Notebook, 1993-

MATERIALS & METHODS - Painting - Oil Painting

Characteristics - Painting Methods & Techniques - Materials and Equipment - Work Space & Storage - Manufacture of Pigments - Protection of the Picture

Oil Painting
Pentimento / Transparency of All Old Paint

The technical term pentimento refers to a peculiar effect, examples of which are to be seen in galleries, where, because thin top coatings of paint have become more transparent with age, the underpainting or drawing originally concealed has become visible. Notable or striking examples of pentimento are seen in some of the works of De Hooch, where the bold black-and-white checkerboard of floor tiles occasionally shows through the figures and furnishings in the room. They are found also in early Italian paintings where the architectural lines of buildings may sometimes be discerned running through the figures that have been superimposed on them. Such effects also are commonly seen in more recent pictures where the artist has made changes during the painting and, in [p. 116] obliterating unwanted brushwork or altering contours by overpainting, has been so careless in making these changes that, on relatively short aging, the colors underneath have become visible or the texture of underlying brushstrokes has become more pronounced. Although it may take such notable examples to bring home the fact that paint is likely to become literally transparent with the years--because of the increase of the refractive index of linseed oil film with age or for other reasons--the general effect of transparency exists in all old paints. The lessons that careful painters have learned from this are several: that multiple layers of paint must be planned with this effect in mind; that when underpainting is to be concealed or obliterated, the top coat must be sufficiently opaque for the purpose; that distinctly dark or outstanding areas should be scraped away before overpainting them with paler tones; and that disturbing textures and brushstrokes should be taken down, using a sharp blade if the paint is too hard to be cut with a paletteknife. The underpainting and the ground will always have some degree of influence on the final painting except when the paint is applied in an extremely thick impasto layer. [pp. 115-116]

[Mayer, Ralph. The Painter's Craft. An Introduction to Artist's Methods and Materials. Revised and updated by Steven Sheehan, Director of the Ralph Mayer Center, Yale University School of Art. New York: Penquin Group. 1948. 1991.]



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