Technique Tuesdays: Blocking In

Welcome back to Technique Tuesday! Today’s post is going to take a look at a painting technique commonly referred to as “blocking in.”

Technique Tuesday Blocking In

What is it?

Several of our Technique Tuesday posts will discuss techniques relating to what is called “underpainting.” Underpainting refers to the initial layer of paint an artist applies to a canvas, usually in a manner that will help them roughly plan out the composition and the values (light and dark areas) in the work. Blocking in is a common and relatively simple method of underpainting that allows an artist to quickly sketch out the work by painting in simple “blocks,” or shapes, of color. The later layers of paint added will serve to refine the details, colors, and lights and shadows. Here’s a great example of this method, demonstrated by these two images from our Face Off event last August:

Mia Bergeron's portrait of Franco Landini, in the early stages (left) and as a finished work (right)
Mia Bergeron’s portrait of Franco Landini, in the early stages (left) and as a finished work (right)

The image to the left shows Mia Bergeron’s canvas just a short while after she began to paint. As you can see, she has made a basic plan by blocking in shapes and indicating where the areas of highlights and dark shadows would be. The rest of the layers of paint added the details and nuance of color, light, and shadow, resulting in the lovely finished work pictured on the right.

Some artists, though, take the concept of blocking in to a different level. Rather than using these simple shapes to plan for future layers of paint, some artists use blocking in to create their finished work. These basic areas of color can be utilized in such a way that gives the finished work an abstracted and impressionistic aspect.

Example from art history:

In the late 19th century, after the French Impressionists had launched a time of experimentation and exploration in painting techniques, French painter Paul Cezanne was branching out with his own style of painting. Cezanne’s experimentations with looser, more abstracted methods of representing a subject led him to a style that eventually launched the Cubism movement. During this time, one of his favorite subjects for painting was a mountain in southern France known as Mt. Saint-Victoire; in fact, he painted the mountain over 60 different times! Some of these versions, like the one pictured below, show Cezanne making use of the blocking in method to give a soft, generalized impression of the scene, rather than continuing to fill in the finer details.

Paul Cezanne, Mt. Saint-Victoire c. 1906
Paul Cezanne, Mt. Saint-Victoire c. 1906

Examples at Principle Gallery:

Though we’ve already shown in this post a great example of a Principle Gallery artist using blocking in as a method for underpainting, we also have an excellent example of the use of blocking in for a finished work in the art of Felicia Forte. Though some of Felicia’s work does feature more detailed, intricate brushwork, Felicia is also fond of exploring this more abstracted and understated method. She especially delights in the experience of using blocking in when painting figures. As you mat have already seen, three examples of this type of figure composition appeared in our Small Works show in December 2014.

“I’ve been enjoying painting these abstracted figures in my studio from life, having fun with color, and trying to see how simple I can get while still being honest and attempting elegance,” Felicia says. “The idea was to find a way to pleasingly abstract the scene in front of me, using the facts at hand in the most economical way possible, I found it so much fun that I began to paint more like it whenever I needed a break from straight academic portrait painting. It’s fun to see how they develop, a little different each time.”

Below is a sample of some of Felicia’s more abstracted work, showing how discerning use of blocking in can give a painting a fresh and stylish effect:

Paintings by Felicia Forte Left to right: "Mary and Mr. Midnight," "View to Alcatraz," and "Pigeon with Brown Coat"
Paintings by Felicia Forte
Left to right: “Mary and Mr. Midnight,” “View to Alcatraz,” and “Pigeon with Brown Coat”

Click here to view more fantastic paintings by Felicia on our website, and check in next week as we continue to explore these tricks of the trade with Technique Tuesdays!

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