About the “painting fat” technique
“Painting fat” (no, not paintings of fat people…) has been a term used casually and formally by artists – the casual (my interpretation), is a philosophy on technique. To me, it’s developing layers of sketch, color blocking with paint or other media or materials to achieve the final work. Depending on the “feel” or sense I desire, I may use stark contrast when applying pigment, but rarely are there meager portions of media. That’s the other casual meaning I take from “painting fat.” Be generous with the pigment. Build rich surfaces of pigment – whether a limited palette or full color
wheel. I have discovered a joy in the creative process when exploring this technique.
The formal use of the term – Painting fat-over-lean – refers to the technique of starting a work with light washes (lean), th
en adding thicker layers of pigment. This allows for a more stable and refined finished painting. I have applied this method fully and in only certain portions of my work. But it does offer another range of choices as I create.
The process of creating a painting varies from medium to medium and from
individual to individual. It is best to have a canvas or panel with a prepared ground, painting tools, a medium (either oil
or gel for acrylic), and some solvent (either mineral spirits or water for
acrylic). Here is a general outline of a painting process that you may use to
The Drawing or Cartoon: When one has decided on a composition that they would like to produce as a
painting, The first thing that they must do is transfer that idea to the canvas.
This is usually done in the form of a freehand drawing sometimes called the
cartoon. One can translate a drawing with great accuracy by using a grid drawn over the original, then creating a larger grid on the canvas. One has to merely follow the same patterns. The use of overhead projectors is also
quite common and perfectly acceptable. Because of the transparency of many
pigments, it is advisable to do this drawing with a thin wash of a neutral color
like raw umber or yellow ochre using one of your brushes.
Color and Palette: After one has drawn the image it is important to
evaluate the chosen color. Create limitations on color. Choose a
specific “palette” of colors to use on your palette. For example if you are
painting some foliage, you may want to stick with blues, yellows and greens of
varying intensity and perhaps use a red as an accent. Since red is a complementary color to green it helps to activate it. By
setting aside some color, like browns or oranges, you can focus the color so
that your color information is more specific. Avoid trying to use all the colors
in one painting and don’t underestimate the power of neutral colors in a
Planes: Look carefully at the subject matter that you are using as
source material. In painting, unlike drawing, lines go where two planes
of color come together. Allow background color to meet at the edge of an object
to create line rather than outlining a form. Within an object there is also a
series of changing planes that vary depending on how light is acting upon the
object. Click here for a good example of planes as
they occur in gray values.
Hint: Try to work fat over thin, that is, as
you build up layers in your painting make each successive layer the same or
slower in its drying time. One does this because slower drying in the
underpainting can result in cracking caused by escaping gases from areas which
are not completely dry. In oil painting, solvents
speed drying time and oils slow it down. Work with more oil in the upper layers
and more solvents in the lower ones. Fat over thin is also important in acrylic
painting. Use gels that slow drying in the upper layers.
But wait, what about oil painting?
Oil Painting Techniques: Fat Over Lean
What ‘fat over lean’ means and why it’s one of the basic oil painting techniques
By Marion Boddy-Evans, About.com Guide
The principle of painting ‘fat over lean’ is one of the fundamental concepts of oil painting and one to follow to reduce the risk an oil painting cracking. ‘Fat over lean’ has got to do with the varying drying times of oil pigments (which can vary from a couple of days to a fortnight) and ensuring that upper layers of paint don’t dry faster than lower ones.
‘Fat’ oil paint is oil paint straight from the tube. Mixing it with an oil makes it even ‘fatter’ and increases the length of time it takes to dry completely (even though it may feel dry to the touch, it will still be drying under the surface). ‘Lean’ oil paint is oil paint mixed with more turpentine (white spirit) than oil, or oil paint mixed with a fast-drying oil. ‘Lean’ oil paint dries faster than ‘fat’ oil paint.
If ‘lean’ is painted over ‘fat’, it will dry first, making the ‘lean’ layer of paint vulnerable to contraction (shrinking) and cracking when the ‘fat’ layer dries underneath it. Lower layers also tend to absorb oil from the layers above them.Therefore every layer in an oil painting applied is a little ‘fatter’ than the previous one, or have a greater proportion of oil in it.
The drying times of artist’s quality oil paints will vary because they are usually made only from pigment and oil; cheaper paints may have drying agents added to make the drying times more consistent.
Paints which tend to have a low oil content, and thus dry quickly, include Prussian blue, ultramarine, flake white, and titanium white. Oil paints with a medium oil content, and which dry within about five days, include cadmium reds and cadmium yellow.