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Masters Series – Techniques Investigation – Rubens

In the first of this series, earlier, we looked at JMW Turner. He used a combination of techniques, applied on top of each other through various stages.

Now we look at a painting of Sir Peter Paul Rubens, by an un-categorised artist who uses Rubens’ techniques (known as “after Rubens”). We’re using this unknown artist because not being as proficient as Rubens, the techniques and combination that Rubens used are more obvious – i.e. not as hidden into the imagery. This artist uses techniques in combination – if at all – in a different way than JMW Turner. In other words, same techniques, different combination, and different degree of usage. Here is a photo of the original:

Overall, you can see the paint is very thin, and looks to be painted on prepared board. You can see the heavier brushstrokes of the preparatory paint underneath the thin paint. Look especially at the area of the subject’s fur coat: this is dryish paint scratched on. Already this is different from Tuner’s. That dry paint is applied using the Dagger Technique, with very little paint loaded onto the brush – a bare hinting on the tip of it. The brush is a Flat Bristle Brush.

Let’s look at this section:

Please refer to the larger image above for clearer view of the highlighted area

What you have in that area is the Dagger Technique on a barely-loaded brush. This creates the two tones of the subject’s beard: light golden and darker red-brown. Then on top of that the artist uses the technique called Liner Stroke. These strokes are also scant in application, with a few strokes to pick up on the thin Dagger Technique effect to make the overall effect of more hair than the Liner Strokes actually paint. Soft hair, too! You can see the ‘few’ Liner Strokes for all areas of the beard, applied on top of that scant Dagger Technique. This artist hasn’t expertly created the effect, because those Liner Strokes show individually and don’t completely merge visually into the overall effect.

You can see in that area, too, the soft Opaque Glazing Technique to create the flesh. This technique is more obvious in the following area:

Opaque Glazes – see larger picture above

As taught in my online art courses, the Opaque Glazing Technique is not named that because it creates an opaque effect. In fact, the technique when applied is see-through. This creates a very soft merging of imagery through the stages. The technique uses Opaque paint, which is why it is so named.

Various colours and tones are applied. The brush is most likely sable, but in the hands of an expert a bristle brush can also be used. These various colours and tones can be intermixed while still wet, or can be let to dry, with the next stage of that opaque paint – made see-through by the use of medium – applied on top and visually intermixed due to its transparency. The result is a very lovely sophisticated area of advanced technique oil painting. There are no Liner Strokes, and no thick paint. Thick paint comes from using the Dagger Technique – loading up the brush more thickly than so far we’ve talked about, and by using the Caress Stroke – also not used here. Thick applications, known as impasto, can also come from using other implements such as the knife and rag, but no knife work is used in this painting. Here’s a good example of impasto usage:

Subject’s collar – see larger image

Actually, that’s the only place where impasto is used in this painting. The effect has been created by using firstly Opaque Glaze, similar in tone and colour to that used on the face shadows. This is a dull grey. Only little bits of this remain visible. On top of that the artist used the Caress Stroke with white paint, and a bristle brush with more paint loaded onto it than anywhere else. He has also used a Scumble Technique in this area, also with white, though the type of brush is harder to tell: it’s either bristle or sable. Clearly the effect is to capture the eye immediately, and provides vitality to the image as the viewer’s eye jumps back and forth from the subject’s eyes to the white collar. The picture would be quite dull and dead without it.

But is this white focus too strong? Yes, it is. This also shows the artist’s lack of proficiency. The result also is a kind of anomaly in the image, which leaves the eye unsatisfied and unpersuaded. The intention as can be seen is to create that vitality with the eye jumping between the forehead, more starkly light, and that smaller light collar, which has been achieved to some extent, but is also not persuasive.The barest hint of a transparent glaze over that white would have made an astounding, persuasive, difference.

While in that area, look above to the subject’s left ear, shown here above the collar. That area has been created using the very thin paint described. If you know what you’re doing, you’ll also see a single Liner Stroke applied with very thin see-through paint, the same mix as the Opaque Glaze mix, in a curved stroke to create and define the inner area of the subject’s ear. Right beside that, to the right as we look at it, is a smaller stroke made the same way, which creates and defines the outer curve of the ear.