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FROM GRISAILLE TO COLOR

PHOTO BY LOUISE B. HAFESH

By Dan Thompson

1 1. OPEN GRISAILLE: I had the honor of

painting Jack in Studio Six of The Art Students League of New York. This was the room of Kenneth Hayes Miller, a portrait/figure artist who taught at the League from 1911 to 1951. I set forth a process of reacting to Jack’s pose by selecting a watery combination of dark/ light oil colors and articulating marks that one could call “place holders.” Because I must work from something, I need some form of design presence to materialize on the linen so that it may be refined. This method of beginning, which I call “open grisaille,” minimizes tonality meant for stating darks; the canvas tone functions as the de facto light.

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It’s important for the painter to engage with both sides of the tonal range, to steer visual flourishes from within shapes. The higher-key lights also shift my painting from the impression of total flatness to one where corners of the form and figure materialize. I looked for specifics related to this: Jack’s shoulder landmarks, his sinus eminences (two prominences above the brow) the zygomatic (cheekbone) prominence and his alar cartilage (cartilage on the lower third of the nose)—all fundamental concerns of the planar head were here articulated through light/dark accents. This is called “closed grisaille.”

4. COLOR REFINEMENTS: As I devel3. EARLY COLOR MASSES: I began laying

2. CLOSED GRISAILLE: With the addition

of a lighter value, I find it possible to access eye-catching characteristics that aren’t predominately shadows.

Jack’s pose and body language called for something strong, smart and bold. The blue background served as a color anchor while I mixed combinations for his shirt, hair and face, and created an overall light effect, which was meant as an initial layer. I tried to bounce the focus of my eye from place to place in order not to stare into things and “think” the color instead of seeing it; I further hoped that my marks of grisaille placement could invite color adjustments without one phase of the painting turning against the other. I always strive for a complementary system.

out mixtures on my palette to represent color masses, such as skin in light or skin in shadow. These were intended to add temperature and mood to the piece.

oped the color, I saw that I needed to relate the shadow on Jack’s face to the surrounding blue. I also wanted his shirt to fill out most of the lighter end of the range. I try to compose the

THOMPSON’S PALETTE (clockwise from lower left) permanent magenta (Winsor & Newton—WN), manganese violet (Williamsburg—W), dioxazine purple (Gamblin—G), ultramarine blue deep (WN), cerulean blue hue (G), phthalo turquoise (G), permanent green light (WN), cadmium green pale (G), cadmium yellow light (Old Holland—OH), Indian yellow (WN), cadmium yellow deep (OH), yellow ocher pale (WN), raw sienna (WN), cadmium yellow extra deep (OH), Mars orange (W), quinacridone gold brown (W), cadmium scarlet (WN), Italian Pompeii red (W), naphthol red (G), perylene red (G), burgundy wine red (anthraquinone) (OH), permanent rose (WN), Mars violet deep (WN), “the great off-note” (a pile of the previous day’s colors); whites (left to right): Holbein silver white, Blockx titanium white; grisaille color (not pictured): raw umber (WN)

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ART AND COMMERCE are supposed to be at odds, but even purists acknowledge that the tradition of patronage— worldly popes, vainglorious kings...

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