Monday, June 30, 2014

Al Dorne's Waterproof Ink Technique

American illustrator Al Dorne (1906-1965) painted this ad showing mother who is exhausted from hosting a birthday party being perked up by the thought of some Maxwell House coffee.

Dorne created the illustration with layers of transparent inks. In American Artist magazine, the Higgins ink company ran another ad sharing Dorne's method: "In working with waterproof drawing inks, Mr. Dorne finds that the tones never become muddy, no matter how many washes are used."

Here's an enlarged section of the preliminary pencil drawing. Dorne was a master of drawing hands. Note how authoritatively he drew the bones and tendons of the relaxed hand. Even though the hand is in shadow in the final painting, the light seems directional enough to bring out the anatomy.

The caption from the Higgins ad says: "The First Consideration. Because of the transparency of colored inks when used as a "painting" medium—a meticulous and thoroughly organized pencil drawing is important."

True, but it begs the question: How was Dorne able to change her from a brunette to a blonde and turn her head slightly in the published illustration (see first image in the post). Did he cover the original rendering with a layer of opaque priming? Or did he mortise in the correction with another piece of board? I'll bet it's the latter, and that he covered the mortise line with the addition of a choker.

In the days before Photoshop, such changes were a pain in the royal butt.

In any event, the notes say: "A rather finished underpainting in black and white establishes values and forms, important when colored inks are used as glazes in painting. Finally, colored inks are glazed over the monochrome drawing. A fully modeled painting results."
Wikipedia on Al Dorne
Book: Albert Dorne: Master Illustrator by David Apatoff, author of "Illustration Art" blog.
Higgins still makes black waterproof ink or you can get a set of colors.


RobNonStop said...

In the original line drawing her head is already relatively small compared to her body and hands. After the retouching the contrast is even stronger.

poggy said...

I think this is roughly the same technique used by Alex Ross (except, I think, with watercolor rather than inks over the monochrome underpaint). I have to confess that, back in the day, when I learned about Ross' process I tried to imitate it but the grey tones underneath just seemed to make the colors quite dull, and to be honest I never figured out how to avoid that...

Ddragallis said...

Charles Vess still uses this technique. When I apprenticed with him I watched him spend hours and hours laying washes of ink down. When I tried I found I didn't have the patience, so I replicated the idea with watercolors and gouache. The only difference is that I have to take into account the properties of the pigments (staining vs. non-staining, intensity etc...)and the amount of layers and wetness. To erase the ink however, a good dose of clorox bleach is the best remedy- I prefer the scrub-out technique of watercolors though.

Dan said...

I love how the picture feels cluttered and hectic, exactly like a child's birthday party would, but yet the "story" of the ad is still perfectly clear, and the two figures are the dominant areas of interest.

The technique of making a toned underpainting (grisaille) first and then colorizing it with transparent glazes, goes way back, if I'm not mistaken, to the Renaissance masters, and later "classicists" like Ingres. It is said that Ingres believed that drawing was 90% of painting, and so his approach to painting was almost just adding local color to a complete monochrome "drawing."

Waterproof transparent inks would be rather like transparent glazes in acrylics, only without as much film build, which would be more optimal for reproduction.

I've never been completely successful with a technique like this. It seems to me you'd have to have the colors firmly in mind while doing the monochrome underpainting, in order to leave space for the additional pigments, especially in the more saturated areas of color.

Anonymous said...

Ingres used nearly all the methods of oil painting that had been devised up until that point, including Flemish, Rubens, Venetian, at one point or another. And yes, all of them relied on transparent and translucent layers as far as I know

Monochrome underpaintings should be a couple value steps lighter than the values desired in the finished painting, and the un-modeled light areas should be white. The more saturated colors would be laid over either white paint or white ground. I've seen too many modern painters who layer over grey in the light, thinking the underpainting has to match the complete tonal range of the objects they are painting. Then their colors wind up dull, especially with transparent colors. The slightly higher opacity in translucent paint will avoid this somewhat, but then you'll miss out on the stained glass purity of color that transparent paint over bright white ground/paint provides

Leif said...

Interesting post. Also, thanks Dan for the term "grisaille" which I didn't know.

I work digitally where it is often convenient to use one layer for the monochrome shading, and another layer for the local color. I never knew this was roughly how some art is made in traditional media!

Carlos said...

I came across this post while trying to achieve this very same thing. I would like to know if anyone can refer to online resources to learn this golden age illustrations techniques. Thank you.

SoarsLikeAnEagle said...

Are the inks thinned with water or some other liquid, when doing washes?

James Gurney said...

Soars, yes, the inks are pretty dense out of the bottle, so they usually need to be thinned with water.

Carlos, good question. I'm not aware of any online tutorials, but there are some good older books, such as Arthur Guptill's book on Color Rendering.

Dan and 237: thanks, that's helpful stuff. Robert Fawcett also glazed transparent color over his black and white underdrawing, but he was the first to admit that he was partially colorblind. You're right that the risk of this method is that the darks can sometimes go dead.

Poggy and Ddragallis, thanks. Alex Ross's books show his step by steps, and I think Charles Vess's book also has some procedural stuff.

Carlos said...

Thank you James. I'll look into that book. I'm trying to achieve something similar with gouache right now. I think Alex Ross uses both ink washes and gouache as explained in his website:

I've also found this videos on youtube which I think can be very helpful on the matter: