Dead Coloring vs. Monochromatic & Grissaille Painting
I wanted to clarify some of the terminology I use when describing various stages within my painting process as it can, at times, become a bit confusing. I specifically wanted to discuss my definition of dead coloring and how that differs from a monochromatic or grissaille painting. Often both monochromatic (a mixture of one color with black & white to create varying tints and shades) and grisaille (a palette consisting of only gray tones) are referred to as dead coloring techniques. However, I find in discussing each technique, that it is important to make a distinction between them to avoid further confusion. The word coloring to me implies that there is in fact some description of varying hues, regardless of how limited they might be. My dead color layer is usually painted over my tonal depiction, taking the illusion one step closer to a full color representation. Usually I will completely render my detail in the dead color phase. This allows me to easily manipulate the hues in my finishing layers with very thin translucent glazes. Because the detail is rendered to near completion in the dead color phase, I consider this to be one of the most crucial and labor intensive layers of the entire painting process. Below is a short clip of my palette set up for a dead color painting that I am currently working on. Eventually this painting will be completed with final glazes which I will also record. If you scroll further down, you will find examples of grisaille and monochromatic paintings which I provided in order to show the differences between each technique.
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“Passages” oil on wood, 2010If you check out some of my previous blogs, you can read more specifically about my procedure(es) behind the painting above. This shows a fully rendered monochromatic under-painting (excluding the blue background ) created with tints and shades of Viridian Green. With this technique it is very important to choose a dominant color (the color which will be most prevalent in the completed image).I provided this example of “The Adoration of the Magi” by Leonardo Devinci because it clearly shows the process he used to develop his paintings. Here we see a very precise linear drawing on an earth toned ground and the shadows are applied as washes of Raw or Burnt Umber most likely, to bring out the sculptural form. If this had been taken a step further and white had been used in the highlights as either a pure pigment or mixed with the umber, this would become a monochromatic painting similar to the one that I executed above.Here we see a traditional Grisaille done by contemporary artist Patrick Byrnes using grays mixed with just black & white paint over an imprimatura. I personally don’t like using this technique for the purposes of an under painting, as I find the grays have a tendency to dull down any colors that are laid on top. I do however find it very useful when I am preparing a tonal study for a finished piece. I also would recommend this technique to anyone who is just learning how to mix and apply paint in a representational manner. By eliminating the complication of color and concentrating on only light and dark values, one can more easily observe and manipulate the illusion of a three dimensional form.
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