Welcome back to Technique Tuesday! Today’s post is going to look at a technique that we all saw in action at Friday night’s fantastic live painting demo with Teresa Oaxaca. If you missed it, be sure to keep an eye out for when we upload the photos and videos from that night, as well as check out our intern Barbara’s fantastic blog post on what it was like to model for the demo!
What is it?
Imprimatura is a technique that falls into the larger category of underpainting. There will be several Technique Tuesdays where we take a look at different underpainting techniques, but today’s post will focus on the basic concept, something called “imprimatura.” It’s another word that comes to us from (you guessed it!) Italian, and literally means “what goes before the first.” Imprimatura is a transparent or semi-transparent layer of color (usually an earthy tone) that the artist uses first, and it sets the tone for the color story of the finished painting. It’s an incredibly daunting task to handle a stark, white canvas, and many artists find that a layer of imprimatura helps them to achieve the look and the values they desire more easily than just a truly blank canvas would.
Examples from art history:
Imprimatura is a technique that goes way back in the history of art, but like many other techniques, artists really began to use it to its full potential during the Italian Renaissance. Works like da Vinci’s “La Scapigliata” show us clearly that lovely tea-colored layer of imprimatura that he often started his works with.
Another Old Master who made excellent use of imprimatura was the Flemish Baroque painter Peter Paul Rubens. Rubens created a whole series of unfinished oil sketches that allow us to glimpse the layer he used to set the tone for the work underneath all of the added paint. An especially interesting example is this piece, a study in which Rubens used two different colors of imprimatura on the same canvas, experimenting with differing tones:
Examples from Principle Gallery:
If you’ve ever made it to one of our live painting demonstrations, or the Face Off events each summer, you have no doubt seen for yourself the application of the imprimatura layer. On Friday, when we gathered to watch Teresa Oaxaca’s live demonstration, she began with a truly blank canvas.
As we watched, Teresa painted her first layer, and it was not the sketchy outline of her model–nope! It was the all important imprimatura.
This initial layer helped Teresa to set a mid-tone foundation on which to create her painting, building on that foundation first by sketching in areas that were darkest in value, then working up to the lighter-value highlights. The process was an amazing one to watch, and the finished painting truly lovely.
We so enjoyed having Teresa in the gallery painting live for us. It is always such a fascinating and exciting event to witness an artist in action. That makes May an especially exciting month for us here, as we’re thrilled to host another live painting demonstration coming up on May 29th, featuring the incredible Robert Liberace! Join us at the gallery between 6 and 9 PM to watch this immensely talented painter bring a piece of artwork to life!