Start Thin Finish Fat By Ron Gribble
There are very good reasons why artists do this. First lets define
‘thin’ and ‘fat’ Thin – meaning that the paint is put on the canvas
thinly. This may mean that you have mixed a quantity of medium with it
to thin it or it may be that you have simply ‘scrubbed’ it onto the
surface so that is applied very thinly.
Fat – meaning paint that is ‘Impasto’ i.e., straight out of the tube
and applied in bolder thicker chunks.
Why thin first?
I have two very good reasons that I can think of instantly, and other
- If you lay down a ‘fat’ paint area you are limited to what you can
do over the top of it. Try painting fat on fat and you will get mud
when painting wet on to wet paint.
- By putting down a ‘thin’ area you are preparing the area for an
opportunity to contrast with fat painted details on top. The more
sedate thin paint adds weight to the “Shout at you “ fat paint.
Generally you should place early details on thinly and progressively
get fatter and fatter as you progress, finishing off with bold
highlights that look like they were thrown on, but are not.
In my next tip I will talk about ‘Application – Looks like it is
Put the Darks on First
This theory is a very sound one for painting in Oils. But that is on
its own will not be enough. As well as putting on darks first, start
with thin paint and no detail, and work towards ‘Fatter’ and fatter
paint and more and more detail. I will explain over my next three
Darks on First
Remember, you are painting the deepest darks first, were very little
light is penetrating. Especially if you are painting a scene outside,
much of this deep shadow could be some distance from you. Conclusion:
Nobody, unless their father is an eagle can see detail in deep shade at
a distance. So don’t put any detail in at this stage. Try to lather
paint on with as little brush strokes visible as possible, just like
painting the house – ‘Lay off’ the paint by gentle horizontal and
vertical brush strokes, with a beard flat brush. This prepares the way
to contrast some detail against the “quiet” area, when you lay on high
lights. This works particularly well with distant details in landscapes.
It will also, if your colours are wisely mixed, add to the depth, as it
confirms the viewer’s subconscious expectations, that detail recedes
Next month, Start thin, Finish Fat, the opposite of weight watches.
Clean Colours in Your Work
Speaking of cleanliness, on previous occasions, the end result of all
this is clean colours.
There is much to be said about colour mixing, that I could never
cover on the Internet.
Try keeping each colour you mix to a minimum of colours from your
pallet. The more variety of colours from your pallet that you mix, the
closer you get to ‘Mud’. That is dirty in colour.
Ask the question of yourself very clearly - "Do I want a hot colour
or a cold colour"?
If it is neither one nor the other it not only loses a great
opportunity to contrast against it but it also is in danger of being
boring at best, and muddy at worst.
If you decide on a cold colour go easy on the mixing of hot colours.
If you want a hot colour mix, then don’t put large quantities of blues
into the mix.
Of course there are always exceptions to every rule, but I have found
the ‘Hot & Cold’ decision to be pivotal
Preparing to Paint On Location
We have been concentrating on basic house keeping tips lately,
cleanliness and organization. This becomes doubly important when you go
‘Plein Aire’, that is painting on location. The wind will find any
disorganisation and create havoc.
You will need Bull Dog Clips to keep your rag from flapping paint all
over the general landscape.
If you clean your brushes firstly on a piece of paper to remove the
excess paint. I use a portion of telephone directory, as this is very
absorbent and remain bound down the spine even if after I have removed
ten or twenty pages for my days painting.
Then secondly wash it in your brush cleaner and use the rag to remove
the turpentine. Don’t put paint on the rag!
The pages of the book can be folded over and clipped down with a
bulldog clip to secure it from the effects of the wind. If the rag does
flap about, it’s only turpentine on it anyway.
I am off to paint my way around the South Island of New Zealand soon,
so I will be fighting the same problems first hand.
Care of Brushes
Last month we discussed brush-cleaning devise that I use, This month
I want to stay with brushes.
Generally speaking, good oil painting brushes are not expensive, but
it takes only a minute to prolong their useful life.
I try to remember after each painting session (not so easy when I am
on location) to clean my brushes with clean soapy warm water, as
- Wipe the brush across a wet piece of soap until a good quantity of
the soap is worked into the bristles.
- Grip the ends of the bristles with one hand and with the other
hand move the brush so that the bristles are splayed out and the soap
can work right up to the ferrule.
- Now Place the brush into a sink, and squeeze the soap back out by
pressing the ferrule end of the bristle against the hard surface until
you squeeze out the dirty soapy water. Rinse with warm water Repeat
this until the soapy water that you squeeze out is no longer dirty.
- Lastly repeat step one only, then gently mould the bristles nice
and straight leaving a good amount of soap in the bristles. The flat
can have a chisel edge moulded by squeezing gently between thumb and
- Leave to dry, with the soap "training" and protecting the
bristles. You will be able to transport these now without them bending
over if they press against anything. The soap, when dry, can be broken
out again, when you want to use the brush.
In Conclusion, think of your brushes as the instruments of your
trade. Would a surgeon use a dirty scalpel? You must be confident of the
brush mark that will get from a particular brush. If it has dry paint up
the ferrule, You will not get what you expect, ant the result is loss of
control, on the canvas.
I hope this helps
Brush Cleaning Tip
There are a lot of commercial brush cleaners available, but I will
tell you about a cleaner you can make at home, out of two empty tins.
