I have a problem with flemish technique...

by Alex

Close up of a portrait of a young lady.

Close up of a portrait of a young lady.

After i have finish a dead underlayer, i have a problem with first color layer... actually what are the rules for applying and mixing the paint for the first color layer?

1. Do i need to mix flesh tones with premixed dead underlayer mixtures?, or with the thin glazes to cover the whole dead layer?

2. Do i need to cover all area of dead layer or only some parts of face, and which parts?

3. If i need to glaze whole face with thin layers of paint, do i need to glaze with only one color at a time (for example, mixed burnt sienna and yellow ochre as a flesh color and after this glaze applied and left to dry completely go with darker glaze on dark places?

4. Or to mix all the colors (dark, shadow, half shadow etc) at the beginning of the glaze and apply them to paint rather then going with one color at a time?

I have read that some underlayer needs to be left without paint where green/grey is not covered by glaze.

Which parts of portraits is need to left without glaze to achieve "natural looking" flesh color?

I hope that the question is understandable, because i am a little confused with this.

Thanks in advance.


Thanks Alex for the questions.

They are very good ones, and it points to one of the reasons I haven't developed an electronic book or video on the subject of portraits. Its just plain hard!

I'll try to answer these questions as best I can, but portraiture is not my strong point.

Your first color layers will have mostly the grey mixtures with some color added to these mixtures. I like to use the most opaque and thickly applied paint in the highlight areas, and the glazes (and most thinned) are used for the shadows. The halfshadows are left as is.

That's it in a nutshell. Follow those rules and you'll make a great painting! But you don't have to follow that particular set of rules.

Some artists will glaze each area with thin colors slowly building up to the final color they want. This is done over the entire painting, and sometimes it is done only in sections of the painting. It is a personal preference and one that you make as you work with different techniques.

Doing multiple thin glazes is difficult in that you must understand what the next color will do to the underlaying color.

Glazing with a yellow, then coming back in with a blue will give you a green tone.

So these things must be remembered when using a "glazing only" technique. Some colors lend themselves to glazing. Alizarin Crimson is one such color. It is a favorite of mine to use when you want just a touch of rosy cheeks on the portrait.

After your initial color layers are done, a simple thinned glaze of this color over the cheeks and end of the nose will liven up any portrait.

This is just one example. As seen in my example portrait above, after the initial colors were dried, I came back in with the glaze around the cheeks, neck and even shoulders.

I hope this answers your questions.

Best wishes,

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Colour layer problem
by: Suzan

I tried the Flemish technique for the first time and until the colour layer everything went so well. It was really easy to blend the tones of grey into each other to get an almost "brushless" effect.
But now that I have started the colour layer the canvas does not want to absorb any more paint. It is so hard to blend one tone into the other.
Even when using a dry brush for blending.

The colours just somehow slide off the canvas without leaving any mark.
With opaque colours it is better though.

How can I blend better on a canvas that does not absorb paint ?

How can I get colours to stay on the canvas? Do I really have to build it up slowly by glazing, drying, glazing.... ?

Thank you very much. This page is extremely helpful ! :)


Hi Suzan,

If the onion rubbed to the canvas doesn't open the paint up to be receptive, you can use "Windex" or any window cleaner that has a bit of ammonia within it.

This will remove the sheen on the paint of previous layers to allow further coats. Spray it on, and wipe off with lint free rag. Don't be too aggressive with it as it is removing the paint film, and can remove too much! This I found from another artist that uses a dryer in her mediums.

Another method is to use a "couch" in which you cover the area with medium, wipe off excess, then proceed to paint into this very thin film of medium.

Hope this helps,

by: Alex

Thanks a lot mr Phelps for the quick response. In my first color layer i will mix color with the gray mixtures and apply it to dead underlayer. When first color layer dry i will think how to continue on that :))) Colors on Your example portrait is the exact image how i think that color of the flesh have to be. Well done.

And thank You mr Baswell for sharing Your experience with flemish technique as well. You help me a lot with color recommendation for portrait. I thought that i will mix color skin with primary colors and add them to my grey mixtures, but i will try earth color, as You recommended for the skin.

Thanks a lot :)

Paul Baswell
by: Anonymous

this is how i approach a portrait in the flemish.
it starts back in the dead layer i make my grays warmer then i would in other subjects
so i have a bit of a starting place. all my layer are made up of very thin glazes. i tend to mix quite a bit of medium so that the paint is very workable. some were half way between ink and a warm semi solid butter. it makes blending them out to really then possible. then i work the colors up to ever stronger tones until they get to the intensity i want i use. start adding white if highlights don't seem bright enough finally finishing off with as close to white as the highest high light will alow never using pure white as skin is rarely that light. portraiture relies on pallet more than any other type of painting. always us monochromatic pallets stay away from complementary color cords. this creates a dead feel to skin for example my best pallet is white, burnt umber, raw umber, burnt sienna, raw sienna Yellow ochre, Alizarin crimson and touches of blue where i want more of a purple shadow but that needs to be sparing skin is warm and alive if you need an ultra dark you can use Asphaltem and finally black at the deepest darks and that is how i paint it hope that helps.

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