Imprimatura, or Toning the Canvas, The First Layer using the Flemish Technique.

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Imprimatura, or Toning the canvas.  The Flemish technique first layer!  This layer has several functions. 

Toning the canvas seals the canvas, protects the underlying ink drawing, (which you did right after you did your pencil drawing, tracing over your lines) and sets the stage for the rest of the process. 

Each layer contributes to the building of the painting.  Like building the pyramid, you put your big blocks on the bottom. It's just that these blocks are very light in weight and easy to handle!

I will talk about 2 different methods here. The classical and the more modern.  Both will give you excellent long lasting results.  We will determine the color, how light or dark, and materials to make it a success!

Medium mixtures will also be discussed.  Both the classical and a somewhat modified version using alkyd medium that really helps in the drying overnight of the work. 

Here are the details of your medium that is used to add to your brush and you pick up paint to apply to the canvas:

oil painting cups

The photo on the right:

I use a common painters cup (2) (side by side)

For this explanation, (the small artist tin cups about 3 tablespoon size) and a common eye dropper as it is easy to use for measuring.  With the cup 3/4 full of turps, add one eye dropper of Damar Varnish or one eye dropper of Liquin Alkyd Oil medium.

(Also note: if using Damar, you must use turpentine, not OMG or mineral spirits, it will not dissolve the resins properly)

I would recommend using the first mixture as being the traditional binder, it has a better and more predictable flow off the brush and in dry brush blending. 

The modern mixture using the Alkyd will dry much faster, but will stiffen and become sticky within minutes on the canvas and will slow you up as a beginner. 

Your dry brush blending will need practice and the Damar varnish will allow this extra time to perfect the technique.

Try the damar varnishing mixture first in your oil painting then move over to the alkyd later when you are more familiar with the blending.

This mixture relation is just for the imprimatur layer.

I discuss in more details mixtures needed for the entire process within my e-book.  Details on that are at the bottom of the page.

Notice more Fat (oil) to the mixture as we proceed.  Fat over Lean!

Also, from the health food store, a few drops of lavender oil to the mixture above will heighten your brain power!

drawing on canvas

Now, you got your drawing retraced with waterproof ink and are now waiting to apply that first coat of paint.  You will use burnt umber, white, and black in the imprimatura. 

Start with small amounts of paint, mixing white and black then the umber to a color that resembles in darkness/lightness of your average paintings darkness/lightness. 

Squint your eyes to get this average brightness of your reference picture or still life setup.  Then compare it to your paint mixture. 

Once you've got your color, apply it with your largest brush to get as even a coat as possible.  Then using your largest mop brush, lightly, with a lot of wrist action and just the tip of the brush, not the sides, blend out all of your brush strokes.

This is a motion that is very similar to a woman putting on blush to the cheeks, just lightly stroking the paint to eliminate the paint brush strokes (softening) to get a nearly smooth coat.

Let your painting dry before proceeding.

Imprimatura, or Toning the canvas.  Your first step to a masterpiece using the flemish technique.

The more modern method of toning the canvas will be discussed here!

Instead of mixing your paints in oils for your imprimatura, use acrylics!

Same colors can be used, just don't use any medium mixes with oils as stated at the beginning of the lesson as this is for oil paints only!

Acrylics have proven themselves to be long lasting, and is similar to your gesso coatings already on your store bought canvas's.

Here you see me using a sprayer and water to keep my paint from drying and allows me to dry brush blend a little longer to get out as many brush strokes as possible.  With acrylics however, when toning the canvas, it is difficult to get a perfectly uniform coat as shown in the last photo. 

It's OK, your umber layers will cover these imperfections and lines.  Your main task is to seal the drawing and get a uniform coat of the average tone of the picture.

toning the canvas with acrylic paint

The smoothness and uniformity of a completed classical (with oils) imprimatura (first layer) of paint!  It really is a better toning, and seals the gesso to allow for better paint application and manipulation in the later stages.

Before you go, check out this artist's method of imprimatura, and a great explanation as to the "why" it should be done!

Click here to return to the top imprimatura, the first layer!

Click here to get to the next layer, The Umber Underlayer.

Or click here to go to main Flemish Technique explained page.

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