Translucent Layering

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I recall two favorite desserts from childhood.  One was layer cake. Pan cakes were always a relative disappointment. I missed the beauty of those layers. The other was apple strudel. Again, it was those delicate multiple pastry layers that appealed to me. In summary, I was attracted to complicated cross section views which explained why I enjoyed the side-view window of an ant farm or licking  through the layers of a  tootsie roll pop.

As an adult I recognized the aesthetic appeal of layered paint and, to be able to see through those layers to feel an illusory thickness. Glazing with semi-translucent oils gave me that same thrill of seeing through layers.

I was not alone in my fascination with luminous layered effects. Art history is full of artists pursuing this.  Turner was famous for his varnishing day layering of glazes to build his final image. Chiaroscuro techniques of Da Vinci and Rembrandt were the result of applying and selectively deleting thin layers to find luminance and build volumes.

As he matured Cezanne thrilled to the translucent of effects he found in the layered translucent glazes of his watercolors. He tried emulating those effects in his oils just as Turner did. I have two examples here of Cezanne’s layered watercolors. See examples 1 and 2.

Example 1. Cezanne, Foliage study, watercolor, 1890 approx.

Example 2. Cezanne, Bridge at Trois Sautets, watercolor, 1906 approx.

We can experience the layered effects of more opaque paint as it was strategically stacked and lightly smudged in Gustav Klimt’s landscapes. Consider his landscape of an estate on a lake from around 1900. Example 1 presents the full image and example two presents a detail view. See how his strokes aggregate as they build layers.

Example 3. Gustav Klimt, Lakeside landscape, oil, around 1900,

Example 4. Gustav Klimt, detail from previous image,

In my following examples I present earlier incarnations of paintings and how they were subsequently layered. You can still detect evidence from the original layer in the later work.  Examples 5 and 6 demonstrate how much of the original is preserved but, enriched with additional layers.

Example 5. Times Square Stroller, step one, oil on Dibond, 36×36,

Example 6. Times Square Stroller, step two,

Another example begins with a nature landscape which finally becomes cityscape. You can trace this work’s history through its paint. Example 7 represents step one which was completely covered then parts were excised to find and build the image you see in example 8.

Example 7. Step one, oil on brushed silver Dibond,

Example 8, Step two, current state of “Midtown, East Side”,

In my final example I cover and selectively re-expose areas of the top half of the painting but, I sustain the information in the lower area of the painting. See examples 9 and 10.

Example 9. Wandering Reflections, a.k.a Blue in Green, oil on Dibond, 36×48.

Example 10. The painting after adding additional layers.

I invite you to join me in November at Art of the Carolinas, sponsored by Jerry’s Artarama in Raleigh, N.C. I have three one-day workshops. Friday, November 15, it’s “Spectacular Flowers” from 9 to 4, use code FR 1907 to register.  Saturday, it’s Water Scapes” from 9 to 4, use code SA1907 to register.  And, Sunday, it’s “Natural Patterns, Abstracting Nature” from 9 to 4 use code SU1907 to register. Go to to register.




2 Responses

  1. Janine M Robertson

    The translucent layers add such a rich dimension to your paintings. Brings it to a whole new level. Very exciting to see the transformation!

    Thanks David

  2. Paula

    Is there a mixup in the picture in Example 7? It does not match Example 8 as the text suggests. Thank you

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