thickest, while the darker areas remain quite thin, often only the paint put down in the underpainting layer.

This method was a favourite for many artists of the late renaissance and baroque, particularly the more tonal impressionist painters of Spain who carefully manipulated edge strength in their paintings. The adage “whichever edges can be softened should be softened” applies here.


Below: One of Scott's students learning a process of transferring from a full size drawing (technically called a cartoon) to a painting via an acrylic grisaille on a mid toned panel, overpainted in oil paint.

Below: famous examples of grisaille and cartoons, from left:

Andrea del Sarto grisaille "Baptism of the Multitude" in the Cloister of the Scalzo.  

Leonardo's study for the drapery of a seated figure.  

Part of Leonardo's cartoon for "Virgin and Child with St Anne and John the Baptist" at the National Gallery, London.

Leonardo's underpainting for "St Jerome in the Wilderness".