Years ago I took a Renaissance Painting class. What do I mean by “Renaissance Painting”? First, it has nothing to do with subject matter, it was purely a class about technique.
I’ll give a brief rundown on this technique. First, the artist needs a very smooth surface. Many Renaissance paintings are done on panel for this reason. For the canvas paintings we put layer after layer of gesso on and sanded between layers. Then the picture is painted in black and white. Well, it is greyscale, like a black and white photo. We could add a little blue or red (not much!) to the paint to make the final warmer or cooler. The last step is to put a color glaze over the black and white under painting. If something is green, you use a green glaze and the underpainting will take care of the different shades and highlights.
When you look at a Renaissance era painting it almost seems to glow from an inner light. Well, in ways it does – you are seeing the shapes and shading through a layer of colored glaze.
Besides a few studies I did two main paintings. Unfortunately I picked a hard subject for my first. I decided to make a painting based on the photo below.
Of course I first simplified the composition. I also made some decisions in the composition to try to make it both dynamic, yet very stable, unmoving like the mountain. There were several diagonal lines with the most obvious crossing in the middle of the painting. There is also a strong sense of vertical, with the main vertical being in the center, and a strong horizontal which crosses in the middle. The lines weren’t exact, but close enough.
Unfortunately I don’t think it worked as well as it should have. First, I had a hard time getting the right colors and for different parts to contrast. Working with glaze was harder than I thought! I had to go over it a times which made the colors muddy. And then there was cross between different colors. And dribbles, and stuff got on the canvas, and… well, in real life you can see all of it by how the light reflects.
And then when I looked at the composition I think I made some big mistakes. My idea was good, but it just didn’t work as well as I’d wished. There is no real focus for the painting, there should be something interesting where all of those lines intersect.
So I did another one. The class was almost done so I spent much less time on this one, but the results were better. It is a smaller painting and the composition was much simpler. I also had some experience under my belt. I’ve posted the picture before as an illustration to one of my “Frank” stories.
OK, the hand was added in later. I drew it on the computer. Her it is again. Quick note – I used a black backdrop when taking the reference photo. I should not have been quite as literal when I made the painting.
The experience was great. I started on an even larger, more ambitious project based on a photo of a leaf. After I was about finished with the underpainting one of my art gallery friends talked me out of finishing. Unfortunately it has been so long since I’ve used this process that I’d have a hard time. I posted about this picture before.
I hope you enjoyed this little foray into Renaissance Painting!
Note – because of the shiny surface it was extremely difficult to get a good picture of the paintings. And of course it is hard to get the perspective right – the photos shows the paintings skewed a bit.