Thursday, December 13, 2012

A New Perspective on Velazquez

Velazquez has us standing high above the action in Old Woman Cooking Eggs, but I’ve never fully understood why, though we are clearly staring down on every object in the room, the old woman’s head is out of whack in terms of linear perspective.

The boy is in correct perspective, so that we can see the top of his head (and imagine an ellipse around his hairline) in keeping with all the other objects in the room, and yet she is perfectly in profile. Why is that? The only conclusion I have is that it deliberately creates a disjointed reality. Here is this old woman cooking a meal she’s done a million times before, absent-mindedly staring away into space. The distorted perspective physically reinforces the effect that she’s psychologically not present.

Her detached gaze has often been interpreted as blindness, but I don't think that she's blind. I think it's that she seems detached due to the off-kilter angle of her head. Maybe it's down to his being barely 19 years old when he painted it and it was simply a 'happy accident', but I like to think that this is his genius on display and that it just 'felt' right. Or perhaps it was a deliberate calculation: perhaps Velazquez manipulated perspective in the same way that we might deliberately manipulate value in a painting to establish a focal point.

Drawing ellipses on some of the major shapes in the painting, and a green line across her shoulders, clearly demonstrates a horizon line that's at least at the top edge of the canvas, if not above it.

Woman teaching Geometry, 1310

This 14th Century illumination shows the personification of Geometry. I'm glad she's not teaching me about geometrical perspective, as all the objects appear to be sliding onto the ground.

Equally, in Old Woman Cooking Eggs, either the table is correct and it's the woman's head that's tipped back, or her head is correct and - like the illumination - it's the table that's tipping forward. Either way something's wrong, but oddly it all seems right.

They could almost be from two separate paintings

The Fruitseller, Vicenzo Campi (1580)

It wasn't that unusual to play around with multiple perspectives in a single painting when trying to create a point of attention. Vicenzo Campi unnaturally tips the bowls of fruit towards us for pictorial effect, despite the fact that they are clearly on a different plane than the woman and the landscape.

Since we're ripping apart masterpieces, why does is seem as though are there two separate light sources? Maybe I'm wrong, but is her face is lit from lower down than everything else? The shadows on her headscarf seem almost horizontal, and her eye is fully lit.

Linear perspective is like any other tool in painting. You can use little bits of it, or ignore it completely. It's up to you. It's a topic that a lot of painters avoid as being overly mathematical, but as Velazquez shows us with his early masterpiece, even in a rigidly constructed pictorial space there's room to be intuitive. 

Friday, November 9, 2012

Focus, Dammit!

Do we even know why we do things? How many times have I said I can't do something when what I really mean is that I don't want to. It comes down to lack of awareness. 

So, why can't you meet me? 
"Because I have to take my cat to the vet". 
What'll happen if you don't take the cat to the vet? 
"It'll crap on the bed and my girlfriend will hate me." 

Okay, so you've weighed the consequences and chosen not to meet me. There's a clear distinction here between "I have to" (meaning I have no power) and "I choose not to" (meaning I have power). We make unconscious choices in our painting practice too. 

The awesome Dan Witz

For example, we could choose to go totally nuts on a portrait and paint every last pimple and split end on Angelina Jolie's head (she must have at least one), but why bother? I mean that honestly. Fine if you do that, but know why you've chosen to. Personally, I'm impressed by photorealism from a strictly technical standpoint, but I've little interest in it artistically. I choose to paint more loosely (or maybe I just can't paint that well). But the point is that anything short of exact duplication of nature is a deliberate choice, so why choose to paint loosely in this or that passage and tightly in another?

Bellini's painting of St. Francis in the Desert coming out of his cave in utter rapture is a great example. I've stared at this painting so many times, and it's crystalline clarity still makes me dizzy. Every element in the painting is given equal focus and attention to detail. In this instance, the technique serves the painting. Bellini made a deliberate choice to spend a bazillion hours painting every last blade of grass. But why?

St. Francis has clearly spent some time in this hermitic barred cage. His back to the sun, head buried in the Book and surrounded by the trappings of Man, his awareness of the world outside is like that of Plato's cave; limited to shadows cast on the walls. 

