Color glazing is the last step in the Flemish painting technique. Most of the color work is transparent in nature, with the finished dead layer providing the foundation for lights and darks.
All colors cited in this article are M. Graham Oils. I use M. Grahams exclusively because they are ground with walnut oil and are designed to be used without solvents. Any commercial solvent can be used with them, but I recommend M. Graham’s Walnut Oil and Walnut/Alkyd medium.
Bonus: Walnut oil also cleans brushes! At the end of the day or between colors, dip your brushes in walnut oil, wipe them thoroughly, repeat as necessary and that’s it. No solvents or soap necessary. No dried out brushes, either.
Now to the clinic!
The Dead Layer
The dead layer is the final stage before color work. Ideally, it should look like a black-and-white view of the finished painting and should be in neutral tones. It can neutral leaning to cool or neutral leaning to warm depending on the color temperature of the finished painting. It may even be cool in some areas and light in others.
The image above shows the dead layer nearly complete for the horse. It is not a finished dead layer, but it provides a good idea of what I’m looking for when painting the dead layer.
The horse has been glazed once with Transparent Orange Iron Oxide. The pigment is transparent enough that it can be applied without medium of any kind and produce the type of glaze you see here.
Paint was applied with a 1/4 inch Golden Taklon angle shader. Any soft brush with a flat edge will work.
The objective at this stage is to lay down a layer of even color that is as thin as possible. Since this image is only part of a two-image portrait and is relatively small, I glazed the entire horse except the black areas and larger areas of harness.
I also blocked in the background with local color, but it is not finished.
One Note on Color Choice: All of the iron oxides produced by M. Graham Oils are transparent. Most of the earth tones are also transparent enough to use for glazing without mediums or solvents.
Color choice for the first glaze is based on the color of the horse. For darker bays, chestnuts, browns and warm-tone blacks, consider Transparent Red Iron Oxide, Burnt Sienna or Burnt Umber.
For lighter or redder bays and chestnuts, Transparent Orange Oxide is ideal.
Transparent Yellow Oxide works great with palominos and buckskins and other lighter colors.
White horses and grays can be glazed with Ultramarine or with a mixture of Ultramarine and Burnt Umber for a home-made gray. Quite often, a glaze of similar color to the dead layer color is the best choice.
For all other brands of paints, choose a color that provides the best base color for whatever subject you’re painting. If you don’t like the color once it’s on the painting, wipe it off and try another. That is one of the best perks about this method of painting!
Next is a second glaze of Transparent Orange Iron Oxide. The reference photo was taken at night, so I’ll need a darker overall value than would be necessary for a daylight image, without sacrificing too much of the bay color. So I am doing two layers of the same color.
Another possibility would have been to use a darker color for one of the layers. Burnt Umber over Transparent Orange Oxide, for example. Or Transparent Orange Oxide over Burnt Umber. A third option would have been to mix a small amount of Ultramarine with Transparent Orange Iron Oxide or some other earth tone and do a single glaze.
Again, I used the 1/4 Golden Taklon angle shader to apply paint. No solvent or medium was used.
The first glaze (step one, above) was allowed to dry completely before I worked on the painting again.
Now I begin working wet into wet by brushing Yellow Ochre into the middle values of the barrel and rump and inside the flexed back leg. Paint is applied in the lightest areas and lightly pulled into surrounding color.
I’m still using the same angle shader, making use of the paint still on the brush as well as the paint already on the painting. As before, I want as smooth a layer of color as possible. If brush strokes can’t be removed with the shader, I use a sable round to polish the paint film and smooth out brush strokes.
In this step, Titanium White is brushed into the brightest highlight areas. The most prominent at this point is the semi-circle area immediately behind the girth and the linear area on the major muscle at the top of the extended high leg.
The angle shader was used for this work as well, but I also used a sable round to begin manipulating the edges between the horse and the background. You’ll note that the background over the rump has been painted using the same mix of colors. As I flesh out this area of the horse, I’ll work those two areas into each other, softening edges, redefining edges and shaping and refining until I get the look I want.
Painting is now geared toward adding details, blending colors, and working toward a more finished look. Shadows were worked out more fully with various mixtures of Burnt Umber and Ultramarine. Cooler highlights were added with mixtures of Titanium White, Ultramarine, and Burnt Umber. I used a soft, sable round to blend out brushstrokes where necessary and generally brought each of the areas as close to completion as possible.
I also worked a little bit of the cool highlights into the driver’s pant leg, and began work on the tail and the hocks with Ivory Black and various other colors blended into the black.
At this point, I’ve done everything I can do with fresh paint. The paint will be allowed to dry while I either work on another area of the painting or work on another painting.
The final step is adding the details where necessary.
In this case, the first thing I did was flatten the rump because the hip was too prominent. That change was made by working both sides of that edge: the background and the horse.
I then dry brushed a light mixture of Titanium White, Ultramarine and Burnt Umber into the points of light around the point of the hip, along the curves of muscle mass in the upper and lower hind leg (extended) and around the girth.
I also tweaked the braided part of the tail.
No area of the painting is finished until the entire painting is finished and I can see how the sections and elements work together. But no more work will be done on this area until the rest of the painting is completed.
Learn more about painting with the Flemish method by signing up for an online oil painting course with me. Work at your own pace to complete one painting or two. For more information, visit my online oil painting page.