This wonderful painting was completed by a student here at the studio. It’s a detail of a painting created by 15th century Flemish master Jan van Eyck. The work was created using the same methods used so many centuries ago, that of glazing the colours onto the surface of the work.
Glazing is a technique whereby an artist uses oil paint transparently. The artwork is begun by creating a monochromatic underpainting. This preliminary layer, captures the drawing and value differences so that form appears round. If done correctly, it should essentially look like a finished work of art done in one colour and white.
Once this layer is done and thoroughly dry, the artist proceeds to overlay oil paint in a transparent way. Any colour can be used, but those that work best are transparent colours. How do you know if your tube of paint is transparent? Usually the manufacturer will list this quality on the tube or in information on their website.
What’s the difference between transparent paint and typical opaque colours? What makes a paint transparent to begin with? An easy explanation is this: if you look at an opaque colour microscopically, you’ll see the pigment particles appear as tiny rock-like structures. Whereas with a transparent colour, under a microscope, their pigment particles appear as tiny crystal like structures.
As mentioned above, any colour can be used to glaze, but the range of transparent paints allow for the optimal effect by letting light shine through the surface of the artwork to be reflected back through the transparent particles of the paint surface. Glazed colour has quite a different look optically, it almost appears to “float” within the picture.
Early artists such as van Eyck used glazing to get the most brilliant colours possible from the materials available at the time. Glazing can make colours appear more brilliant and saturated, thus artists from hundreds of years ago exploited this to give their paintings added visual richness.
Glazing can be a tedious process though. One must use several layers of colour to build the image and deepen the tone of the work. It’s a time consuming method, but the end results can be very satisfying. If you’re interested in learning this hundreds of years old technique, come to the studio where the whole process of glazing is covered along with several other techniques used by the old masters.