What is Under painting and the difference between Bistre, Grisaille and Verdaccio


Bistre, Grisaille and Verdaccio are all techniques that were used by the Old Masters like Titian, Rembrandt, Caravaggio and other to create a traditional under painting.

What is Under Painting

Under painting gets its name because it is painting that is intended to be painted over wet-in-wet glazes with very thin layers of color.

Example of Grisaille under painting.

There is a popular misconception that under painting should be monochromatic, perhaps in gray-scales.  This technique was pioneered by Titian in the High Renaissance. The colors of the under painting will influence the glazes or over painting, without the danger of the colors physically blending and becoming muddy. If under painting is done properly, it facilitates over painting.

  • Under painting makes it far easier to model with a few neutral tones than with more complex color mixtures.
  • Vermeer generally used black and brown in his under painting. (Bistre)
  • Rembrandt and Rubens, in particular, are know to have used under painting very effectively.
  • It is believed that artists once kept a number of under paintings in their studio waiting for clients’ interest before completing the painting with full color and detail.

What is Bistre?

  • A shade of brown made from soot, or the name for a color resembling the brownish pigment.
  • Bistre’s is a transparent, dark brown with yellow undertones.  
    • Faking is: We fake the color by combining Paynes Grey with Yellow Ochre
  • Vermeer generally used black and brown in his under painting. (Bistre)
  • It is believed that artists once kept a number of under paintings in their studio waiting for clients’ interest before completing the painting with full color and detail.

What is Grisaille?

  • Traditionally, grisaille drawing and painting from plaster casts were done as the basis of classical art training, as the technique allowed the artist to concentrate on accurate rendering of form, without the distraction of color.
  • Many Grisailles in fact include a slightly wider color range from gray-green to gray-blue
  • Usually beginning with a dark surface and using white paint to build highlights and model the subject, the painter begins with thin paint as the foundation of the work.
  • Once dry, the painting is then layered with glazes of color, to create a rich and luminous final surface. 
    • Faking is: We fake the color with Paynes Grey

What is Verdacchio?

  • Verdacchio was composed of yellow ocher, a bit of black, white and a hint of red (cinabrese).
    • Faking is: We fake the color with Paynes Grey + Burnt Sienna

You Need to Do It to Develop Contrast and Values Before Color

Under painting helps to simplify your dark and light values, and simplifies the painting process.
If under painting is done properly, it facilitates over painting. Most people struggle to distinguish between colors do not know which color to pick. The variety of colors available can confuse us. It is much easier to simplify your painting to Highlights, Mid Tones and Base Tones through using the under painting technique and THEN was or glaze your colors over the under painting

Example of Grisaille Mix. Paynes Grey + White