Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Russell Flint's Technique

This post is dedicated to David Page Coffin, who asked about—and has been patiently waiting for—any information I have about William Russell Flint's painting technique. Well, it's not all inclusive for everything Flint did, but it's extensive for this particular painting. This is a VERY long post, with lots of typing on my part, and is more information than 99.9% of the viewers here need to know, but thanks David, for asking.

I am excerpting and quoting pertinent information from an old essay about Flint, written by Percy Bradshaw:

"Watercolor is his favorite medium...and for his illustrations in which a certain definite color-scheme and a richness or depth of tone are necessary...he first covers the entire surface with a wash of tone composed of the pigments most suited to his prevailing color-scheme. On this transparent ground the drawing is produced, any highlights which were required being removed with a moistened brush, the other colors introduced being necessarily affected by prevailing tone.

For Flint's pictures, pure watercolor on a white ground is almost always used, and it is in this method, which gives greater evidence of his skill, that he made—just before the War commenced—the drawing we are about to study.

First of all, it should be noted that he has used, for this subject, Unbleached Arnold paper of the quality known as "140 lb., Not Imperial"; brushes of Fitch hair, very large in size, the smaller qualities being Nos. 3—7, and occasionally a Sable for smaller details.

The Arnold Paper used in this instance was something in the nature of an experiment, and has proved exceedingly satisfactory, but Russell Flint usually works on "O.W.", which, though not so brilliantly white, is on the whole rather better.

His colors are, in the early stages, restricted to Yellow Ochre, Light Red, French Ultramarine, Indian Yellow, Prussian Blue, and Hooker's Green No. 1; and this is how the drawing proceeded:

STAGE 1 (above)—A very slight preliminary pencil note (little more than a thumbnail in size) has been made of the composition, a model has been obtained, and the figures very lightly and loosely sketched in charcoal. There is nothing in the nature of a carefully constructed pencil study here, the charcoal lines, still observable in the tree, showing quite clearly the lack of detail introduced into this preliminary stage.

The artist starts his drawing almost at once, with the brush, and proceeds by well-defined stages and by a method which is repeated in all his work. First of all, Yellow Ochre and Light Red are mixed very thinly on his palette, and a pure wash of these colors placed all over both the figures, from head to feet—in a tone approximating to the high light shown on the shoulder.

These washes are allowed to dry thoroughly, and it is an essential characteristic of Flint's method that, though the successive washes are put on with all the freshness, sparkle and purity of which he is capable, they must be absolutely dry, stage by stage, before the drawing is proceeded with. So particular is he in this matter that he has often used a spirit lamp to dry a wash and enable him quickly to proceed to the next stage.

The first thin wash of Yellow Ochre and Light Red having been allowed to dry, he proceeds to introduce a slightly stronger wash of the same colors, putting it on quite flatly, with no attempt yet at modeling or detail. This again is left to dry. Meanwhile, he has made a rough pencil sketch for the arrangement of drapery, and when the second wash is dry, he has treated the drapery by a similar method, first introducing a light wash of Ultramarine and Light Red, and, later, placing on the shadow portions a darker tone of the same colors—a little less red being used. Finally, the highlights have been lifted up with a small brush. You will see that the drapery, as far as it has gone, has been kept quite fresh, and that ragged edges are left unsoftened.

Now with regard to the completion of this first stage of the drawing. For this, a stronger flat wash of the Light Red and Yellow Ochre (with the addition of a very little French Ultramarine) has been used to block in roughly the darker tones—such as the hair, suggestion of the feature, the modeling beneath the armpits and on the legs, etc. Where edges have appeared, they have been washed away, and the nose has been tentatively modeled by lifting away the darker tones with a small moistened brush.

An exactly similar method has been adopted with regard to the lower figure, but this has not been taken quite so far. With regard to the rock, this is washed in freshly, first with Ultramarine and Indian Yellow, secondly with a darker wash of the same colors, thirdly with these colors and Light Red, each stage being thoroughly dry before the next is applied.

Then come the background, a fresh wash, with a big brush, of Ultramarine, Indian Yellow, and Prussian Blue. The sea is indicated with Ultramarine, there is a little Indian Yellow for the sand, and the foliage is chiefly suggested by Hooker's Green, Indian Yellow, and Raw Sienna.

STAGE 2 (above)—You will see, by the second reproduction that the drawing has reached a decidedly more finished condition. To achieve this, the hair is darkened, a little Raw Sienna being introduced, the features being defined more carefully, with the previous colors, and a slight touch of Crimson Lake introduced onto the cheeks. Then the trunk and arms are modeled, by washing over the previous tones with pure water to remove roughness, and when the water is dry, another wash of the colors used previously is taken over the surface, the shadows being further suggested with darker tints of the original colors.

Where lighter tones are to be noticed, such as on the left shoulder and on the outline of the trunk beneath the breast, the tone is obtained by washing away. Towards, the ankles, after a similar general method has been adopted, touches of Crimson Lake are introduced, the drapery being washed down and simplified with pure water, and improved by the subsequent addition of one or two fresher tones.

The lower figure is similarly treated, except that the tones are kept slightly warmer throughout, and, in starting the second series of washes, the original highlights on the shoulder and breast are of course left. You will note the addition of a little Crimson Lake on the hands and towards the knees.

