Sunday, January 1, 2012

Adrian Gottlieb's Verdaccio Technique

oil on belgian linen
26 X 20 inches

California-based artist Adrian Gottlieb has always been gracious in sharing his knowledge of painting.   His original website was filled with information he had amassed during his period of study at the Florence Academy of Art, and included recipes and procedures for making higher-quality and more archivally-sound materials than were then commonly available on the market.  For those seeking education in traditional painting techniques, his website was a treasure trove of instruction (much of this information has now been transferred to the website dedicated to Gottlieb's Atelier).

In October of 2010,  Gottlieb further shared his methods in an article which appeared in The Artist's Magazine.  Written by Daniel Brown, the article focussed on Gottlieb's verdaccio technique, and also explored the artist's feelings behind the psychology of the painted portrait.  Portions of the article were reprinted online at the Artist's Network, and the following excerpts are from that site.

1. "After I do a drawing and color study, I draw in paint, working on top of a warm imprimatura (first layer, the underpainting) that is closest to burnt umber in color and actually rather dark in value. I try for the color/value of the imprimatura to be the approximate color/value of the shadows of my main subject. When the imprimatura is fully dried, I draw in a similar color."

(For this demonstration, Gottlieb used a heavy linen canvas primed with five layers of acrylic gesso.)

imprimatura - Italian for first paint layer;  the initial stain of color painted on a ground and left visible in areas over subsequent transparent layers;  usually made with an earth color like burnt umber.

2. "In this step I build up the piambura, or white base, thinly so that the finished painting will have a luminous and translucent effect. It’s important that I create a good value relationship and blueprint of the form right from the beginning."

(Gottlieb uses mongoose and bristle filbert brushes from Rosemary & Co..  His medium is a mixture of sun-thickened oil and Canadian balsam.  For oiling out, he uses copal retouch varnish.)

piambura - the lead white base that gives faces their luminosity.

3. "The Verdaccio technique, which uses a verdaccio layer is particularly advantageous for a bright figure against a relatively dark background. I fully model the forms, using temperature variations (cool and warm) between blue-greens and reds. I keep the painting too light (in value) so when I glaze the piece, the tone will fall back down."

(For the verdaccio technique, Gottlieb recommends his students use Sinopia and Chrome Oxide Green from Blue Ridge Oil Colors.  He also suggests using permanent rose from Winsor & Newton, and Indian yellow from Schmincke Mussini.)

verdaccio -  is a style of underpainting, which uses green-grey colours to establish values for later layers of paint. The technique is renowned for being particularly effective when painting flesh tones. As such, it was popular amongst Renaissance artists, and Leonardo da Vinci used verdaccio underpainting in his masterpiece, the Mona Lisa.

Portrait of Gregg
oil, 26 X 20 in.

4. "You can see the results of the primary and secondary glazes, executed in thin layers, using lakes of color that are similar in degree of transparency and tint. I then apply straight color to work out the exact color notes and establish the relationship between figure and ground in Portrait of Gregg (oil, 26×20)."

(On his personal website, Gottlieb lists his color palette as the following colors: lead white, lead tin yellow, yellow ochre, vermilion, transparent red oxide, pyrol ruby red, cobalt blue, transparent sepia, olive green, and ivory black.  When mixing his colors, Gottlieb limits the number of source colors to four or less, and never mixes his colors directly on the canvas.  The student materials list on Gottlieb's Atelier website goes into much greater detail.)


The piambura stage of Gottlieb's paintings shows the tonal sensitivity the artist has, and are so beautiful, that many of his portraits are left at this level of finish.

Piambura of Danni
oil on Belgian linen
20 X 16 in.

Piambura of Heather #3
oil on Belgian linen
20 X 16 in.

Piambura of Heather #1
oil on Belgian linen
20 X 16 in.

Piambura of Heather #2
oil on Belgian linen
20 X 16 in.

Piambura of Heather #4
oil on Belgian linen
20 X 16 in.

Piambura of Heather #5
oil on Belgian linen
20 X 16 in.


rsbart said...

Adrian is a genius.

Julia Lundman said...