Before I give the details, I need to explain why a specific cleaner
is needed. Why not just a jar of turpentine?
You need to be aware that turpentine only suspends the paint, which
then settles down into the bottom on your container. All you are doing
after the first clean or two, is stirring up sediment and forcing it up
into the brush ferules.
So take a standard food preserving tin; make sure that the lid has
been removed without sharp edges. Now take a smaller size tin, Like a
baby food tin and place it bottom up onto a desk. Now, take screwdriver,
with a medium width end, and with a hammer, gently force slots into the
base of the tin. Don’t hit too hard, we only want slots and not holes.
Not too close together or you will lose structural strength, but enough
to cover as much of the bottom of the tin as you can. The shape edges
should be inside the tin, and the smooth slots on the out side.
Now place the small tin bottom up inside the bigger tin the smaller
tin should fill about a half of the height of the larger tin.
Fill the larger tin with turpentine, until the smaller is only just
covered. You will now be able to clean your brushes on the bottom of the
small tin, and paint will drop through the slots and gather in the
bottom of the larger tin. If you let it settle, you can pour off the
turps and clean out the big tin every now and again.
Next month we will look at caring for you brushes. I trust this is a
help to you
Get Set up Properly
If you cannot keep your work place clean and tidy, you will never
paint a clean and correct painting.
In the next four months, I want to give you tips on how I keep from
painting " Mud" coloured paintings. The secret is in getting organised
and disciplined. So often in my workshop, I see people who get paint
literally everywhere. So we will cover:
- Brush Cleaners
- Care of Brushes
- Colour Mixing – More colours, means mud.
In the studio I use a piece of glass. It cleans very easily, as the
paint does not soak into it. If I am tinting my board a darker colour, I
can slide a sheet of paper, tinted the same colour under the glass. This
allows me to mix against the colour on my canvas.
The piles of raw colours around the edges (use the edges further away
from you) will dry much slower on the glass. Use a large piece mine is
about 1500mm x 400mm. Make sure there are no sharp edges, and use a
painting trowel, with a bent neck, to mix your colours. Never mix with a
brush this forces the raw colour up into the ferrule of the brush and
you lose control of the colour very quickly.
Stop and clean up regularly, brushes and pallet.
Next month: We will learn about brush cleaners.
Tint An Alternative Colour
Last month I suggested that you try tinting your boards. A warm mid
tone colour. This eliminates the need to cover the stark white when
painting in oils. I use a mixture of titanium white and burnt sienna.
month I want to suggest an alternative colour. Try a darker blue/purple.
If you have a close look at the picture of Lake Wanaka, you can see that
the background was painted in a pink colour and the other with a mixture
of ultramarine blue and burnt sienna and crimson. Lots of this colour
appears all over the painting very deliberately. Not only does this
technique eliminate the problem of covering the white board, but it also
helps to bind the whole paint together into a common "Atmosphere".
If you try to mix the back ground colour in acrylic and let it
thoroughly dry, then re-mix it in oil colour. Use this colour as your
atmospheric colour. Tint every colour that you mix for that painting.
The whole painting will have a distinct tint towards that original
Now try a different colour! A hot colour or a cold colour! I have had
the best results when I have chosen my subjects well. (i.e.: A hot
colour for a sunset, a cold colour for a cold scene). Also keep colour
on the dark side. A strong colour is fun. If you look closely at the
Wanaka painting, you will see what I mean.
Try Tinting Your Canvas Before You Start to
an artist quality acrylic. You can try several options. The most
versatile option is to choose a warm mid tone colour e.g. Try White: 80%
Burnt Sienna (Umber) 20%
We will try other options later. Let it dry thoroughly before you
paint your oil colour over the top.
Why tint your boards?
Because the stark white will need to be covered in the finished
painting. It is stark, lifeless and demands attention if left showing.
Why a warm mid tone?
Every subject that we paint is affected by light. Light is warm. The
mid-tone does not leap off the canvas as white does. So if you allow
some of the original underpainting to show through thin layers of paint
or just simply leave area’s unpainted, it doesn’t matter. It looks like
warm light. In creating the illusion of the painting I want to eliminate
as many problems as I can as early as I can. This allows me to render
the subject in the loose "painterly" style that I desire.
Try it for yourself.
About Ron Gribble
in TeKuiti, 1949) turned professional artist in 1980. He is now an
established Oil, Acrylic and Water Colourist, with many national awards.
Since 1991, Ron has stopped entering art competitions to concentrate
more on teaching. He authored an instructional demonstration video,
'Painting in Oils' which now sells in Australia, N.Z., Britain and
Ireland. He is a sought after tutor, demonstrator & judge. Ron's work
has been commercially reproduced in the form of limited edition prints,
calendars, coasters, placemats and postcards. Ron lives in Mt Roskill,
with his wife Sharon and two daughters. His commercial art background
has given him skills in sign writing, cartooning and drawing. As a
result of many successful exhibitions, Ron's work now hangs in
Australia, U.K., U.S.A., Japan and Canada. AWARDS: N.Z. Easter Show Art
Awards; 1978, 1979, 1980, 1982. Tauranga National Art Award 1983;
Waikato Trustbank Art Award 1989, 1990, 1991.