I work with oils and the method I use is very simple and by no means original. It is a variation of the early painting technique known as ‘Grisaille’, a practice used many of the old masters.
Generally, it starts with a monochrome under-painting, usually in shades of grey or ochre, on a white surface. Once fully dry, it is painted over with successive layers of transparent colour known as ‘glazes’. Each new glaze changes the optical qualities of the layers beneath, resulting in a richness and purity of colour that is otherwise very hard to achieve.
The technique is time-consuming as it’s essential that each glaze is allowed to dry thoroughly before the next is applied. Between glazes, the painting is lightly sanded, giving the finished painting a beautifully smooth, glossy surface. This method of applying colour has some important advantages over the traditional method of mixing colours with an opaque base.
It is generally accepted that the most beautiful qualities of a colour are in its transparent state, applied over a white background. This is because transparent colour is seen by the viewer as if back-lit, with light reflecting back through the paint from the white surface behind it. This is in contrast with opaque paint, which simply reflects light off the uppermost surface. Using opaque paint results in a surface that you look onto, whereas the use of transparent glazes results in a richly glowing, glass-like surface that you look into. I have adapted this venerable technique to suit the modern subjects of my paintings.