Bellini depicts the Moment of Clarity beautifully, where St. Francis turns around and seems to experience the world and the glory of it's creation for the very first time. Leaving his cane and sandals in the cave, he walks out and appears to scrunch his toes in the gravel (who doesn't love walking on sand for the first time in summer?), almost frozen in awe with arms wide open to the  world. he almost seems skewered on a sunbolt. It reminds me of the old shamanic vision quest. There's something distinctly hallucinogenic about the landscape, and it's one of the most powerful paintings I've ever seen.

Camille Corot

Or on the other hand maybe you like the soft landscapes of Corot and might choose to paint like that, where everything is blurred, hazy and romantic. The decision doesn't have to be an overall one. You could choose to manipulate the softness of individual edges within your composition, based upon your idea for the painting. Some amount of softness makes for charm, and is extremely popular.

"Corot developed a treatment (of) looking at trees with a very wide focus. He ignored individual leaves, and resolved them into masses of tone, here lost and here found more sharply against the sky. Subordinate masses of foliage within these main boundaries are treated in the same way, resolved into masses of infinitely varying edges. This play, this lost-and-foundness at his edges is one of the great distinguishing charms of Corot's trees." [source]

Vermeer, Milkmaid (detail)
Vermeer created the softest red haze around his painted flesh which makes it seem to glow. Everything is ever so slightly out of focus, perfect for those dusty, quiet interiors.

Hans Holbein, The Ambassadors (detail)
Hans Holbein rendered textures beautifully, but distinctly and with tightly bound outlines which makes them stand alone in his compositions. Whether we choose to leave the whole painting or even just a particular edge blurred or in tight focus is a matter of personal preference, but should be a conscious one. 

From the laws of human attraction to the kind of landscape we like to lay down our blanket and picnic in, there’s an innate human need for mystery. Don’t spell every last detail out for me; let me search for it. I do the same thing with my cat when I stick a treat into a rubber ball and let her find a way to get it out. We’re simple creatures, after all. J. R. R. Tolkien called it "that shimmer of suggestion that never becomes clear sight, but always hints at something deeper, further on."

Sunday, October 28, 2012

How the Old Masters created the look of Gold in Painting

The detail (above) from Van Loo's painting, Marie Leszczinska Queen of France, is fascinating to me. I've been trying to figure out why I think his rendering of the gold table is unsuccessful. Though he's obviously a meticulous craftsman and clearly spent ages with a magnifying glass in one hand and a paintbrush in the other, there's something overwrought about the brushwork. His table looks plastic, but it took me a while to figure out why

Charles de Solier, Hans Holbein the Younger

Holbein was, of course, a master at painting the detailed effects of light and shade on any number of textures. I examined his Portrait of Charles de Solier (above) for clues as to his technique for painting gold.

Local color and value are notoriously hard to read, so I took color samples from the sword handle, (a) through (e) above, and then de-saturated them to get their values. Applying these five values against Munsell's value chart shows some interesting results.

The values are all gathered tightly around the bottom of the spectrum, between Value 1 and 3. There is nothing at all in the mid-tones from 3 all the way to 6, when all of a sudden we have our one and only highlight, (e). What surprised me was just how dark everything was. Even the brightest highlight on gold is only a 6, yet the highlight still jumped a full three values from its closest neighbor.

I knew that medieval painters, when planning to include gilding in a painting (say, on a halo), would map out their value composition as if the gold leaf was a dark element. This initially seems counter-intuitive - Gold isn't dark! - but when we see how dark the overall value scheme of gold is in the Holbein painting we can see why it works.

I tried the same experiment on another sample, this time a much brighter 'gold', taken from Le Brun's Hall of Mirrors painting in Versailles...

Firstly, it's interesting to note the palette swatches taken from the 'gold': They're kind of a dull brown, and not very gold at all. Again, regarding the values, we see that the majority of values are between 2 and 5, and the highlight jumps three values but is still no more than an 8.

Le Brun has used a mid-tone (d) on the circular frame, but the egg-and-dart molding has no (d) tone; it makes the 3-value-jump from dark tones straight to highlight just as in the Holbein painting, and is very successful for it.

Why is it that Van Loo's painting is unsuccessful?

Yikes! The first thing that stands out is the number of colors. Van Loo went a little overboard unnecessarily. The more colors you lay down on a space, the more you're making me stare at that area in order to figure out what's going on. Don't make me focus too much on a background object: the focus should be on the main subject.

