THE POSTER STUDY
A painting is a miniature world, a microcosm. In it every brushstroke relates to every other. This microcosm is tonal: it consists of many colors relating to one another in a delicately balanced harmony. That balance is called 'the poster'. The poster is the state of tonal agreement in the color microcosm. The 'poster study' is the exercise in which we study the poster. It is a small (5"x7"), very simplified, very abstract, color sketch that represents the major tonal elements and tonal relationships of the composition.
The poster study is the first exercise in the form painting process. It helps students see the composition they intend to paint in the sense of a whole tonal field. Once painted, poster studies are kept close at hand. They serve as reference for the subsequent steps of the painting process.
THE CHARCOAL DRAWING and INK-IN
The drawing defines and clarifies the visible space within the composition. It is the spatial geometry of the painting. It is to the painting what the skeleton is to the human body: the inner, structural framework. It organizes and upholds the tonal field mentioned above. A painting without an inner structure derived from at least some kind of drawing is simply a formless mass of colors.
The drawing is done in vine charcoal directly on the canvas. ('Vine' is a variety of charcoal that lends itself to drawing on canvas.) Once the drawing is finished, its lines are 'inked in' with a small fine brush, using a dilute mixture of oil paint and solvent. This 'ink' drawing dries to the touch almost immediately and the charcoal is brushed away.
The wash-in is a thin under-painting executed in dilute washes of oil paint and solvent. It somewhat resembles a watercolor. Unlike monochromatic under-painting techniques, the wash-in is fully chromatic.
The wash-in is an intermediate layer. It is the mediating factor that unites and reconciles the bare canvas and the finished paint surface.
The wash-in helps solve many of the problems that we would otherwise encounter if we were to paint a finished painting directly on white canvas. One such problem has to do with knowing whether or not the colors we're applying to the painting are indeed the ones we want. Colors, by themselves, are never right or wrong. They can only be judged in their tonal context, i.e., in the painting itself. That context is never fully realized until the painting is done. Consequently, while the painting is in progress there is always a degree of uncertainty involved in the choice of colors. However, we can take steps to lessen the degree of uncertainty.
We already took one such step when we painted the poster study. In that exercise we began to acquaint ourselves with an accurate estimation of the tonal structure of the composition. The wash-in is another step in this direction. In it we gradually build up, through a series of quick drying layers, a thin under-painting that approximates a true painted version of the scene we intend to paint.
Against a white background nearly all colors seem very dark, and many of them seem much less intense than they would in the context of a finished painting. The tendency when painting on a white surface, is to make everything too light and too saturated. It is difficult to judge colors accurately. It is much easier to judge the colors of the final paint layer when they're applied on top of the wash-in.
Another difficulty arises when we attempt to achieve certain color effects with only a single paint layer. Many tube colors are either transparent or semi-transparent. Consequently, many of the color mixtures we produce on our palettes are likewise somewhat transparent. It is difficult to cover the white of the canvas uniformly with such mixtures. The application of these colors over a white surface results in a mottled, uneven paint layer. In order to cover the white surface uniformly, such paint must be thickly built up. This makes it difficult to handle. By contrast, thin paint films are relatively easy to handle, and are preferable to thick paint films, especially when painting delicate passages in which intricate drawing and subtle shading play a part.
The wash-in pre-tints each part of the canvas with a color foundation similar to the final color mixture to be applied in that place at a later time. Much of the work of covering the canvas is thus accomplished in the wash-in. It therefore enables us to paint relatively thinly in the final coat.
The wash-in is the dress rehearsal of the finished painting. It prepares the canvas (and the painter) for the exacting effort of finding and applying the precise color mixtures of the form painting process.
Form painting is a 'direct', 'window shade' method of painting 'wet into wet', and 'into a dark base'. In form painting we mix individual colors with a brush on the palette, and apply them to the surface of the canvas, brush stroke by brush stroke, creating continuous, changing tonal progressions. These progressions mimic the changes of light and shade that we see on the model. Since the colors are applied directly, and opaquely, rather than being developed indirectly by the multiple transparent layers typical of glazing techniques, form painting is considered to be a 'direct' painting method.
This is not a 'slather paint everywhere quickly' approach. Instead, form painting is a 'window shade' technique. We paint one section at a time, finishing it completely, before we go to the next, adjacent section. The painting slowly reveals itself as if a window shade were being withdrawn to expose the scene hidden behind it. This approach necessitates careful control of value and color. It benefits from an accurate drawing.
We begin painting each section in the darker tonalities, at the 'bottom' of the tonal progression, and then proceed up into the light, for which reason this method is referred to as painting 'from dark to light'. Furthermore, we paint each section in two layers: an initial, somewhat generalized, and slightly darker layer, called the 'dark base', then, while the base is still wet, we brush in the 'lights'. Thus, we paint 'wet into wet' and 'into a dark base'.
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