The early Flemish felt that the drawing was the true artwork and that color was just the frosting on the cake. Master painters often worked out their thoughts and compositions in Umber tones as they were very economical while others worked in grey tones. I prefer to work in these “umber tones” as they produce “warmer toned” paintings.
These small preliminary works were called “Cartoons” and the few that remain are often on display in various art museums around the world. Apprentices would then scale the drawing up to the proper size for the panel that it was going to be painted on. The scaled lines of the composition were then committed (trapped) to the panel using various colored inks (browns and blacks). These master artists who with the umber tones had also worked out the value plan in the umber tones as VALUES were considered to be the most important aspect of any composition. For the sake of economy and not knowing how well a composition would sell, these under paintings were then completed using the various umber pigments, which were available in yellowish, reddish, greenish, bluish and brownish variations. Therefore, leaves would be developed in a more greenish umber while naturally red toned items would be developed using a more reddish pigment. Buyers could then choose a composition by seeing a completed painting developed in the “tones of Umbers”. The final coloring of the painting was often determined by the buyer and his ability to pay for the more expensive pigments. Coloring was also planned for economic reasons, less expensive colors went into the under layers and the more expensive pigments on the more visible layers.
I have found by just concentrating on the VALUE PLACEMENTS in a painting and not worrying about what color to start with, I can produce a more dramatic and 3 dimensional effect in my paintings. This technique of mine has developing over the past few years and I have based it on a very traditional “watercolor” technique. My lightest value is the value of the background and each transparent Colored Umber layer moves the composition ONE VALUE DARKER. Washes are used to develop each layer and the transparency of the wash NEVER CHANGES. Each layer is allowed to dry naturally before another layer is applied. Darker values are developed by multiple, transparent washes in the darkest value areas. My technique has allowed many a student to lose their fear of trying to do their own original work as they now can develop their painting with the guide of a black and white or sepia toned photograph and concentrate only on developing the VALUE PLAN of the painting. Only when a 3 dimensional composition with a definite light source and a visible center of interest is achieved, does the mind begin to think in terms of which actual colors will be used and developed to achieve the ultimate look.