Let's look at it more closely. Seen as black-and-white value reductions, the spread across the spectrum is much more evenly spaced than the (better painted) Holbein. Specular highlights on metallic objects are supposed to jump out at us. Van Loo's spectrum looks more like that of diffuse light, not specular.

If you want to represent specular highlights on metallic objects, you need to jump at least three values beyond your mid-tones. The way to do that is not to brighten the highlights, it's to darken everything else. Van Loo had nowhere to go from Value 7.5, as Value 10 is pure white, and as such is a purely theoretical limit.

It's like in Spinal Tap. When you turn the volume all the way, where do you go from there?

Spinal Tap, "This one goes to 11" scene [video link]

Justice Punishing (detail), Noel Coypel
In this detail from Justice Punishing, by Noel Coypel, we can see how effective hatching is at representing highlights on metallic surfaces. The hard jump in value from dark mid-tone to highlight works really well to suggest gold. Van Loo's smooth gradations look too soft by comparison. [Incidentally, Coypel's painting is also an excellent reference for the structure of the acanthus leaf].

David Briggs wrote a very concise description of diffuse and specular light, and explains exactly where we should place specular light reflections. Make sure to read all three pages.

Coving, the Nef (vessel) of Louis XIV (detail), René Antoine Houasse
Houasse's fresco from the Abundance Salon, Versailles, shows (along the bottom) gold embroidered cloth using a similar technique. But this time, instead of hatching, he's used dots to simulate the threads.

Look at these examples from other painters to get an idea of their method. Notice the jump from darks straight to highlight in the Rembrandt details. I love the way he painted light on metal. You might conclude that the bigger the gap in value between shadow and specular highlight, the more successful the illusion.

Rape of Prosperine (detail), Rembrandt van Rijn
Jeremiah Lamenting the Destruction of Jerusalem (Detail), Rembrandt van Rijn 
Portrait of Pope Leo X (detail) , Raffaello Sanzio

Madame de Haussonville, Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres

Ingres' detail shows the exact same phenomenon in the values on the painted gold frame. Even though the frame is in the background and the spread of values is not as great [he has rightly reserved his highest and lowest values for the main subject in the foreground], his specular reflections make the same jump.

Still Life with Silver Jug (detail), Willem Kalf

Friday, October 26, 2012

The Etchings of Anders Zorn

Anders Zorn pursued light as the guiding principle of his art. Whether it was oil paint, watercolor, or etching, the expression of light on the human form and his beloved homeland of Sweden was the foundation of his work, and drove him with an intensity visible in the detail (above) from his self-portrait. 

Zorn and his Wife, Anders Zorn

These incredible etchings are from a second-hand book from 1925 that I picked up, and I hope that you will download them at their largest and enjoy his line as much as I do. 

"It was in the delightful Zorn and his Wife that he marked the year 1890 with a really important advance in his art as etcher, and here his own linear technique seems to be definitely established with its independence of outline. It is a charmingly homely scene : the happy young artist at work, his eyes intent on the mirror in front of him to catch the reflection of himself, with his wife standing companionably at his elbow, her eyes focussed where his are, his needle in his hand poised for immediate response to the right moment of visual conception. 

The light and shade are distributed with happy pictorial balance, and the effect of spontaneity is not in any way overruled by the firmness of the design." [Salaman]

The Toast (detail), Anders Zorn

Judging by the expression on his face, the huge glass he's holding was probably full when he started his speech. Fortunately for us though, he rambled on long enough for Zorn to capture this incredible portrait. Okay, maybe it was from a photo but I can almost smell the cigar smoke and booze. The way Zorn establishes planes and form with his line is masterful, the eyes being studies in the perfection of the art.

The Toast, Anders Zorn

Une Premiere (detail), Anders Zorn

From an essay by Malcolm C. Salaman (1925):

"Une Premiere was the earliest of his plates in which the etcher depicted the nude female form disporting in sea or river, and here, in this tenderly charming picture of the mother guiding protectively her timid child through the wavelets out into the shallows, we see their bodies, softly enveloped by the shimmering atmosphere, silhouetted, as it were, against the glistening mass of water between them and the horizon, and this by the mere suggestive power of drawing with closely-laid parallel lines that carry their own illusion of form. 

Here, then, was the etcher, with developing individuality of style, commanding a new phase of expression on the copper which was to become one of his most distinctive, the expression of his passionate delight in the beauty of woman's form in healthy life."

