Old Master Drawing and Painting Vermeer IV

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Link to Part I

Link to Part II

Link to Part III

Link to Pictures on Picasa


This page provide a document of the painting process of a Vermeer-like composition painted by Jonathan Janson. The text below explains both the origin of the composition used for this demonstration as well as the techniques and materials employed in the simplest manner possible without resorting to any undue sophistication.

Glazing & Final Touches

The technique known as glazing was extensively exploited by artists since the invention of oil painting. With the advent of Impressionism this invaluable technical tool was largely abandoned. In the simplest terms, glazing consists in brushing a transparent layer of paint over another thoroughly dried layer of opaque paint. The effect is analogous to placing a sheet of brightly colored acetate over a monochrome photograph. Glazing creates a unique “shine through” stained glass effect that is not obtainable by direct application of opaque paints no matter how brilliant they might be. The underpainting, on which the glaze is applied, is normally monochromatic but it may also contain some color. Thus, the two separate layers of paint are not physically, but optically mixed. The lower layer determines the form and light while the glaze layer gives it its color.

Since glazing has fallen out of use, most modern painters fail to comprehend the theory and correct practice behind this technique. Unfortunately, there exist no written historic source which describes in any degree of detail either the materials or basic procedures of glazing used by early painters. The difficulty of grasping the rationale behind glazing has been compounded by a misunderstanding that was diffused in the first half of the twentieth century by Max Doerner and has resisted until today. Doerner’s “glazing myth,” as it is now referred to, asserted that Rembrandt constructed his images in two stages. According to Doerner, Rembrandt painted a monochrome underpainting which was intended to establish the fundamental form and lighting scheme of his image. In order to give full color, he then applied a series of transparent colored glazes upon this pictorial skeleton using a highly transparent resinous medium. There exists no scientific evidence which supports Doerner’s hypothesis. While it is true that Rembrandt, like the great part of his contemporaries, worked up his painting over a monochrome underpainting, the great part of the colored areas were painted in a straightforward conventional manner using mixtures of opaque or semi-opaque paint to approximate the final color. In sum, Rembrandt did not build up the image with a series of transparent glazes. He used them with the parsimony as did other painters of the time. Perhaps Doerner’s “glazing myth” has influenced more than one Vermeer expert and not a few modern painters who earnestly wish to emulate Vermeer’s or the Great Masters’ technique. Glazing must be used sparingly and for specific passages, it is not a painting method in itself. The best works of the Dutch masters, including Vermeer, worked up their compositions with opaque and semi-opaque paint and inserted glazes were they were needed.
Every accomplished painter knows that a few perfectly placed touches may have an enormous impact on days, weeks or even months of hard work. Final touches not only serve to define more precisely form, texture and enhance the sensation of light, but bring into focus or register more correctly the original image of the artist’s mind. Final touches may range from a slight glaze to tone down a color or a dash of impasto white to indicate a highlight on the edge of a ceramic bowl to render its glass-like surface. Of all the facets of painting, perhaps the final touching stage is the most difficult reduce to methodical procedure. Some final touches are programmed but a great many are required to compensate for the effects that the painter had not been able to achieve in the working-up phase. Some painters barely put more than a few highlights after the working-up stage while other painters, who have a more perfectionist approach, spend days on end making minor alterations that even the most distinguished connoisseurs of the time would have failed to recognize.

At this point the painting has been worked up in almost the entire surface. This third phase is followed by a refining of modeling and adjusting of tonal values which are not all clearly perceptible in these digital images. Some areas which have been painted with much raw umber (the legs of the foreground chair) have “sunken in.” They seem lighter in tone and create a fastidious chalky finish that, however, will be restored to its original depth and color with a light passage of retouch varnish once the whole surface of the painting has been brought to the very final stages of the working process. Glazes too are generally executed in the later stages of the work since they are very hard to calibrate and must take into account the overall equilibrium of the composition as well as the reigning color harmony.

