There has been some development in my technique. I started painting very
swiftly and sketch-like, in the style of the impressionists and expressionists
and I also copied a lot of paintings, especially by Van Gogh. After learning
about the work of modern dutch realists like Carel Willink and Dick Ket, I
started to paint more realistically. Following some of the old masters like
Vermeer and Caravaggio (see David Hockney 'Secret Knowledge') I also
experimented with using optical devices such as projectors, mirrors, the camera
lucida and the camera obscura, and I also experimented with alternative media
like artificial resins that harden when irradiated with UV light. However,
these methods did not really give satisfactory results. Strangly a medium and
technique that has been around for maybe 500 years or so, despite of all
technological developments, still is the best (for me), namely oil-paint and
working after nature. Lately, my technique has been converging. I work in a
quite rigid manner, but I try to suggest as much as possible, for instance by
adding structure to the surface of the paint with a palet knife. I am
fascinated by paintings that show a realistic image when viewed from a
distance, but when one moves closer one still can see a lot of small
structures, a kind of 'atomic' structure of the painting. Often this
constitutes a world of its own that one does not see immediately, like the real
subatomic world the laws of wich remain hidden for the superficial observer. An
aspect that also fascinates me is the study of all visual elements (structure,
shadows, high lights, reflections) from which our brain reconstructs an almost
tengible three dimensional world in our imagination. The painter may use these
elements to create his own world and take along with him the observer.
I work on masonite panels which I ground using 4 layers of diluted acrylic
paint. This results in a a smooth, egg-shell like
surface which is non-absorbent. This allows me to completely control the
surface structure of the painting and to move around the paint on the surface
or whipe it off, to make corrections. On such a surface, it is more difficult
however, to complete a painting in one session, as brush strokes or stripes
often remain visible with the white ground showing through. Thus, one has to
paint in at least two layers.
Making a new composition at my parent's attick.
To optimize the light I removed a few tiles from the roof.
To compose a new painting, I lay out a configuration of objects and take a
large number of digital photographs, usually a 50 or so. In each
photograph I change a small detail of the configuration, I move around objects
or change the lighting. After reviewing the pictures, I pick out the one that I
like best, and when necessary, make some more changes. Thus I try to obtain
the optimal composition, as far as this is possible. In doing this, I carefully
judge elements as balance in weight, color and luminosity of the objects,
spatial suggestion by using planes, and the space around the objects
In the actual painting process, I start with a fairly detailed pencil drawing,
in which all contours are recorded. I use a ruler to measure the actual
distances in my setup, and scale them up to the size of the panel. I like to
depict objects in their real size, or somewhat larger. When content, I remove
the excess of graphite to prevent contamination of the oil paint. Thus a barely
visible drawing is left (1st image).
In the first layer of paint then, I use turpentine-diluted oil paint.
Alternatively, acrylic paint can be used. It is applied with a course, firm
brush, although I sometimes use a soft-haired brush to achieve an even film of
paint, e.g. for the backgrounds. In this layer I focus mainly on global forms.
I first start with filling in the background (2nd image). This way, the objects
I paint later don't seem to float in an empty space. Then, I fill in all objects
(3rd image). Finally, I try to improve some contours or remove some unwanted
brush strokes, when necessary (4th image). In this stage, the full range of
tones arising in the composition should be covered, as corrections in tone are
difficult to make in later layers. This first stage of the painting should give
a sound impression and should be a good first-approximation of the final
In the second layer then (5th image), I build up paint further and
oil-paint is now applied undiluted. Often I use a bit of impasto alkyd medium to speed up drying.
In some parts, I use a medium consisting of half alkyd medium and half lineseed oil.
The film of paint thus built up stays liquid for about half a day and is dry in
one or two days. As this layer is fairly close to the first
layer in tone and color, unwanted brush strokes dissolve in this second layer
and the painting looks more smooth. This is the right moment to add more
detail. In this stage, I also add structure to the painting, i.e. I use paint
thickly where I think this is necessary. Using the palette knife and coarse brushes,
one can suggest many details using thick paint, that are not actually there.
The eye of the beholder interprets small structures in the painting in such
a way that they fit in the entire picture.
Thus one can achive illusionism with a relatively small amount of effort.
For a good example of this technique, look at the later paintings of Rembrandt.
In the final layers (6th image), I add a lot of medium to the paint. This gives
the paint a liquidity and transparency, that allows one to make subtle
gradients in colors. Here I use 1/2 part alkyd medium and 1/2 part lineseed
oil. I like to apply a thin layer of medium to the entire painting before I
start to actually paint. Then I brush in the colors. When such a 'glazing'
layer has been applied to heavily structured areas, scratching it off again
with a palette knife enhances the structure. The glaze stays put in the deep
parts ('valleys') of the structure, and is removed at the high parts. The glaze
that stays put thus follows the form of the structured paint underneath. This
is another trick the 17th century masters used to fool the beholder into
seeing a detailed painting.
After a week of drying I usually finish with a layer of glossy retouching varnish.
Retouching varnish allows the paint to dry further, as apposed to final varnish.
The latter should be applied after 6 months or so of drying. The reason I use
glossy varnish, is that this returns the surface quality of the dried painting
to that of the wet painting (more or less). As dicisions about
colors and tones are made by the artist when the paint is wet, I feel that this
is what the painting should look like in the end. Hence I prefer glossy varnish.