Une Premiere, Anders Zorn

Au Piano, Anders Zorn
Mona, Anders Zorn

Sappho, Anders Zorn

Vicke, Anders Zorn

The Waltz, Anders Zorn

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Xavier Mader, Piat Sauvage, and Reflected Light

CGI studios have a standard trick used for establishing the reflected light on digitally created images for movies. A large mirrored or matte ball on a stick is placed prominently in the shot. They use this because the ground and sky are not always visible in the finished shot, but CGI artists need to know the color of each so that they can correctly judge the reflected light cast on the digitally created element in the shot.

RGB readings (above) from a matte-finished grey reference globe positioned in the set give accurate colors and lighting positions for CGI artists to base their digital 3D paintings upon. You can see from the six RGB numbers taken from this photo that there is a lot of information to consider regarding light, either reflected or direct.

Still frame of test ball flying through cavern in Lord of the Rings

In the still from WETA Workshop (above) “the ball is lit by a blue light from above, and a weaker orange light from below. During the test video, the lighting changed throughout the course of the fly-through. If you wanted to animate a digital creature flying into those caverns, the forms of the creature would have to respond to the same lights that are lighting the gray ball. Digital lighters can unwrap the data from the gray ball or the mirror ball into a spherical environment map.” [Source]

The good news as far as illusionistically painted architecture is that we don’t concern ourselves with this level of detail. It’s good to understand the reality, but it would take way too long to paint. For the most part, reflected light is rendered in one tone only. In fact, simply leaving the mid-toned background showing along a crescent strip – and not adding any extra painted step - often suffices for the representation of reflected light on architectural ornamentation. Decorative painting is all about developing shorthand, and any step that can be cut out means less time spent (and more money in your pocket).

The standard rule for reflected light is that the lightest dark in the shadows should never be lighter than the darkest light in the lights. It sounds confusing at first, but it makes sense if you think about it. There is a tendency to overdo reflected light. Sometimes the reflected light looks too bright, and the successful modeling of form is compromised. Generally speaking, keep any reflected light relatively dark.

An Allegory, by Piat Sauvage

Piat Sauvage was a master at painting grisaille bas-relief imités, but his use of exaggerated reflected light on the right side of the naked woman in “An Allegory” (above) illustrates my point. The overly emphasized light bouncing back onto the legs and torso [from what source exactly?] ruins the illusion of three-dimensionality, and gives the game away that it is paint, not plaster, that we are looking at.

Section of woodblock printed wallpaper, by Xavier Mader
The section of molding in the wallpaper by Xavier Mader (above) demonstrates my point about reflected light as it is normally rendered in decorative painting. You can see that the area of reflected light is created by simply shifting the darkest shadow away from the lower edge of the ornament, leaving an area of dark mid-tone showing.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

How to Draw a Perfect Circle Freehand

I came across Vasari's text below and figured I'd make a quick video showing you how to "surpass greatly all other painters". Well, not all the posts can be long and well thought out.

(link to video)
Giotto draws a perfect circle for the Pope, told by Vasari:
Pope Benedict sent one of his courtiers into Tuscany to see what sort of a man he was and what his works were like, for the Pope was planning to have some paintings made in S Peter's. This courtier, on his way to see Giotto and to find out what other masters of painting and mosaic there were in Florence, spoke with many masters in Sienna, and then, having received some drawings from them, he came to Florence. And one morning going into the workshop of Giotto, who was at his labours, he showed him the mind of the Pope, and at last asked him to give him a little drawing to send to his Holiness. Giotto, who was a man of courteous manners, immediately took a sheet of paper, and with a pen dipped in red, fixing his arm firmly against his side to make a compass of it, with a turn of his hand he made a circle so perfect that it was a marvel to see it Having done it, he turned smiling to the courtier and said, "Here is the drawing." But he, thinking he was being laughed at, asked, "Am I to have no other drawing than this?" "This is enough and too much," replied Giotto, "send it with the others and see if it will be understood." The messenger, seeing that he could get nothing else, departed ill pleased, not doubting that he had been made a fool of. However, sending the other drawings to the Pope with the names of those who had made them, he sent also Giotto's, relating how he had made the circle without moving his arm and without compasses, which when the Pope and many of his courtiers understood, they saw that Giotto must surpass greatly all the other painters of his time.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

American Primitive Wood Graining

"The Printseller's Window'" Walter Goodman 1883

Nineteenth Century Tall Grass Magicians (so called because they'd camp in the tall grass on the outskirts of town) with names like Willard the Wizard were basically drifters plying sleight of hand for a quick buck. They'd blow into small American towns and perform sideshows and magic acts until the townspeople got bored and then they'd move on, disappearing like ghosts.