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1. This close-up image shows the still life as it is being retouched. Impasto retouching can be seen on the bright side of the ceramic vase, the details of the carpet and the illuminated parts of the models white sleeve. 2. After the blue wrap has been modeled in tints white and ultramarine and is thoroughly dried, it is glazed with a small quantity of pure ultramarine blue beginning with the lowest area near the foreground chair and afterwards proceeding upwards gradually lightening the glaze as the light-fall of light intensifies.

Although glazes are by definition transparent layers of paint, it is generally believed that at least a touch of white should be added to the most transparent pigments to ever-so-slightly reduce their transparency to avoid a glassy, “candy-apple” effect. The purpose of this light glaze is to deepen the blue wrap and give it more substance and chromatic vibrancy.

This kind of light ultramarine blue glaze over a pastel-colored light blue was used by Vermeer in the blue turban of the Girl with a Pearl Earring. The glaze has been applied loosely with a worn round-tipped brush. It will be smoothed out when all the areas intended glazed are covered appropriately. The glaze medium consists equal parts of Liquin and stand oil.

3. The ultramarine glaze is brought up slowly towards the top of the wrap. 4. The ultramarine glaze completely covers the light blue underpainting. Some dark accents are placed in the darker shadows to define the folds of the wrap.

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5. The lighter areas of the drapery near the still life are retouched with a bit of white to increase the illusion of light. The model’s hair is deepened with a bit of raw umber. The falling curls in the shadowed part of the face are defined with fine brush. 6. The ultramarine glaze is smoothed out with a sweeping motion of a very soft badger brush. This kind of brush is not generally used dry for applying the paint. It is used dry to remove brush marks, even out a layer of paint and blend adjacent colors imperceptibly.

The badger brush must be use only for specific tasks, abusing it will draw all the life out of a work.

7. The carpet must now be glazed to alter the local colors and create a sense of depth in the shadows and ulterior brilliance in the lights. 8. This detail of the carpet shows that the local color of the shadows have been applied sparingly and that the tooth of the canvas can be made out here and there.

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9. With the blue wrap firmly in place, the last important glazes are reserved for the oriental carpet. There are essentially two glazes in this passage, one for the red part of the carpet and one for the blue.

With a fine, pointed brush, a deep blue glaze of ultramarine blues is slowly applied to the decorative elements of the carpet, beginning on the left-hand side. The medium used to glaze is stand oil with a very light touch of turpentine. Mixed with the ultramarine blue, this paint becomes very thick, almost tacky, inhibiting the easy flow of oil paint.

Since it does not flow, one can more precisely lay in the glaze. The purpose of such a thick paint is that it can be evened out with a badger brush but the borders of the glazed areas will remain almost unaltered, imperceptibly blurred lending a natural softness to the design of carpet.

10. The ultramarine glaze is brought all the way to the left-hand side of the carpet. This ultramarine glazes deepens the underlying blue giving it a jewel-like quality that cannot be obtain with admixtures of opaque paints.

The shadow becomes much more suggestive and airy even though the tone is not lowered dramatically.

11. Detail of the carpet showing the ultramarine blue glaze. 12. The ultramarine blue glaze is evened out with a badger brush.

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13. From the right-hand side to the left, a thick glaze of alizarin red plus a touch of black is laid on with the utmost care over the shadowed red areas of the carpet previously painted with light cadmium red.

This glaze is very thick being applied with the same stand oil/turpentine medium. The slight addition of black tones down the excessive chromatic power of the alizarin.

14. Close-up image of the carpet showing the beginning of the red glaze. 15. The alizarin glaze is completed and some of the redddih areas are deepened with a bit of black. 16.  Detail of the glazed carpet.

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17. Detail of the foreground chair. 18. High quality image of the complete painting, before being varnished. 19. Detail of the map. 20. Detail of the open window.

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21. ditto 22. Detail of the still life. 23. Detail of the map. 24. Detail of the model’s resting hand.

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25. Detail of the background wall. 26. Detail of the open window. 27. Detail of the model’s face. 28. Detail of the foreground chair.

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29. Detail of the background chair. 30. Detail of the cushion. 31. Detail of the resting hand.  That’s all!