A common Old Master’s Technique called a grisaille, meaning grays, is an underpainting composed of dark and light paint colors using combinations of grays or neutrals. This “gray” underpainting allows the artist to concentrate on patterns of dark and light and general composition concepts, without thinking of color just yet.
When this grisaille, or first layer of paint is dry, the artist applies glazes of color over the grays. The color can be applied bright letting the gray underneath shift the hue to be a bit more muted. In this way the gray underpainting turns into a colored painting containing a variety of values or tones.
There are many ways to create underpaintings, and the use of grisaille is a great way to add the look of an Old Master’s realism.
As an abstract artist, I like to apply bright opaque areas of color as my underpainting and then use glazes over those to shift them in tone and hue. This contemporary use of glazing has many advantages, including creating the illusion of solid form from the previously flat underpainted color shapes.
Additional Resources on Glazing
Article from Golden Artist Colors, Inc
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