All sorts of artisans, from painters and photographers to woodworkers and doctors (for wasn't medicine more of an "Art" than a "Science" back then?) were doing much the same. Folk Artists would cobble together a living by painting portraits, shop signs, murals, wood-graining - anything they could get. 

Even Walter Goodman, whose trompe l'oeil masterpiece "The Printseller's Window" is pictured above, spent rootless years "undertaking interior painting, illuminating ceilings, fabricating life-size advertising 'Indians' for merchants, painting theatrical scenery and making up stage actors."

James Millard, photographer and artist, outside his studio in Wigan, circa 1895. [source]

Some stayed in Europe and managed to open stores. The photo (above) of Millard - proud as Punch and open for business in swanky new digs - as a "Painter in all it's Branches" and Photographer of "Machinery, Buildings & Animals", illustrates this perfectly. Plenty of others headed to America and took to the roads in droves, traveling from town to town in an endless search for work. Their mostly anonymous efforts kept the art of decorative painting alive, and created a new style known as American Primitive.

Laurel Farm outside of Pawling, New York
I was thrilled to come across some of their original handiwork in a recent stay at beautiful Laurel Farm outside Pawling, New York. The main dining room, with it's large open fireplace and brick oven, was a focal point of the old farmhouse and as such would typically receive the most elaborate decoration. In this case, an unknown painter covered all wooden surfaces in a primitive faux oak grain, painted in one pass.

Original wood-graining in the dining room. The bottle of Pilsner was a recent addition by me.
The original farmhouse dates from 1815, but has been expanded and renovated since then. Fortunately, the current owners are keenly aware of it's history and chose to preserve as many of the original features as possible, including the wonderful wood-graining on display here.

According to 'Vignettes of Patterson Past' (The Patterson Historical Society, 2007), the farmhouse was used at one point as a camp for girls.

"The camp was to be named Camp Genevieve Brady in honor of its donor. It would provide a taste of farm life for city girls. An eight room house and lakefront cabin stand on the property and there are plans to erect a recreation hall and seven units to accommodate 200 girls."

The owners used to bring the girl's luggage up from the train station for their two week stay, and give them hayrides with his tractor. 

"Residents remember scout sunrise ceremonies held as the sun rose above the eastern hills and red buses filled with campers going up and down the road into the late 1980s."

For a more detailed account of the tools and techniques of wood graining, as well as a how-to video on faux oak, check out this link to recent post on this blog.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Free Video Demo: Faux Cerused Oak

The following is an in-depth demonstration with video and images, designed to help you learn the traditional method of painting faux oak, generally considered the most difficult wood-grain to simulate in paint. I made about an hour of footage following along as I explained on-the-job faux cerused (or limed)  oak. There are some things that I glanced over or skipped entirely, but hey; it's free. So no complaints.

I tend towards more subtle effects personally, as far as wood-graining. If you scroll way down to the bottom for a finished shot, you'll see what I mean. Your owns style will develop naturally, and with practice.

The introductory photo above shows my painted faux cerused oak (top left), the real sample (bottom left) that I was asked to match, and some custom tools I cut from linoleum to assist me in the graining.

A selection of brushes and combs that I use for graining

Step 1: Setting up, and Mixing your Glaze

The first video is a quick rundown of my recipe for this faux finish. I don't go in to detail about color mixing here, as I'm assuming some knowledge on your part, but you get the basic setup. Mixing colors is an art that takes a long time to learn. There is plenty of info on palette choices by artists for different techniques in the literature and online. As a great starting point, I recommend Parry's "Graining and Marbling" (1949), and Finkelstein's "The Art of Faux" (1997).

As you can see in the above photo, I keep sample cards for each job. This is very important. The card on the left shows each step, staggered down the page in taped-off strips, right up to the finished spattering step. The card on the right has notes and separated color swatches of my colors. These are not the colors from the cerused oak job, by the way.

