Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Color Palettes: David Gray (b.1970)

David Gray (b.1970) is a contemporary representational painter from America's Pacific Northwest whose high-level of craftsmanship is the result of an ongoing pursuit of the ideals of the Classical tradition in art.  At the core of his training is the education he received while attaining his Bachelor of Fine Arts from Pacific Lutheran University in Tacoma, Washington, but to this he has also added training from some of the country's leading ateliers.  His dedication and drive has culminated in a body of work comprised of still lifes and figural paintings which evoke the lighting and subtlety of the Dutch Masters.

Online, biographical information about Gray is sparse;  it seems Gray is more comfortable communicating about himself through his artwork, but on this subject he has shared volumes.  Through his website, those interested in Gray's finished paintings can see dozens upon dozens of his carefully created works, made over the past several years.  And for those wanting to know more about the method behind those beautiful works, Gray has devoted an incredible amount of time and energy into regularly updating his blog, Facebook page, and YouTube channel with step-by-step progress shots and videos of his technique.

For aspiring painters, Gray's generously shared lessons are invaluable, and he was kind enough to allow me to repost a small portion of his teachings here.

Although Gray's paintings display a consistent color sense, he does not necessarily use a fixed palette.  He often experiments with new colors to challenge his color sense, and will add or subtract colors from his working palette depending on his subject matter.  Below is a typical example of Gray's color choices.

Stiff mixed white
Titanium White
Naples Yellow
Hansa Yellow Deep
Yellow Ochre
Raw Sienna
Cadmium Orange
Venetian Red
Quinacridone Violet
Burnt Sienna
Raw Umber
Ivory Black
Cerulean Blue
Ultramarine Blue
Chromium Green Oxide
Pthalo Green

Other colors Gray sometimes uses include Transparent Red Oxide, Cadmium Red Scarlet hue, Alizarin Crimson, Cadmium Yellow Light, Organic Vermilion, and Burnt Umber.

Depending on the color and its working properties, Gray will choose from a variety of paint brands.  Winsor & Newton and Gamblin both appear on his palette, but it appears that M. Graham Oils, a heavily pigmented paint suspended in walnut oil, is the product most frequently used.  For his stiff white, he uses Permalba® White, a brilliant, mixed white from Martin/F. Weber Co.

His medium is an alkyd gel medium from Daniel Smith Art Supplies.

As a self-proclaimed "brush junkie," Gray is always on the search for the perfect brush.  Currently he uses Daniel Smith Platinum Series Faux Mongooses, Blick Masterstroke Finest Red Sable filberts and rounds, Robert Simmons Sapphires, Blick Studio Fitches, Winsor & Newton University Series White Taklon, and either Utrecht or Daniel Smith Platinum Series Hog Bristles.

Gray works on supports primed with Daniel Smith World's Best Acrylic Gesso, and toned with a mixture of titanium white and raw umber acrylic paint from Dick Blick.

Below are a few samples of David Gray's figurative work, showing three different approaches to the under painting.  To see more demonstrations like these, visit Gray's teaching blog, DG Oil Painting Techniques.


This step is soooo important. I started by taking some important key measurements. Then I started
blocking it in in a simplified way. I don't know about you, but the ONLY way I can achieve accuracy
is to start this way and then refine bit-by-bit. I'm using vine charcoal.

This piece is 18x24. I am working from a 12x16 photo print I took of my daughter and one of her

After the initial block-in I "ghosted" the image by brushing off some of the line work with a fan brush.
I can now go back in and refine. I will do this as many times as it takes for me to get a good drawing.
But usually I will repeat this process about three times.

Continued refining...

When I feel good about the drawing I will "ghost" the line work before painting. This is so there won't
be much charcoal to interfere with my paint. I don't like to use spray fix as I feel it's very unhealthy
unless you have a gas mask and do it outside. I know it doesn't bother some people but I can't stand
the stuff. However, if you think you might be wiping paint away because of mistakes, you could reline
your drawing with thin oil paint and let it dry before painting.

I don't usually do a grisaille but I decided to on this one. I like to try different things from time to time.
I premixed five values of neutral using raw umber and white. My darkest value actually has a little white
in it to add opacity as well as to not go too dark. Even though I make my "darkest dark" and
"lightest light" decisions early on, I will wait until my final pass before stating them completely.
In other words, I generally wait to state my extreme values until toward the finish.

