The monochromatic painting technique (called Grisaille), was done entirely in shades of grey, not unlike a black and white photograph.
Grisaille is a type of underpainting, upon which layers of color can be applied.
It is essentially a painting done in one color, (Paynes Grey) or Black with white.
In art, an underpainting is an initial layer of paint applied to the canvass, which serves as a base for subsequent layers of paint. Underpaintings are often monochromatic (greyscale), and help to define color values for later painting. There are several different types of underpainting, such as Grisaille, Bistre, and Verdaccio.
Sometimes, the Masters of traditional painting used this method to help them think through their paintings, especially large, complex compositions. They called it “underpainting“. They would paint an entire scene in one color.
A monochromatic underpainting allowed them to work out the details of the composition and develop a very precise drawing before other paint colors were applied through glazes. The Traditional Painting Masters’s wanted a plan for how light or dark everything would be, from the darkest dark to the lightest light. For them, the underpainting (also called “Grisaille“) was a powerful method. It helped to break a fairly large and difficult task into a series of smaller, more manageable tasks.
Underpainting gets its name because it is painting that is intended to be painted over in a system of working in layers. This technique was pioneered by Titian in the High Renaissance. The colors of the underpainting can be optically mingled with the subsequent overpainting, without the danger of the colors physically blending and becoming muddy. If underpainting is done properly, it facilitates overpainting. If it seems that one has to fight to obscure the underpainting, it is a sign that it was not done properly.
Grisaille may be executed for its own sake, as an underpainting for an oil painting (in preparation for glazing layers of color over it). Full coloring of a subject makes many more demands of an artist, and working in grisaille was often chosen as being quicker and cheaper, although the effect was sometimes deliberately chosen for aesthetic reasons. Grisaille paintings resemble the drawings, normally in monochrome, that artists from the Renaissance were trained to produce.
They can also betray the hand of a less talented assistant more easily than a fully colored painting. It is, therefore, a good test of the hand and eye co-ordination as well as your observation skills.
Examples of paintings done with this technique in LifeArt Studio.
The wonderful part of this is that any type and content matter can be painted in this technique. It is especially good when you want to be more realistic in your work.
Vermeer, Leonardo, and Michelangelo were some of the masters that used this technique.
After the initial outline drawing was completed, Vermeer began the “dead coloring” (or underpainting as it is called today), one of the most important stages in his working procedure. The underpainting technique greatly facilitates the realization of finely balanced compositions, accurate depictions of light and chromatic subtleties.
In its simplest terms, an underpainting is a monochrome version of the final painting intended to initially fix the composition, give volume and substance to the forms, and distribute darks and lights in order to create the effect of illumination.
Underpaintings can also be executed in warm earth tones called Verdacchio.
Raw umber, Burnt Sienna mixed from light to dark and black or Paynes Grey, also mixed with white at times mixed with black, were frequently used for this purpose.
See below for a demonstration by Leonie.e.Brown Artist, of this technique using Yellow Ochre, Burnt Sienna and Paynes Grey.
Step by Step Tutorial on how to Paint a Grisaille Portrait.
- Start by mixing your Paynes Grey or Black with white. Create a value scale from dark to light.
- Number them from 1 to 9.
- White = 0
- 0 – 3 is your light values
- 4 – 6 is medium
- 10 = black
- 7- 10 is your darkest values
- Make about nine variations (excluding white and black), from very dark to white.
- Now, draw the subject on the canvas with a pencil.
- Redraw the subject detail with a fine brush. You do not want to lose all your hard work when you start painting!
- During this whole process, you want to keep your paint very thin.
- Do not make the mistake of loading your brush with too much paint.
- The best technique is to think of it in layers. You will only start seeing results after your third layer.
- Tone the whole canvass with a medium grey no 5.
- To create a Grisaille painting, you begin with a canvas that’s been toned or painted all over with a mid-tone neutral color so that it is not white. This color will eventually allow the light areas of the composition to come through.
- Add your darkest darks all over the whole painting. Remember to keep it thin!
- Use number 9
- Now start adding your medium shades of gray. Remember to keep it thin!
- Use number 6
- Now add your lightest areas.
- Use number 3
- Now repeat the process using numbers 8 + 5 + 2. You want to work from dark to light. Starting with the darkest dark/medium/light and then adding light over it.
- …and repeat going lighter, and repeat…
- You can now go back to your darkest values and add another layer to create more intense darks. Just keep repeating the process.
- Think of it as a paint by numbers exercise.