Tuesday, August 31, 2010

More about layins 3

I got this question in the comments.
How can you tell if it's a GOOD lay-in or not? Is it the level of detail or accuracy?

The layin doesn't need much detail, so that isn't it. Accuracy would imply a level of transcription rather than design. Sometimes accuracy is important, but often the hard parts are those which need to be invented. Often there is a problem in the landscape. Some common problems are
  • If I painted this accurately it would be a 10 by 60, because the landscape is so spread out. I will need to compress it to get all of the things out there that I want onto my canvas.
  • This is a great view but I want to leave out the insecticide refinery, how am I going to do that and have the painting still look natural?
  • I don't want that stream to carry the viewer out of the painting on the left.
  • The mountains don't look big enough.
  • Its way too dark out there, I need to lighten this up a bit.
  • Nothing is leading the viewer into this picture.
  • Everything out there is the same size.
  • Its too stripey, every line runs horizontally across the canvas.
How you are going to deal with the problems in a painting is the most important thing to get out of your layin. Designing and arranging the painting have to be done at this point, later, is too late. After that, accuracy (where needed) is important, some passages have to be drawn just so. I don't mean in detail, but the big shapes need to be right, or at least convincing. It doesn't have to be right, it just has to LOOK right!

I got this question over on facebook:

Do you lay in with Liquin mixed with your burnt sienna? I lay in with just yellow ochre and get really annoyed when it mixes with other colors
in a way I did not intend!

Another reader answered beautifully, saying;

One of Stapleton's key points here, I think, is to keep it TRANSPARENT, almost watercolor-like, in the lay-in stage. One you've introduced an opaque color it becomes another beast entirely, and suddenly you're committed to pushin' all that opaque pigment around. If you like the tone of ochre, you might swap out your ochre for either Raw Sienna (PBr 7) or Mars Yellow (PY 42).

I might add only this, I don't think yellow is a very good color for layins. I know some fine painters who do, but I believe it is a problem maker and I think the writer above has encountered the problem that a yellow layin engenders . When we do a layin or underpainting, (which is probably as good a word for that which I am recommending) We are delineating the darks. Our greatest amount of pigment goes into our darkest notes. Yellow is a color more usually found in the lights, in fact it is the opposite of the color that most characterizes shadows outdoors, violet. If that yellow gets up into your shadow notes it will create problems, just as if you layed (laid? I don't know if I can use this spelling as a special painting word, or not. If you are an editor, or proofreader let me know the answer to that, remember I dropped out of high school ) in your lights with a dark purple, it will be hard to strike a clean note over it.

I do use some liquin in my layin. It might be better from an archival standpoint not to. But I do.


I will be holding a three day workshop at the Bass Harbor Campground in Bass Harbor, Maine. the 25-26-27th of September. That's Saturday-Monday. We will paint outside and I will teach beginners to experts the art of outdoor landscape painting.
Here is a link to where you can sign up
Reservations at the Bass Harbor campground can be made here.


Erik said...

Thanks Stape, as always a very interesting read.

Bill said...

Solving the knotty question of what should be underneath your final layer is really key to making a good painting. I think I would need for a yellow lay in to be fully dry before painting on top of it, esp. if there was to be purples in the shadows.

Simone said...

"Layed" is the past participle of the verb "lie". "Laid" is the past participle of the verb "lay".

"Lie" is intransitive. It has no direct object. "Lay" is transitive and needs a direct object. Since your sentence has a direct object (layed in your lights)the correct word to use would have been "laid".

I went to a Catholic elementary school.

Stapleton Kearns said...

I haven't a clue what all of that means,but it all sounds so impressive that henceforth I will use laid when talking about a layin (lay in?)the past.I need an editor,to get my lies right.
Thanks,I stand corrected.

Robin Roberts said...

Thanks Stape. Always informative. Do you typically work out your composition with this lay-in, layin, laid in, underpainting? I personally am a huge fan of working out composition with small thumbnail sketches first. But then, I don't do underpaintings either. I may try that though.

