Sunday, October 5, 2014

Dry Touching or Dragging

A 19th century painting manual describes a technique called "dry touching" where lighter tones of oils are scumbled over a middle tone base, with a result something like pastels.
Thomas Couture (1815-1879) Oil on canvas, 46 x 34 cm.
The manual says: "Dry-touching or Dragging,—is nothing more than going over certain parts of the picture, when it is dry, with light delicate finishing touches, in order to improve the character, and to relieve or give surface texture to objects requiring it. The tints used for this purpose may, as occasion dictates, be either lighter or darker than the parts to which they are applied; it must be dexterously done with a light free hand; in some places holding the brush loosely between the finger and thumb, so as to leave the colour contained in it, only partially adhering to the former more projecting touches."

Thomas Couture, (1815-1879) "Study of girl's head, oil on canvas
In this Couture sketch, the dry paint is used for modeling all the light tones, not just the finishing touches. 

For contemporary painters, the white paint coming from the tube may not be stiff or dry enough for this technique. If you squeeze out the paint on blotter paper (or newspaper or paper towels) the night before the painting session, the oil will be sucked out of the paint, making it drag nicely.

--J.S. Templeton, Guide to Oil Painting, 1845
Images from Flickr and Pinterest


Jim Hartlage said...

I know this is unrelated to this post, but I think you said in one of your videos that you mix the gray wash for your waterbrushes yourself - - any chance you could elaborate on this? Is it watered down black ink or some other combination? Thank you.

Tom Hart said...

This reminds me of a technique that has been used in acrylics. I'm thinking specifically of the work of Brad Holland. Acrylics, with the faster drying time, probably lend themselves better to the technique than oils, especially if layering colors.

James Gurney said...

Jim, Yes, I just put in a little water then add black ink a drop at a time until I get the gray I want.

Tom, that's right, and thanks for reminding me about those great illustrators.

Jared Cullum said...

Unless I'm mistaken, (forgive me if I'm mixing up names) but you can also get Thomas Couture's book 'Conversations on Art Methods' on google's elibrary as well. It's less specifically informative and more inspiration like Robert Henri's book.

David Morning said...

Really interesting reading this, I was at a gallery the other day and had seen exactly this technique used. I'd guessed it was just a thick layer which had aged and broken somehow, but couldn't work out why it seemed to fit well with the painting anyway

Christopher said...

So what exactly is the difference between this, dry brush, and scumbling techniques?

James Gurney said...

Christopher, I'm not really sure what the differences are. Maybe a museum conservator or an atelier teacher might help us out.