As to the background, the horizon line is very considerably raised, by a wash of Ultramarine and Prussian Blue; the rocks in the water are suggested with Raw Sienna, the blue showing underneath in the foreground. There is a suggestion of distance, introduced by Light Red and Crimson Lake, and the foreground rock is washed down, touches of Light Red being introduced. Finally, Hooker's Green, Raw Sienna and Indian Yellow were again used to strengthen the foliage.

STAGE 3 (above)—In the third reproduction, you will realize that a good deal of scrubbing has taken place. If the paper is of satisfactory quality, this can easily be accomplished without detriment to the drawing. In this stage, the artist has scrubbed down, with water and a rathr large brush, the hair of the nearer girl, and proceeded to model the face more carefully.

To do this, a wash of Raw Sienna and a little Lake is taken over the entire face. When this is dry, the lights are lifted out with a moist brush, and the features defined more carefully with Sienna and Lake. Exactly the same system is adopted with regard to the body and arms, the Crimson Lake being decidedly noticeable in the left forearm. Observe once again that the original highlight is still on the shoulder and back.

The drapery has been very considerably improved, by reference to the previous pencil study, and by strengthening of the darker portions with a brush of French Ultramarine and Crimson Lake, the edges being softened when dry and the lights lifted with the moistened brush. The scrubbing of the legs, lower portion of the drapery and the sea should be noted. The rock in the foreground has been strengthened with Light Red and Ultramarine, and the lower figure treated in exactly the same way as the draped girl, the tones being strengthened with Raw Sienna, Lake and a little French Ultramarine in the method just discussed.

STAGE 4 (above)—With regard to the fourth reproduction, you will see, at a glance, that it is altogether colder. Russell Flint felt that the figures in the previous stage were getting a little too warm in tone, so he has taken a very transparent wash of Prussian Blue, slightly touched with Chinese White, over the darker tones to cool the color, and worked again on the features. The rocks in the sea have been taken out, and the foreground rock scrubbed away. There are also a few additional touches introduced for the foliage.

STAGE 5 (above)—The fifth reproduction shows another very definite advance and improvement. Some of the previous coolness has been removed; the foliage has been strengthened with pure Hooker's Green, Indian Yellow (for the fruit) and Raw Sienna; and the draped girl has been given a scarf of French Ultramarine and Light Red, the pattern being picked out with a moist brush. The edges of the shadows of both figures—especially on the legs— have been softened throughout, foliage has been introduced around the nude girl, and a useful mass of drapery (Crimson lake and Light Red) has been introduced over the previous color. Finally, the sea has been strengthened , a fresher green introduced into the rock on which the girl stands, and a touch of red in the sea.

STAGE 6 (above)—In the final stage it will be noted that the warm foreground has been strengthened with Light Red, Crimson Lake and French Ultramarine, the legs of the draped figured slightly warmed with a wash of Raw Sienna, and a little Lake at the heels. The hair of the nude figure has been slightly softened, the foliage made a little less obtrusive, and the horizon line washed down slightly. Lastly, a portion of the drapery has been scrubbed out with a Hog-Hair brush, and some oranges in a gold dish have added another touch of interest to an exceedingly interesting example of Russell Flint's technique.

Phew. David, don't make me type that much again. I hope this has been of interest to you, cuz I don't think anyone else made it this far.


JRSM said...

I made it to the end--and it was really interesting all the way through. As someone who loves paintings but never got to grips with actually painting anything very skillfully myself, it's fascinating to see how someone who knew what they were doing actually produced their effects. Thanks!

churchy la femme said...

An excellent and useful post. I love Flint's work and wish i had one-tenth of his talent! THX

Annie said...

I did! Thank you for posting it, and doing all that typing. Do you know what size paper he used for this "drawing?" (I'm intrigued by the fact it is referred to as a drawing, rather than a painting.) I never realized it was possible to do so much lifting and adding of pigment, with watercolor. I enjoyed seeing the progression of the composition and the color choices he made as he went along; and I am even more impressed by his skill.

Vincent Nappi said...

thanks so much for sharing this! what a great thing it is to see a master like Flint take a picture from start to finish.

Thomas Haller Buchanan said...

Yay, I'm not alone in my joy of process. Thanks people for seeing this for what it is.

Annie, I'm not only intrigued by the general use of the description 'watercolor drawings', but also 'pastel paintings'. Sometime and somehow I'm going to do a post about that.

David Page Coffin said...

Well, thank you very much, Thomas; how generous you are (but we already knew that, and benefit from it every day!), and, I'm glad to see, how wrong about nobody else being able to read through to the end. Fabulous, and worth the wait. It confirms my guess that all those amazing rendered body forms Flint tosses off so magically depend on lifting (i.e.,modeling by erasing), quite a lost art these days, and also central to Arthur Rackham's and Edmund Dulac's classic watercolor look, which depends so much on pigments used (no stainers!), brush stiffness, and especially some exact degree of paper surface and priming; which for these artists, simply means which papers they chose--none of which are available today. Main ingredients of course, are vision and skill; no doubt each of these artists could amaze with any old papers, paints or brushes; I'm usually stuck blaming my tools. Again, Thomas, my most sincere appreciation!

Thomas Haller Buchanan said...

David, you are very welcome, and how right you are that if they had to, the great ones could make art with popsicle sticks and grape jelly.

Gerrie said...

I made it too, without a problem, very intersting posting,thanks.

Anonymous said...

Really good...

Unknown said...

So grateful to find this! Thanks so much!!!

Josh Simonds

Nearher said...

Thank you very much for sharing. Very interesting and formative!