Sunday, February 6, 2011

Words of Wisdom: Painting Skies with Grace


In his book, A Course of Lessons in Landscape Painting in Oils (1881), author Alfred Fitzwalter Grace (1844-1903) gave several suggestions on how to attain the proper looking sky using contrasting colors in the underpainting.  "To get the quality of intense blue seen in a summer sky, let your ground be brilliant yellow;  for a cool, grey sky, light red, with perhaps a slight addition of yellow, will be found a suitable ground." (p. 53).  He also suggested that to achieve a luminous grey sky, "... an excellent way to get it is by painting over a good, solid, white ground a thin wash of yellow ochre, and over this again when dry with white and a little cadmium." (p. 53)¹

¹ Carlyle, Leslie, The Artist's Assistant, (Archetype Publications Ltd., London, 2001), p. 201.


Lesley Naomi Grindlay said...

Hi there, just read this article and at the very last sentence it says, "...and over this again when dry with white and a little cadmium." (p. 53)¹"
Was wondering what color Cadmium that may be?

tinoradman said...

"To get the quality of intense blue seen in a summer sky, let your ground be brilliant yellow"

I read similar pieces of advice numerous times and I admit I do not see any sense in them. What is the purpose of toned canvas if the whole surface will be obliterated by subsequent layers of paint? If - on the other hand - one intend to overpaint brilliant yellow ground with (semi)transparent glazes, scumbles etc, then the sky would not look intense blue, but green.

One should take formulas like these with a grain of salt.

innisart said...

Actually, Tino, I've painted on toned grounds before, even intense chroma grounds, and have seen a difference. For one, my color choices were affected by the ground; having a transparent burnt sienna ground, for example, encouraged me to lay in colors of an equally intense chroma in the subsequent layer. If my initial layer had been raw umber instead, I would likely have used neutralized colors. Also, even when I have felt I had obliterated the ground color, I had found to my surprise that upon photographing the piece, the initial tone permeated the entire painting. Of course other artists let the ground peek through in random spots in their paintings, and along that note, I could see a yellow ground (and honestly, I don't know if Grace meant a brilliant yellow, or the color "brilliant yellow") being divided into warm and cool blues of the same value to cause color vibration.

tinoradman said...

Thanx for reply, Matt. You're right, one's color choices are affected by the ground, indeed. I had similar experiences:
(see the fifth mountainscape on the bottom row, where warm ground permeates the whole painting)
If one's intentions are to allow underground colour to act as a "unifier", that procedure is recommendable.
My point, in fact, was that toned ground (color choices aside) can not have optical (ie visible) effect on the layers above if it is covered entirely with opaque paint.
And - in regard of Grace's recommendation - yellow ground must have some influence on blue scumbles or glazes. In which case, blue can not be so intense.

Just thinking aloud ;)