In the world of fine art painting techniques have evolved over the years, with some fading into the past and others taking center stage. Indirect painting, is one of these techniques.
A classic technique that was predominantly used from the 15th to 19th century, it has now lost its popularity and given way to direct painting. However, understanding indirect painting is still incredibly relevant and useful for contemporary artists. In this article, we’ll explore indirect painting, how it’s applied, and how you can use this technique in your own work.
What is Indirect Painting?
Indirect painting, also known as the Flemish technique, is a slow and gradual process where you build up layers of paint. The first step involves creating an underpainting or an ebauché. Then, multiple glazes of semi-transparent paint are layered on top of the underpainting, gradually increasing in intensity to create depth and luminosity.
This technique of painting in layers, allows for a more controlled and subtle approach to painting. With the end result cultivating a unique aesthetic, with a sense of depth and atmosphere.
How Indirect Painting is Applied
Indirect painting involves several stages, starting with an underpainting on top of an imprimatura. When painting indirectly it is best to do an ebauché underpainting. As this allows you to use more color than a monochrome underpainting.
The underpainting provides a foundation for the rest of the painting by establishing values and creating a unified composition that you can build on top of.
Glazing and Scumbling Techniques
Once the underpainting dries, you enter into a stage where you will continually be alternating between scumbling and glazing. In short, scumbling is applying opaque paint across your painting. While glazing is putting a thin transparent layer of warm color across your piece. Typically glazing warms a painting while scumbling cools it down.
When painting in layers, you will create multiple layers with each alternating between scumbling and glazing. Titian is known to have boasted that his paintings were made of 30 – 40 layers of glazes and scumbles.
When painting in layers, each layer is applied after the previous one has dried, this prevents mixing of colors and creates a luminous quality. Unlike direct painting (or alla prima painting), which allows for spontaneous brushwork, indirect painting requires a more methodical approach, with each layer carefully selected and painted.
You could spend weeks or longer on an indirect, layered piece. While an alla prima painting (direct painting) is done in one sitting (around 2 – 3 hours or less).
Utilizing Indirect Painting in Your Own Work
Although indirect painting is not used today like it was by the old masters, it is worth your time to learn and apply to your own painting. The more you understand about different methods and ways of painting, the broader the possibilities become for your work.
Though it is very important to first understand direct painting very well. Indirect painting is more complex and you will be able to put your best foot forward if you have a strong grasp on working in an alla prima manner. Even if you prefer direct painting methods, understanding indirect painting can be helpful in creating more nuanced and layered work.
Starting your layered painting with an underpainting
To start incorporating indirect painting into your own work, start with a ebauché underpainting and slowly build up the painting with scumbling and semi-transparent glazes. Take your time and let each layer fully dry before applying the next.
Also, do a master copy of another artist while working in an indirect manner. It is also helpful to research unfinished paintings of old masters so that you can see what the different stages look like in the indirect painting process. After you understand how it works, you can start to incorporate the techniques into your own work.
Indirect Painting (in Layers) in Conclusion
Despite the rise and fall of different techniques over the centuries, indirect painting remains a constant that is still relevant today. By understanding this method of painting in layers you can add depth, luminosity, and complexity to your work.
Though this technique may not be as widely practiced as direct painting, it is a valuable skill to have in your painting arsenal! Whether you’re a beginner or an experienced painter, exploring indirect painting techniques can open new doors and possibilities in your work.