The bit of gel on the left is an alkyd medium from Daniel Smith Art Materials. I use it to shorten the drying
 time. I also like it because it does not alter the character of the paint very much if at all.  In general I add a
little of it to all the paint I apply to the canvas. The exception would be if I'm building up the lights on a
form and I want the paint a little thicker, I will stop adding the alkyd gel, as it does thin the paint a bit.
It is not non-toxic. I've tried so many mediums and in the end I always come back to this. Really I don't
need a medium as I like the way the paint is out of the tube, but I do like the shortened drying time.
One other benefit is that the paint doesn't "sink in" so much when dry.

Starting the grisaille. As you will see, I paint form by form.

That's enough for that figure...moving on to the next...

I like to paint dark to light. In a given form I'm painting, I'll state my darks first, then my middle tones,
then my lights.

Progressing...I like to do the interesting bits first, then supporting material after.

OK. That's enough for the grisaille. I could go more refined if I wanted to but this is enough for me to
know where I'm going -- to basically establish the value pattern and prepare my piece for the real
business of painting.

My goal is to finish each form as I go. Of course, I know I'm not smart enough or good enough to
"nail it" every time, but I try. I will refine as necessary in a final pass.

Notice I paint a little of the adjacent forms. This will help to ensure continuity between forms so the
painting won't look patchy. After I finish the painting in this way I will do a final pass using glazes
and thin paint to refine and adjust as necessary.

"The Storyteller", 18x24, Oil/canvas. This is the finished piece...I think. May touch again in a few days.
I've been working on it it pretty hard for awhile. Kind of anti-climactic in some ways. For some reason in
this photo the upper part of the face of the right hand figure appears a bit washed out. The detail of
this face below is a bit more accurate. Cameras can't do everything.

Left figure detail.

Detail of eye of left hand figure. Note this will appear much bigger on your monitor than it is in real life.
But I think it's interesting to see what the brushwork looks like really up close. You can also see where
there has been a bit of glazing done.

Right figure detail. Values are a bit more balanced in this photo than in the photo of the entire piece.

Another eye detail. Again, this will appear bigger than life size. You can see there is some glazing
over thicker paint.

I used to hate doing hair. It's a lot more fun now. I enjoy stylizing it a bit -- kind of like the Renaissance
artists did. The only additions to the overpainting are a bit of orange colored glazing (trans oxide red)
and a few touched of thicker paint as highlights.

Shirt detail. The garments were all completed in the overpainting. you can see the paint gets fairly thick
in the lights. I also thickened up the paint to lend to the illusion of the embroidery texture on the
collar piece (I don't know what that type of needlework is called). No glazing or retouches...
well, almost none.

Another shirt detail.

...and another shirt detail.

My (i.e. David Gray's) signature in the upper right.


Vine charcoal underdrawing on canvas. I normally do not like to use spray fix, but in this case I made
a more complete underdrawing with a basic value pattern added. I decided to go right to the overpainting.

With portraits I like to re-establish the drawing by restating the features. I am also putting some darks in
place that will help me in my decision making about values.

On the teaching side of things, note the LACK of detail in the eyes. I particularly like how in the
figure on the right the eye itself merges seamlessly into the lower eyelid. To me, the key to painting
ANYTHING is just to paint what is absolutely necessary. I’m always surprised at the comments I get
about my details. My surprise comes from the fact that every time I pick up a brush I am squinting down
on my subject so as NOT to see the details. Now I know I paint more “details” than some artists but I
hope you get what I’m trying to say here. I try to keep things relatively soft — almost slightly blurry.
The number of razor sharp edges in this painting is probably five or less.



Jim Serrett said...

David Gray, certainly one of my favorite artists.
Interesting thing about his work is that it translate very well online but it truly must be seen in the real to appreciate the quality of his work.
Great post.

Eileen said...

David Gray is also one of my favorite contemporary artists, and this is a GREAT post. I've been following David's website and blog for a couple of years and would love to see his originals. He is truly a master.

Vicki said...

Many thanks for yet another great post. I follow David and wish I were close enough to take a workshop. So, with all these great short clips, maybe he will come out with a full DVD soon!

Tim Carter said...

As far as toning the canvas, why not tint the primer(gesso) so it's done in one step?

Laura Atkins said...

Pardon my ignorance here but, what is stiff white used for? Is it like impasto? Thank you.

gfive said...

Hi there, awesome site. I thought the topics you posted on were very interesting.

Color Palettes