Home Staging Tips and Advice

Old oil painting techniques can add value to your DIY painting techniques

By Evelien Nijeboer

In traditional oil painting, color layering used to be the method to make colors glow and shine. In the lifetime of Vermeer and Rembrandt, strong colors were very expensive and hard to get. And the colors that were available cheap, were earth colors: browns, earthy greens, yellowish brown. Still they managed to get radiant colors. They did that by color layering.

Plants and foliage were painted with the cheap yellow ochre first, and then they were glazed with a thin shine-through blue (blue usually was the expensive color). Working like that was cheaper, but also more beautiful. The same goes for faces: they were first painted in green. Then they could be painted over with a light brown, and theyíd still have a lively pink glow - caused by contrasting with the green.

Yellow ochre was also used to get radiant blue skies, in landscape painting. Before painting the blue sky, the sky was painted with yellow ochre. I tried out some of these recipes. I found out, it has to be the darkest, where the blue will be darkest too, and then the yellow ochre actually seems to Ďcarryí the blue. The blue has to be mixed with white though, otherwise youíll get green (like when painting plants). But when you use white, you can get an opposite optic mixture: a magenta interval color. Iíll go into that in another article, later. You can also check my website, on this feature.

I combined these findings with Goethes theory of color. To that, I added some of my painting experience, and I came to the following conclusion:

Warm colors (yellow-orange-red) do good on a white or lighter warm colored background. That also applies to warm pinks and browns.

Stronger cold colors (blue, blue-violet) look great on a darker neutral or a brown background.

Cold colors (mixed with some white) look good painted on warm colors, and warm colors painted on cold colors donít.

Some finetuning: for the more greenish blue colors (like turquoise), it goes even more, that they donít look good painted on white. But you can patch them up easily, by glazing a little white over them. Ultramarine is a bit of an exeption, it can also look OK painted semitransparent over white. But it looks better on black, grey or dark brown. I also did the patching up with white on a blue-violet color glazing that went smudgy. White helps blue colors to radiate. When I did color washing, I found that the only way to make a smudgy blue shine again, was to glaze some white over it. With red, that would never work. Reds need to be painted just the other way around: dark over light.

For reds, it's the other way around. You make them shine and glow, by painting them dark (without added white), on a light background. And if you find the color too strong, you add white to it. Warm browns then turn into skin- or earthcolors. A warm color, like brown, peach, yellow, orange, or red, painted on white almost automatically looks good - even when the colors donít hide and you see brushstrokes. Try that with a blue, and the results will be horrible. And for yellow goes: the only way to get a nice yellow, is to paint it on white.

For interior paint colors, a strong blue is a daring color. But it Iíve seen it already here and there. Now, if you paint it on white, the only way to make it look acceptable is, to put on two or three coats: to make it hide. But then you still have this onesided, rather flat color. You can also paint it with a partial hide, with the right dark underpainting color. For a really beautiful and radiating cosmic ultramarine, first paint the wall warm dark brown (darker than the blue). And strong, saturated violets look great on black.

The great thing is: if you get the color layering right, any kind of brushing looks good. All you do is, to more or less repeat the same gestures while you brush. Iíve seen an orange wall, painted by two 13-year old girls, with abstract-expressionistic paintstrokes all over - and it just looked great. It goes with folk, modern and even with minimalistic living styles. OK, with antique and classic styles, the brushing needs to stylish too. But even then you get the best brushing look, when the colors are right.

These color effects can be explained by Goethes theory of color - all colors have light and darkness in them. In the reds (yellow/orange/red), darkness is active. So they look nice, if they can darken something light. In blues, the light has an active role. So blues look good when they can lighten things up. For me as a painter, Goethe was right all along. But thatís another story.

I'm Evelien Nijeboer, I'm an artist (canvas- and wall paintings). Click here for more on underpainting in oil painting techniques.

And here, for more on color layering in DIY painting.
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