Layers of oil painting;grisaille

The Grisaille word was used first by Van Dyke. It means painting in gray or brown only. So which stage of the painting do we use this layer?

We have already done our thumbnail sketches and we have ideas about the whole composition. The preliminary drawing is applied and sealed on the panel.

So we start to think about an abstract black and white composition. We still have a chance to change the composition around if the composition looks unstable.

I would emphasize that we still don’t use whites. We grab the one colour, for example raw umber and we mix 5 different values using solutions to dilute the paint.


When we think about the lightest area we can use a cloth and simply wipe the area off. For the mid-tones we use brushes.

The grisaille underlayer helps in rendering also it gives a great underlayer for colours.
This is not a necessity to use this layer. It is only recommended if someone is dealing with a complicated design. No grisaille layer under the Alla Prima paintings. As alla prima paintings are done in one sitting and it is only one layer anyway. Classical paintings painted with many layers, weeks, months of works with numerous sittings.

Classical paintings are done with indirect methods and it can be started with this layer.

I love this method as it is easy and fun to do, and it is a great way to observe different kinds of subjects after a challenging day.

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