You wake with a start! Tomorrow your commission will arrive to check the status of her portrait.
For the last week and a half, some strange illness kept you bedridden and feeling horrendous.
You drag yourself out of the bed and confront the outline on the canvas. You know there is only one way you will have anything suitable to present tomorrow.
You grab your big brush and start creating the background. Then you pick up a smaller brush and start painting the outline of your subject.
Wait a minute! The bottom layer isn’t dry yet. No time for that. You’ve reached into your artist’s bag of techniques and pulled out the only one that can save you now!
The method of oil painting called “Wet-on-Wet” may be as old as oil painting itself. There seems to be some debate on which artist(s) or which school might have used it first.
It also appears that the “Wet-on-Wet” method of painting went in and out of style over the centuries. The Renaissance “Old Masters” used it over five centuries ago. The Impressionists revived it in the 19th century. Our own Bill Alexander brought it to his audience a century after that.
Two key inventions
Two important inventions helped bring about the revival of “Wet-on-Wet” by the Impressionists. The first invention was the development of paint tubes. They allowed the artist to leave his studio. The second invention was the French box easel. The artist, now, could take his studio “on the road”. These two new inventions spurred a resurgence in Plein-air painting.
An artist could go out into the “field” and paint, in real time, what he was viewing. For example, the artist painted clouds as they were, not as he recalled them hours later in his studio. The “Wet-on-Wet” technique also allowed the viewer to share the artist’s experience. It was as if they stood at the master’s side as he painted.
As our artist friend knows, “Wet-on-wet” is a method of oil painting that uses many layers of paint. To save time the artist applies the new layers before the old ones have had a chance to dry. This style allows the artist to create a painting in far less time than traditional methods.
Bill revived this style of art early in his career. He knew that he couldn’t afford to wait months to complete a painting. He also knew his buyers couldn’t afford what he would have to charge for his time. Bill found the perfect solution to his problem with the wet-on-wet style of oil painting. When he introduced it to television viewers, they went wild! For the first time in history, Bill brought art to the masses. Everyday people could watch an artist during the creative process. On every show, Bill created a new, original painting in a matter of minutes. Bill created florals, seascapes, landscapes, and still life paintings. Bill also created finished portraits in some of his demonstrations.
At least our artist will have something presentable for his morning meeting.
In Part II we’ll take a look at the “Wet-on-Wet” technique in more detail. Why does it work as well as it does and why is it still popular after five centuries?