Thursday, December 3, 2015

Shishkin Painting Methods

Ivan Shishkin (1832-1898)
A couple of months ago we took a look at Ivan Shishkin's opinion of photo reference in his landscape painting. Now let's examine more about his specific working methods.

Preliminary Drawings
He would advise his students: "Before starting the painting, you have to do a sketch to clarify the idea and plan what you're going to be doing on a big canvas."

Note in the sketch at left, Shishkin draws a grid, probably to help him enlarge the composition onto the canvas. 

Shishkin continues: "It's also important to do a preliminary drawing [on the canvas] with charcoal. Put a layer of charcoal on a clean canvas and wipe it with a dry tissue. You'll have a smooth base tone, and you can draw over that with more charcoal. You can erase off halftones and lights using an eraser made from a chunk of black bread. If you do that you will get the effect of lighting you need, and then you're ready to continue with the final painting."

Shishkin typically used ink to clarify the outlines of the trees in his preliminary drawings. Once the preliminary drawing was finished, he would proceed to do a tonal underpainting in monochrome before painting in full color.

Paint and palette organization
"He carefully mixed organized groups of colors on his palette. All the colors must be prepared in groups in advance on the palette. He began by applying the darkest tones of paint. Then he proceeded to the halftones, and so on up to the light." (From a letter from Ivan Shishkin, St. Petersburg, 1896).

Shishkin studied in Düsseldorf, so it's not surprising that he used primarily German paints. "He used zinc whites for big studio paintings and lead whites during his traveling and for outdoor painting, because they dry more quickly. He painted on canvases from Dresden if he could." 

"He used to buy a lot of different paints. But if he didn't know the specifications of a given kind of paint, such as lightfastness and durability, he avoided it." 

"Because of this he completely stopped using carmine oil paint after [Vasily] Polenov showed him a chart of paints that was left in the sun for 10 years, and carmine completely disappeared."

Ivan Shishkin and A. Guinet in the studio on the island of Valaam
Here's a list of Shishkin's paints:
Red paints: 
English red, Chinese vermilion, rose madder, and rose doré, mostly used for glazing. Burnt sienna was his favorite.

Yellow ocher, cadmium yellows and oranges, zinc yellow (for backgrounds and leaves in the sunlight), raw sienna, chrome yellow (rarely), and Indian yellow (for glazing). He never used gamboge or aureolin. Sometimes he used Naples yellow for sand and roots. Occasionally for foreground textures he would mix fine sand into the paints. 

Sky blue (?) and Prussian blue.

He used a lot of different ones, including: permanent green, cobalt green, chrome green, vermilion green, emerald green, and others.

Ivory black and lamp black oil paint.


Charley Parker said...

Wonderful. Thanks.

Chiara said...

Love Shishkin, love the article! Thank you.

Tom Hart said...

I was interested to read of his underdrawing with charcoal, including the toning of the canvas with charcoal, and wiping-out for areas of lighter tone. I like to do my underdrawing in charcoal, and I fix mine with workable matte fixative. Do you happen to know if he fixed the drawing in any way? I sometimes wonder what effect, if any, there is from charcoal mixing with the paint, assuming that effect is minimized by fixing the drawing...but then I wonder if there's any significant reaction between the fixative and the oil paint (I haven't noticed any, so I assume any is minimal, or only shows up over time.)

James Gurney said...

Tom, doing a detailed underdrawing in charcoal was something that American museum muralist James Perry Wilson did as well. I'm not positive, but I think both of them would have used fixative. Most kinds of fixative shouldn't affect the superseding layers of oil too much. I use fixative (plus a clear acylic medium) for sealing my pencil underdrawings, as even the pencil can sometimes be dissolved a bit by oil solvents. The notes on Shishkin mention that he also outlined in ink, probably India ink. That's something Dean Cornwell, Wm. Bouguereau and others often did as well. One other thing about Shishkin was that he was as well known for his detailed pencil, pen-and-ink, and engraving drawings as well as his paintings, so he was very comfortable with drawing.

Thanks, Chiara and Charley. BTW, Charley's great blog Lines and Colors has some posts about Shishkin that you can check out by putting his name in the L&C search box.

Patricia Wafer said...

Thanks so much for this excellent post on Shiskin as well as the other post re: his use of photo references. I sometimes feel like I am cheating when I use photo references even though many artists I admire also do and intellectually I know they can be an excellent tool esp in Wisconsin winters. After reading Shiskin's views on the subject I feel reassured that judicious use of landscape photos of places I know well and have painted outdoors can be not only helpful but educational. I will check out the Lines and Colors posts you mention also. Yours and Charley Parker's blogs are my favorites (also Katherine Tyrrell's Making a Mark).

seadit said...

Thanks James. Do you know a good reference for finding the modern equivalents of some of the colors he used?

seadit said...

Thanks James. Do you know a good reference for finding the modern equivalents of some of the colors he used?

James Gurney said...

Seadit, I don't know. There's a couple good websites that discuss older names for pigments and typical ingredients of older paints. I think I refer to them in the back of Color and Light.

seadit said...

Thank you James, I'll have a look :)