Hi Matthew,

I am unfamiliar with piambura: do you know if white paint is mixed with the earth tones of the toned canvas or is it simply brushed on thinly, unmixed after the previous layer has dried? It's difficult to imagine not having tried it.

The piambura stage of Gottlieb's paintings are haunting!

-Julia Lundman

innisart said...

@ Julia - I am prepared to be wrong, but I believe Gottlieb does not mix the lead white in the piambura stage with any other colors. I believe it is all a careful control of translucent layers of lead white. In some areas, the result almost looks gray, as you also might encounter when scumbling.

Thomas Alexander Woolff said...

Brillant post. Really useful. Just ordered the colors I didn't have to try out the Verdaccio technique. Although I cant seem to find sinopia in any european online store.

David Gluck said...

I also think it is just pure lead white, though don't quote me on that. I think he also uses three pre-mixed glazes for the flesh tones, though I can't recall what they are comprised of. Once my modeling career takes off and I become rich, I would love to own a painting of his. They look even better in real life.

Julia Lundman said...

Thank you for answering! I am eager to research and try this. So beautiful!

innisart said...

@ T.Woolff

Ralph Mayer says that Sinopia is a Roman name for a locally cultivated iron red oxide (PR102). It sounds like an answer, but really, PR 102 encompasses a wide range of hues.

I have a tube of Sinopia from Robert Doak, which he describes as "An ancient Roman earth color that’s a transparent cold red. When white is added, it creates a pinkish, grayed mauve." As a substitute, I would suggest using the most-red, most-transparent mars red you can find at your local retailer. Either that, or look at the Blue Ridge website's tint chart for Sinopia, and make your best approximation.

Thomas Alexander Woolff said...

@ Innisart
Yeah, was planning to try and mix something up myself. Some earth red with a hint of blue.
But lets see if I can hit something useable.

tinoradman said...

I read that article in Artist's Magazine. It is very informative, yet one question remains open. When I employ this approach and get to the glazing stage it is practically impossible to mix the right flesh hue from permanent red (rose/alizarin/scarlet/whatever) and indian yellow (or y.ochre,gold ochre/etc).
I mean the chroma and value of the mixture always has to be adjusted. (Chroma is particularly strong, since by applying transparent paint on white ground one actually achieves the highest possible chroma in oil painting.)
Yet, adjusting that mixture is impossible, since if you mix the third color (white or whatever) you ruin the optical qualities of those transparent paints, particularly their luminosity and...well, transparence. All I can do is to apply this high chroma mixture over the piambura and immediately wipe that paint layer off, hoping that the remaining traces of paint will be of correct tone and intensity. They rarely are, so ultimately I have to repaint those areas with semi opaque and opaque paint which, of course, obliterate previous glazes. I'd like to know how Adrian solves this problem.

Mark Hill said...

I have had the good fortune of studying with Adrian for about a year in his studio, and all I can say is that he is/was an amazing teacher and one heck of an artist. I probably learned more about painting and paint/medium/chemistry than anywhere else I've studied thus far in my art journey. It was an invaluable experience, and if anyone ever gets a chance to study with him in his studio and/or workshop I highly recommend it!

Stanka Kordic said...

thanks to Adrian, and Matt for sharing. Amazing paintings with remarkable sensitivity in describing the models. I'm going to try a version of this technique too. Heckyeah.

Stanka Kordic said...

Not sure Adrian's technique, but from what I remember about verdaccio in school, the glazes were applied one color layer at a time, and allowed to dry in between.

Lisa Graham Art said...

I can just look and look at those paintings. So unbelievably beautiful.

Fine art painter said...

Hi I was very inspired by the moonlight quality of your verdaccio example, such that I used the technique myself when painting my niece, leaving out my usual umber layers, going straight into the deal layer. Only when it's finished will i know the results

innisart said...


I appreciate your insights, but your diatribe sounded more like sour grapes, and as your opening statement was also anti-semitic, I decided to delete your comment.

michaal kab said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
michaal kab said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
sasadangelo said...

Hi all,
I wrote an article about verdaccio. Please check it and let me know your thought: