Thursday, August 25, 2011

"Ay, There's the Rub"

I could not resist this title for my post about this week's oil painting class, and my quick demo using a rub-out underpainting technique.

The phrase is Shakespeare’s. It comes from Hamlet’s famous “To be or not to be” soliloquy: 

To die — to sleep.
To sleep — perchance to dream: ay, there’s the rub!
For in that sleep of death what dreams may come
When we have shuffled off this mortal coil,
Must give us pause.

By rub, Hamlet means a difficulty, obstacle or objection.

How fitting a reference for this task we have chosen for ourselves. mastering the craft of painting, living the life of an artist. It can be the stuff of dreams or nightmares, it's the dream times that keeps us coming back for more.

When things are going well in the studio we seem to float on the current, lose track of time in a deep focus, it does seem rather dream like; yet when we are struggling against the current, reaching for the next level for our work, we are still learning, we will come out the other side (unlike Hamlet) and our work will be stronger for it.

I consistently remind my students struggle is learning, each new failure is a stepping stone to the next, better, painting.

All that said my students did great with this exercise and seemed to enjoy it! Using only Burnt Umber they covered the canvas with paint thinned only a bit with a mixture of linseed oil and OMS.

Then rubbed out the lighter values and highlights, using value to create volume.

This is the third in a value series I've had my students working on. You can see those and other teaching posts here.

Shakespeare continues to inspire, here is a link to a few of my paintings exploring some of his themes in a contemporary way.


  1. This is a great exercise and I'm sure your students feel great satisfaction in their end product. Thanks for sharing.

  2. Thank you and you are welcome Deborah. They all got great little paintings from this exercise, it was fun.



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