Burnt Sienna and Sanford Gifford

Closeup of Rattlesnake and the River with burnt sienna ground.

This winter I read in several sources that Sanford Gifford first stained his surface with burnt sienna. 

I first read about this on Philip Koch's great blog in a post titled Bold Power Hiding in Subtle Colors. And of course the next day an artist friend, James Lourie, forwarded me the link to Philip's post knowing how I'd love it!

Loriann Signori wrote about it on her blog here, saying "Sanford Gifford stained his white canvas with burnt sienna, drew in white chalk and then glazed more rapidly. He would paint non-stop from sunrise to sunset when he began the color part of his painting. He had already worked out his color idea in his oil sketches. Gifford kept working and blending his glazed layers while they were wet. "

David Dunlop, in a blog post titled Luminous Skies has a great, brief explanation along with images. (BTW: his blog is great, deep with information and his own work is inspiring. Check it out people!)

So I immediately tried it on two paintings, Rattlesnake and the River, and the Road North

The Road North was a straightforward direct painting with some glazing. Not at all what Gifford would have done. Rattlesnake and the River follows his approach more closely: opaque underpainting for the sky with the foreground crafted by extensive semi-transparent and transparent glazing. The foreground has areas of thick, built-up surface next to areas of bare burnt sienna linen. 

The sky - and this to me is the most important part of this painting - was much more interesting and frustrating to paint with the burnt sienna base. I painted three layers of titanium-zinc white mixed with a touch of indian yellow over the base using broad vertical strokes. Even after three layers the burnt sienna sang loudly through. So I decided to work with that and began painting the dawn colors I sought over that burnt sienna/pale yellow base. There were times I thought the painting just wouldn't work out but in the end, I'm very pleased with the results.


loriann said…
Hi Lisa, Thanks for the mention! I have been playing with the burnt sienna underpainting as a wipe-away. I find that I need to wipe more away from the sky to get the luminosity I desire.Are Sanford Gifford's paintings amazing?
B Lancton said…
Very interesting post! Thanks for the link to David Dunlop's blog post - that was helpful and interesting. Oils are a new medium for me and your posts and Loriann's are always welcomed warmly when they arrive in my inbox.
Lisa McShane said…
Loriann - yes! They are!

Bea - thank you! Such kind words.