The Norfolk paintings

The Norfolk Paintings

I went to Norfolk to study the Ebauche technique at the Norfolk Painting School.

Ebauche is a painting technique that was prevalent prior to Impressionism but in their eagerness to invent a new style of painting this was the technique that the impressionists threw out with the bathwater. Ebauche is a classical technique where the main subject is laid down in a thin oil wash, that is then worked into using the rag to establish the basic tonal form of the subject. The background is then cut in around the ebauche which has the effect of pushing the ebauche into the foreground.  The ebauche is then developed using desaturated colours mixes, before being finished with pure colour thickly applied.

John Singer Sargent was a master of Ebauche oils as were Corot, Turner, Velázquez and Rembrandt (Kinnear) and the technique was revived in the Twentieth Century by Edward Seago.

As part of the learning process I painted this;

Figure 1 Cloudscape, monochrome oil on board 40 x 30 cm

The object of the exercise was to produce a range of values and a range of paint transparencies cross the picture plane, The black and white image illustrates the tonal range and the transparency of the paint is evident from the original imprimatura showing through the paint layers at the horizon through to the heavy impasto in the white clouds

Figure 2 Cloudscape black and white tonal digital image

The process moved on to make a copy of a Seago painting, as I have said before, in copying a work by a master means that you spend a long time looking at the masterwork, maybe longer than since the original was painted. I created this working from a photocopy of the Seago;

Figure 3 After Seago oil on board 60 x 50 cm

After the course was over I created this to internalise the lessons I had learned;

Figure 4 Cley next the windmill oil on canvas panel 50 x 40 cm

Painting the ebauche first enables you to quickly establish the composition form and tones of the painting and having a solid plan allows you to be freer with your brush marks so that the end result is more painterly.

The notan of the ebauche gives you the complete structure of the painting so that there is no need to be making things up as you go along and also allows the painting to develop naturally from dark to light by cutting into the ebauche with the highlights.

The ebauche firmly establishes the drawing so that you don’t heed to worry about it anymore and just concentrate on the actual painting, There are less corrections and you only need to focus on the texture and thickness of the paint and because there is a proper plan in place you can allow the paint to do its own thing and only need to reign it back or wipe it off when it strays too far from the plan.

I am particularly pleased with the texture in the right hand tiled roof as this is composed entirely from random brush marks

The final result provides a good contrast between the warm darks and the cool lights, but If I had to do this painting again I would go for warm lights and cool darks if only to give more transparency in the shadows by starting with a greyer bluer ebauche. I would also pay less regard to the architectural geometry and let it become more gentle and curved and softer

In my next painting I did become less protective of my edges;

Figure 5 The Blakeney Hotel low tide oils 60 x 50 cm

I started again with the ebauche in all areas except the sea and the sky, rubbed it back a bit and then painted the sky and the water. I then painted over the ebauche with dull dilute desaturated colours before a final pass with thicker brighter paint.

Without the underdrawing the painting is far looser and the boats seemed to grow out of my brush strokes it felt like I was drawing with the brush, and with my love of drawing, there could hardly be a finer sensation while painting.

I was particularly pleased with the distant landscape which almost painted itself while I wasn’t looking.

As part of my critique I am supposed to say what I would change if I was to paint it again to change nothing represents a dead end so let’s just say I can see the beginnings of a whole new chapter in the distant landscape that can develop in a whole host of ways.


Kinnear, M, (2017) At: accessed 15 July 2019