Philip Koch said...

Absolutely a great post! (This Stapleton fellow must be the sharpest tack in the box).

I love the list of things that can be wrong with the actual landscape you observe (oh those pesky insecticide refineries!). If you can solve these problems early in your lay in stage, you have a huge head start on a great painting.

And yes, the more transparent the better.

jeff said...

I use a mixture of Burnt Sienna and Ultramarine Blue for laying in a painting. Sargent used this combination, or at least there is evidence that he did.

I tend to move toward a Blue/Violet mix for landscapes moving towards the blue end of the color note.
The Burnt Sienna/Ultramarine mix is pretty good as you can adjust real quickly.

Joesph Paquet has talked about using a Paynes Gray like mixture of Cobalt Blue and a middle gray value to get this hue. I have tried it and like it I tend towards BS and UB mix but I think both work.

I think some people use Raw Umbra which dries fast, but it's also in the Yellow family.

The main problem for beginners when they use yellow based pigments is that it becomes hard for them get things to recede back into the blue/violet atmosphere effect.
Yellow move forward and Violet and Blue recede.

If you let the lay in dry then there are no problems and the Umbra can be a good thing.

Personally I would never use Yellow Ocher in the lay in stage as I think it's counter productive.
If I was going to paint wet on wet I would also stay away from Raw Umbra, but that's a personal preference as I know that painters with a lot of experience can use it with out letting it pull to much towards yellow.

In the studio this does not matter as you are dealing with indoor lighting.

Bill said...

With respect to the insecticide refineries, James Fenton's essay "Seurat and the Sewers" comes to mind, some of which can be read here: http://books.google.com/books?id=WKl0Z4KSPIgC&lpg=PA150&ots=EHGumFZuo0&dq=seurat%20and%20the%20sewers&pg=PA150#v=onepage&q=seurat%20and%20the%20sewers&f=false

mariandioguardi.com said...

Layins are great. I vote for burnt sienna in a landscape layin. It's easy to judge both blues and greens against the burnt sienna .Remember if it's not RIGHT - WIPE!

In my studio, working from a still life set up, I find it much easier to work in a grey. There is a difference in both the light I am painting in and the colors I am seeing.

William Worcester Fine Arts said...

How about a neutral grey color about value 5. It wouldn't interfere with subsequent layers.

Rae O'Shea said...

I use transparent red oxide and it works pretty well.

Chris said...

I always muck up paintings at the start, and then struggle all the way to mediocrity. Thanks for your guidance, I shall try to follow your wise words and see how it works for me.

Todd Bonita said...

Why is Liquin not considered archival as a lay-in medium? It's Alkyd based, flexible and fast-drying by nature, no? Seems ideal for early layers.
thanks again, great post.

Stapleton Kearns said...

TRhank you.

Stapleton Kearns said...

I avoid laying things in in yellow.

Stapleton Kearns said...

Yes that is pretty typical of how I work.

Stapleton Kearns said...

Thanks. Transparent layins are good opaque layins are difficult to revise or paint over.

Stapleton Kearns said...

I think sienna and ultramarine is the best thing for laying in a landscape.

Stapleton Kearns said...

I will check those out.

Stapleton Kearns said...

yay sienna, boo gay!

Stapleton Kearns said...

I don't like having to fight gray when I get to the next colored stage. The gray is too everywhere and kills my color.

Stapleton Kearns said...

I usually use burnt sienna but iron oxide red is a great color too.

Stapleton Kearns said...


Stapleton Kearns said...

I suspect that is true, but strictly speaking it is fat and the earliest paint should be lean. I do think it is probably archival enough in the real world.

William Worcester Fine Arts said...

Stapleton, thanks for the reply. I have a problem with grey graissiles (I doubt I spelt that right) such as Gerome used. You are right the grey does show up and dull things a bit. Once in a while before going to the brush, I do sketch the big shapes with a light nuetral grey oil pastel. it feels more like drawing that way, but I don't do it often or very dark.