Sfumato Painting Technique behind Monalisa Smile Mystery
Sfumato painting technique is a painting coloring technique using several layers of transparent paint to achieve very fine shading and highlight gradation effects. Sfumato (Italy: smog) utilizes mixing colors optically through each layer of transparent paint. The idea is to imitate how light penetrates human skin which is actually semi-transparent.
Because “simulation” is the skin color in portrait paintings will look more realistic. Sfumato is a technique that is almost exclusively coloring human skin. Actually this technique also applies to other concentrated colored objects, except that usually other objects do not need a layer that is as complex as the skin color in human portraits.
Sfumato Painting Technique
The Sfumato painting technique starts with underpainting which consists of shading and midtone images. After the shading and midtone images are formed perfectly the highlight details begin to form little by little using layers or thin layers of paint that are brighter than the midtone.
The process is repeated continuously until the highlight gradation is formed perfectly, and even then it can apply to shading. In Western Old Master paintings such as Leonardi Da Vinci, transparent layers of paint can amount to tens or even hundreds, although usually 3-7 layers is enough.
Sfumato is a painting technique that is always used by the Old Masters from the era of transition to the Renaissance to the era of Pre-Modern Art. This technique is one that characterizes traditional western paintings when compared to modern paintings.
Because sfumato utilizes optical mixing through thin, layered paint, the effects produced by this painting technique can only be truly felt when we see the painting directly. This technique also makes us cringe when seeing classic works directly in the museum. Leonardo Da Vinci is one of the Artists who uses the painting technique.
The Sfumato technique is the reason why the Monalisa painting (Portrait of Lisa Gherardini) sometimes looks smiling, because optical color mixing produced by dozens of thin layers deceives our eyes and brain.
In addition, this technique also makes us feel that there is nothing wrong with portraits of faces that do not have eyebrows. Some people don’t even realize that Lisa’s portrait in this painting does not have eyebrows. The cause is again because the gradations of the mixture of optical colors from tens or even hundreds of layers of transparent colors fool our eyes and brain; optical illusion.
Da Vinci spent many years completing this painting. Because sfumato also this painting has many mysteries and other surprises such as how her eyes sometimes seem to move glancing towards us.
The Importance of Technical Analysis for Overview of Art Critics
The sfumato painting technique can be used as a reference for art critics in works born in the pre-Renaissance to pre-Modern eras. An overview of artist techniques in that era will usually involve this technique. Understanding how difficult and long this process will open up new horizons for the writings of criticism that we make.
This technique will also uncover many mysteries contained by the work. Some modern and even contemporary artists also use this technique. The technique used by artists in creating their work is one indication that can be used to assess the work. The level of technical difficulties can be an indicator of the ability and patience of artists.
The wisdom of an artist’s discourse can also be seen, whether he has thought far ahead which would certainly be of more value. But still holding an old idealism is actually not a problem, as long as the right reason. The evidence that became the point of the art assessment was also found in the technical presentation of the discourse.
Just make sure the reasons being made are indeed not making up and are clear on the techniques compared to the statements of the artists themselves. Sometimes the statements of artists from the modern era upwards cannot be relied upon. Because they often simplify the translation, maybe because he has the assumption that the public will not be too aware of his thoughts. For example the famous Andy Warhol with an answer that is only “Yes” or “No” when interviewed.
The knowledge of the artist also appears from the technicality that he did later to be an influence on the work he created. This certainly will be more value for the assessment of his work. This technique can be compared when we are comparing the work with other similar works at the same time.
Leonardo Da Vinci for example, he is famous for first understanding Aerial Perspective (the farther the object, the more faded the color) compared to other artists of his time. It became more value and became a proof that he was one of the greatest artists of his time.
Sfumato’s Technical Needs
To use this painting technique we must understand and be able to practice the framework of Underpainting techniques and Glazing techniques. Because of that, a painting media that is suitable for the painting technique is also needed. Use oil paint and prepare the medium or linseed oil. Acrylic paint can also be used with the medium, but you should use a retarder (to slow down the drying process) or use professional paint for glazing which already contains many mediums and retarders. Manufacturers of Winsor & Newton paintings have the variant paint.
Use a soft flat brush to apply transparent paint. Conversely, scumbling is a difficult technique to achieve by using a soft brush. Sable bristle brush / mixture is highly recommended because it can be used for both. But synthetic fur doesn’t matter either, as long as the brush is smooth. While for scumbling, you can use cheap rough brushes or used brushes that are almost damaged. Do not use fine synthetic brushes that are specific to acrylic if you use oil paint. Oil paint will make such brushes too soft.
Details of the needs of this painting technique, namely the Underpainting framework and the Glazing Technique can be read at: Painting Techniques in Real Depth Understanding.
While suitable media and painting tools can be seen at:
Painting Media: Understand Material, Alternatives & Paint Components
Painting Tools: Brush, Knife, Roller with Type & Function
Steps of Sfumato Painting Technique
- Start with brown sourced or other colors with a similar hue in the middle of the midtone color and shading the object to be painted.
- Form a silhouette of objects / subjects painted using midtone colored paint
- Describe the shading and other details on the painting (start drawing nose, ears, hair, etc. Use Burnt Umber colors to paint shading.
- Draw the details of the brightest paint colors on the painting such as eyes, nose and so on. Don’t use pure white, use white napkin or mix it with a little yellow ocher / source.
- Start the form of gradations between midtones and highlights in each section by swiping transparent paint that is slightly brighter than midtone. Also apply the thin paint to the shading to make the perfect transition.
- Wait until the thin layer of paint is half dry and then brush the thin paint (transparent / transculent) which is brighter than the second layer after the midtone. These steps 5 & 6 are the main techniques of sfumato.
- Repeat the process until a soft gradation forms from the midtone to the highlight.
- Use white paint and the yellow ocher mixture to paint the brightest highlight. Use paint without diluents and use a scumbling technique to apply it. The contrast that occurs in the thin layer of midtone and scumbling highlight is the comparative principle that makes the painting look more realistic.
- If the shading is felt to have less darkness, dig up the shading by coating the shading section which should be darker with a mixture of transparent burnt sources and ultramarine colors (to an almost black color).
- Apply a very transparent midtone color paint to all parts of the skin color. Then scamble the highlight part again. Dig more shading if needed. Repeat the process if the skin color still does not appear to be fused, be careful in the last application of this layer because it can have fatal consequences for the entire long process that we have done before
This painting technique also provides space for artists to continue to revise the errors contained in his paintings. This technique is also the reason why old master paintings take a long time in working on them. But actually we can apply the technique in our own way. We may also use media that are more modern, such as acrylic paint, provided that it is in the appropriate medium.
Painting techniques that are more modern and practical but still resemble the results of this technique can also be used. There is a Glaze Spray product that can be used to simplify the glazing process. We can also use acrylic paint for underpainting to dry quickly, then use oil paint for the glazing process
We can also adopt it by using few steps to perfect the painting technique that we developed ourselves. What happens if we combine this technique with the Alla Prima technique which is a technique that is very contrasting with Sfumato?
Try it! Your creativity has no limits.