Parry on Limed, or Cerused, Oak:

"Lime, whether applied accidentally or deliberately, remains in the pores of the timber, and also influences the general colouring according to the extent or period of saturation, the state of the time, and the age of the oak. the result being a universal darkening of the figuring and lightening of open pores.

We must draw a sharp line between the genuine limed oak and limed oak effects obtained by the use of oil-bound distemper. The latter has no darkening effect on the figure, but rather the reverse. It imparts, particularly in the case of new oak, a soft bleached appearance."

Step 2: Laying in the Pores

Flogging with the horse-hair brush is the proper method for laying in a ground layer of pores, simulating the open cells of sawn hardwood. The traditional setup would be to use a reversible medium such as gouache or beer glaze, but I went straight for oil. 

"Of the several methods used for the reproduction of this wood the oil colour process is by far the most popular with present-day grainers. Work carried out in this medium is under complete control from start to finish, and there is no possibility of accidental effect creeping in and spoiling the appearance." [Parry]

Of course with oil, and in the event of failure, the whole thing can be easily washed off with a clean rag and white spirit, and the work recommenced. A job not possible in acrylic, and difficult in gouache unless you first seal each layer with shellac.

You do have to be careful to always adhere to the "fat over lean" rule regarding layers of oil paint. In other words; your base layer should always have less linseed oil than the layer above. In the case of multiple layers, increase the amount of oil as you move up.

In the video, I stretch the glaze with a spalter, then flog my glaze from the bottom to the top, and left to right (on open panels), paying attention to the direction of the wood. Keep your brush clean, and wipe it often on a rag. You can re-flog the wet glaze layer as many times as you like, but each time you go back over it with the flogger it will reduce the size of your pores. In the case of oak, the pores are very open so I only flogged once. 

A quick word at the start regarding all those dirty rags: Dispose of them carefully! With all the linseed oil floating around, you can easily start a fire. 

Step 3: Graining 

Once the pore layer has dried, we are ready for the figure graining. In the video above, you can see the heart- and straight-grain being laid in, and my method for doing it. 

I go over it in the video, so I won't repeat myself here. Instead, I'll quote heavily from Parry's text, which you should definitely read because he has some added points that I don't cover.

Don't make this stuff up. Graining as a craft has a long history, and there is a very distinct look to natural grain. There's nothing worse than "wood-grainy effect". Do a Google search on oak grain, or better yet; visit your local museum and photograph old English furniture. It's guaranteed to have the best natural examples of oak grain. Buy old books, and practice.

Source: Parry
Parry On Oak Heartwood (or 'Sapwood')

"Although many examples are similar to ash, there are certain characteristics which are only to be found in heart of oak. These differences must be grasped before they can be freely exploited by the grainer. The 'oak sap' - as it is frequently, and erroneously, called shows considerably more ruggedness and variety of shape. The ends or outer edges of the concentric elliptical curves are sharply spiked, widely varied in thickness, and, as if in a final effort to break loose, the ends assume the most fantastic twists and turns, no two being exactly alike."

Source: Armstrong
"The heartwood is mainly employed in situations where it would normally be used by the wood-worker, i.e., for cross rails of doors or other work secondary in importance to the choicer quartered oak paneling. If the grained work is to appear natural, it should never give the impression of being 'centered'. This can so easily be avoided; indeed, where short lengths of timber are concerned it is better to omit the central curve and display the more interesting features of the wood.

A word of caution becomes necessary at this stage: be careful when graining the more intricate end shapes, as these, if overdeveloped. will upset the balance of the whole composition. It is not easy to lay down any hard-and-fast rule, but we would strongly urge all beginners to keep the extreme widths of such parts noticeably narrower than the points from which they are developed. By this means we are able to maintain the characteristic tapering formation which is common to most woods."

Source: Parry
"For the wiping out of heart grain we fold a double thickness of clean rag over the veining horn. gather the loose ends, and hold firmly together with the other hand.

This is a two-handed job and although one may at first feel extremely awkward when sketching the pattern with these unfamiliar implements, it will not be long before some measure of control is acquired.

An expert grainer continues to wipe out with the right hand. white frequently giving a sharp putt with the left in order to maintain a clean working edge, all without cessation of work.

Cleanliness and sharpness of definition are important factors which cannot be obtained except by the constant changing and tautness of the rag which covers the veining tool."

