This small oil study by James Perry Wilson was left unfinished, allowing us to see how he did it. After a careful line drawing, he painted from background to foreground, completing each area before moving on to the next.
This photo shows J. P. Wilson at work on an outdoor study, with two panels side by side in a special frame so that he could paint a panorama. This one also seems to be completed area by area.
The method is sometimes called "window-shading," because it resembles unrolling the final canvas like pulling down a window shade. It was a common practice for painting museum dioramas, for which Wilson is best known.
|Francis Lee Jaques painting the Peabody Museum's Alaskan Brown Bear diorama,|
Courtesy Peabody Museum of Natural History and Michael Anderson
According to Michael Anderson of Yale's Peabody Museum, Wilson would have seen the practice used by his colleagues, such as Francis Lee Jaques: "From the horizon, Jaques would typically paint down and from left to right, though not always. Sometimes he would skip around painting an area to completion and then going to another area, painting it to completion and so on. Jaques typically painted the birds first and painted the background around them later."
Both artists would have done a tight color comprehensive of the overall scene first, and used that as a guide.
Frederic Church painted this study of the view from his home Olana in winter. I would bet that he painted it area-by-area from background to foreground.
Window-shading is a fast way to work, and it can yield almost photographic results. It's a good way to paint fast under challenging conditions, such as winter landscapes or sunsets.
Ilya Repin used a similar method in this study from costumed models. Over a preliminary line drawing, he applied the paint to achieve a finished effect area by area, like a coloring book or paint-by-number. There's no overall block-in or imprimatura or ebauche, as you might do if you followed the "BLAST Rule."
There are several advantages to this method. In oil, especially with an oil-primed board, you can make use of the white of the board for small highlights that show through thin textures of paint.
Previously on GurneyJourney: Area-by-Area Painting
Michael Anderson: Francis Lee Jaques and the American Museum of Natural History Bird Halls