Intermediate Oil Part I: Plaster Cast

In this first project for my 2nd year students in Intermediate Oil, we are painting a study of a dramatically lit plaster cast of greek and roman statues and an architectural element: Apollo, Diana, Hellene, or an artichoke shaped finial.


The painting is going to be somewhat of a hybrid between using a classical method of tonal indirect painting, combined with a contemporary prismatic use of color harmony. Here are some classroom notes on how to proceed (the finial and gourd paintings use the  tetrad harmony expressed in the color scale examples on the right). We are going to complete the painting using a rectangular tetrad of green, red, violet and yellow, painted above an imprimatura of burnt umber and ultramarine blue reductive grisaille. (Reductive means removing or taking away of paint to bring back the lights of the original canvas white).


Initially we create a half size tonal drawing, on top of a grid that mathematical divides up the picture plane into halves, quarters and eighths. (Grid is on left side of chalk board notes above). The grid is helpful in placing and measuring the plaster cast within the composition. Intersecting lines and diagonals often create sweet spots in placing the forms, and the grid is helpful in realizing that. See my category on composition for more information about using grids. My finial and gourd paintings propped next to my color scales articulate the process.


Here is Ramona’s work in progress: she has her tonal black and white sketch above her painting, so that she can refer to the drawing study and the actual object she is looking at. Her imprimatura (underpainting) has been washed on using a combination of burnt umber and ultramarine blue. She has removed the lights using a brush dipped in turpenoid, and a soft blending rag. The result will be a monochromatic underpainting in neutrals (grisaille) on which to base the rest of the painting. It is important to also go back in with darker and middle values of the paint to fill out the correct tone of the form, as well as add some white to kick up the volume of the lights.


Pictured above is Becky’s work. She has sketched in some of the geometric compositional grid so that she can easily copy the proportions of her drawing onto the canvas. These can be blended away once the tonal imprimatura is complete.

The next step (Part 2) will be adding warm lights and cool darks based on the palette that we have chosen: the rectangular tetrad using green/red and violet/yellow. Students may be more expressive with their color choices so that the result will be a more colorful adaptation. Stay tuned!

3 thoughts on “Intermediate Oil Part I: Plaster Cast

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