Source: Armstrong
"Many grainers use the thumb-nail and are quite convinced as to its superiority in all types of wiped-out figuring. It can, however, become a painful operation after several days of continuous work, and in any  case it less hygienic than the method recommended above.

The handiest veining horns are those about 100 mm in length. These are already shaped; round at one end, fairly square at the other; and it is the square edge which gives the greater variety of shapes."

Source: Parry
"In wiping out the hearts it is advisable to use the tool at the same angle as one would use a flat fitch, i.e., with the square end parallel to the direction of the grain. The long straight lines are wiped out with the angle nearest the direction followed, and by maintaining the firmest pressure at this point, we can, when forming the elliptical ends of curves, produce the required thickness of line and at the same time leave the outer edge sharp and the inner edge fairly soft."

Step 4: More Graining


This video has annotations and music, which might be annoying, but whatever.

Parry On Combing

"Combing provides a simple method for the portrayal of coarse grain, particularly for oak and pitch pine. An examination of the plainer parts of these woods will reveal some interesting differences; pitch pine exhibits a certain boldness and continuity of line with fairly even balance between light and dark areas; oak is characterised by its vastly different ratio of lights and darks, the latter - which are actually broken line effects produced by the pores - occupy something like one-fifth to one-tenth of the width of the lighter parts. It will therefore be evident that each requires its own particular combs and technique.

Rubber combs may be cut from waste pieces of linoleum, rubber or leather or other material of stout quality. These can be rectangular in form and of sizes varying from 50 mm by 75 mm upwards. Teeth are formed by cutting deep grooves of the  required width on all four edges, but this must not be attempted until each edge has been accurately squared and straightened up: this latter point is important, as the comb will not wipe out cleanly unless the edge is maintained in a sharp and square condition.

When forming the teeth, due regard must be paid to the effect desired. In pine, for example, the notches and teeth are of equal width; in oak, the grooves are extremely narrow and the teeth are comparatively wide. In both cases it is desirable to make at least one comb with teeth on the several edges so graduated in width as to reproduce that natural coarse to fine variation in the graining."

Parry On Mottling

"Apply the glaze colors with a clean "rubbing-in" brush and reserve the mottler or cutter for its own special job of removing ribbon-like highlights or large areas interspersed with darker shades. If stronger tones are required, these can be applied with the fitch, but the whole work must be done expeditiously, to allow time for softening.

Do not overdo the mottling, but seek inspiration from the natural wood, and it will soon be evident that light and shade are most pronounced in those parts of the grain which twist and curl away from the main direction."

Step 5: Silver-Graining

Parry on the silver-graining of oak

"The lines indicating the silver grain - popularly described as the clashes or dapples - are not just segments of one continuous line, each following the next in single file. There is, of course, a common sense of direction, but the ends of the dapples will be found to overlap like so many isolated roof tiles, and it is this feature which must be continually observed even though the lines curve and change direction. Notice also the steep pitch of the slope, a positive advantage when twisting and curling the run or flow of the grain."

The combination of wavy combing and wiping out
Source: Armstrong
Armstrong's Cyclopedia of Painting has a great article (free online) on faux oak, with the illustration above demonstrating the method for wiping out the silver-grain. You can clearly see where a narrow steel comb is first dragged though the glaze (on the left side), and a wider comb is then struck vertically through the waves. This simulates the smallest silver-grain. As the silver-grain gets larger, moving to the right, the background combing becomes vertical, and a rag is used to wipe out the silver-grain.

Source: Parry

Step 6: Spattering and Check-Rolling

On Spattering

"(An) impression may be obtained by 'spattering' the work with colour which is brushed against and through the teeth of an ordinary comb. The effect will be more or less pronounced according to the consistency of the colour and the distance between the comb and the surface treated. It is usual to supplement this method by an immediate light dragging action with the badger softener in one direction to pull the specks of color into elongated pore marks."

On Check Rolling:

"May be employed at the grainer's discretion when it is desired to accentuate the pores; otherwise it is unnecessary. The roller will behave equally well with an oil or a water medium. 

The roller is fed with color from a wide mottler or brush which must rest lightly upon the upper edges of the serrated discs. The roller is moved forwards in the direction of the grain, leaving the pore-marks clearly defined. Too much pressure with the brush has the effect of removing color and leaving the discs clean. If color is too thin, the result will show an ugly series of blobs. Yet another case where success depends entirely upon practice."

Well, for better or worse, here's how it turned out