Kathryn Dana Halpern
Classical Portraiture and Still Life in Oils
Why Classical Oil Painting?
Still Life with Peaches, Plums and Glass, Oil on canvas, 11 x 14 inches
Kathryn Dana Halpern Copyright 2014
Classical Oil Painting
While there are many techniques and approaches to classical oil painting, the classical oil painting techniques I generally use have their basis in the practices and traditions of the Italian Renaissance masters. Even among the Italian Renaissance masters, there is a wide diversity of specific techniques and materials used to create the magnificent paintings we have from this era. Volumes have been written describing the techniques and materials of Renaissance painting, as well as contemporary painting using classical techniques.
Generally and briefly described, this process begins with a primed surface, the surface being either a wood board or panel, otherwise linen or cotton canvas. I prefer to use high quality Belgian portrait linen, which is stretched on wooden bars. This surface is then primed with gesso or a white or toned oil paint primer. The primed surface can then be toned in a middle tone neutral, such as raw umber, but there are many tones which can be used. This is followed by creating a monochromatic underpainting (later called a "grisaille" or "brunaille"), generally done in a number of layers of paint. This is followed by the application of color, also in many layers, both of impasto paint (thick application of paint), as well as thinner layers of paint, used in the techniques of scumbling and glazing, for example.
The use of many layers of paint, and techniques such as scumbling and glazing, allow the picture to build gradually. This, together with the manner in which light travels and reverberates through these layers, interacting with the particles in the materials of the paint, creates a beautiful sense of depth and life, a soft variation and resonance, and an overall subtlety in the colors and values, and in all aspects of the work. The beauty and richness of this effect cannot be properly reproduced through any type of ink reproduction. For the most part, the layers of paint need to dry in between work sessions. This, combined with the care and mastery required of classical realist presentation means that this type of classical oil painting is not a speedy process. I maintain the integrity of this process in order to offer you the highest quality of classical work and the most beautiful paintings which I can produce.