What Is Grisaille and Why Do We Care?

12 Jun 2012

When I discovered grisaille oil painting I thought I'd gone to heaven. Learning how to oil paint is a lot of fun, but it is also just a lot. There is so much to deal with--getting your forms right, steering toward an interesting composition, brushwork, and color. I could focus on the first two but color is still a stumper for me no matter how much I love it, and my brushwork is a work in progress to be sure.

Grisaille of a Seated Female by Hyeseung Marriage-Song, 24 x 20, oil on linen, 2008.
Grisaille of a Seated Female by Hyeseung Marriage-Song,
24 x 20, oil on linen, 2008.

But with grisaille painting--oil painting usually done in monochromic shades of gray--I could really focus on those first two hurdles. When I eliminate color considerations--at least for a time--I am able to relax more in my studio sessions. I don't feel like I need to hurry through to color. It's been incredibly freeing.

And so what I started as a way to ease into putting oil on canvas I have in fact learned to love. I think grisaille paintings are beautiful! From figure painting studies by David to Pieter Brueghel the Elder's work to van Dyck's oil painting portrait sketches, I've found that grisaille is as diverse and interesting as any other type of painting.

The Annunciation by Jan van Eyck, 20 x 12, oil on panel, 1439.
The Annunciation by Jan van Eyck,
20 x 12, oil on panel, 1439.
In and of itself, grisaille can be used as a stepping stone toward a finished oil painting after adding glazes, so I know that any work I produce in this way can have a life "in living color" if and when I decide I'm ready to go there. So in a way, grisaille painting is a gateway painting method. It has been around for centuries, was an essential exercise for the Old Masters, and still has much to teach us today.

And there are instructors out there who are ready to give us the essential lessons in grisaille that we need. That's why master instructor and painter Jon deMartin has created his latest DVD, The Grisaille Method. In it, you'll find more than three hours of instruction as deMartin takes you through how line, contour, and shape all play a part in the power of grisaille!

 


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How to Paint: the Grisaille Method with Jon deMartin

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Leave color out of itcreate a sculptural form in monochrome with this 3+ hour lesson!

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