I wanted to learn how to get from a grisaille underpainting to a full color painting after I did the Frankie Flathead monochrome study. So I decided to set up some colored blocks as if they were a landscape, and paint them in layers, starting with a grisaille, trying to find a method that worked for me.
Above is the final painting and below is the step-by-step process that I followed.
I used the wonderful Nitram vine charcoal to sketch first, trying to get everything in the right place and the right size. I lightly dusted off the charcoal and restated the lines with a brush and thinned paint. Then (above) I used that thinned paint to block in values, shapes and shadows, keeping them fairly light and leaving white and light areas unpainted.
Although grisailles are usually done in one color (grey, brown or dull green), I decided to use limited color (red, blue, yellow) for the “closed grisaille” (opaque paint) layers. I was still focusing on value, just blocking in the shapes with paint closer to the local color of the object. After I finished the first layer I checked to see how close I was to the correct values.
I took a photo of my block set up and a photo of my painting, and in Photoshop converted them to grayscale and placed them side by side to compare (above). Then I used Photoshop’s Custom Shape Tool and eyedropper to sample the shade from the photo on the left and paint on the photo on the right. The spots where the little blobby shapes blend in or disappear is where I got the value right. The ones that stand out show the needed value correction.
I did another layer where needed to correct the values (above). Then I could move on to paint the colors as I saw them. I mixed a color and tested a dab on the painting to make sure I was only changing the color and not the value. Below is the finished painting beside a photo of the setup.
This was a fun exercise. I’m especially pleased by all the subtle variations I saw and painted in the green blocks as they were affected by their position in relation to the light. All the green blocks except the large charteuse triangle and rectangle on the left were the same forest green color.
I bought these blocks at a children’s toy consignment shop. Some were already colored and somewhat shiny (like the red, yellow and orange in the bottom left corner); the others were plain wood that I colored with mat acrylics.
I am happy to have learned a technique for starting with a grisaille to get the values right and then adding color. For this study I had intended to follow the methods used by classical realists who get every detail and nuance of shading perfect in their grisaille and then glaze over that with many layers of transparent color. But I discovered along the way that that’s just not me. This hybrid method and level of finish suits me better, and is somewhere between the traditional approach and contemporary alla prima/direct painting.
Note about the shadow-box: I built it following Carol Marine’s ArtByte instructions except that I used an Over Bed Table instead of a tripod to support it. I got the Home Depot guy to cut the boards and pipes for me so all I had to do was assemble them and it was easy. It cost under $40 and is so much better than the black foamcore box I’d been using. If you build Carol’s box, see my comments on that ArtByte for a couple of tips.