Painting Using the 7 Layer Flemish Technique


1.The Drawing

The 7 layer technique that I tend to use was the method used by the Flemish painters from around the 15th Century onwards, such as Van Eyck. The idea is to build up a number of transparent layers so that the viewer can see through the painting back to the original first layers in the same way that a stained glass window is produced. The initial layer is drawn, usually in charcoal. I used an HB pencil as recommended to me by my friend, the artist Phillip Dunn. Because I tend to be quite messy. A hard pencil is best otherwise I tend to smudge the drawing. I then fix it using a spray on fixative. Not very 15th Century so far, but this is the Pete Davies version of 7 layered painting!

2. Imprimatura

Sailing from Byzantium light ochre

Next I add the first layer, the imprimatura which I apply using light ochre and paint solvent only. This I use to establish the background, the image and a general idea of the where the tonal variations are. That usually dries pretty quickly so within a few hours I can start the next layer.

3. Under Painting

Sailing from Byzantium under painting

As you can see from the image above, I have used Burnt Umber to map out the monochromatic light and dark areas on the picture, I added a small amount of Prussian Blue to the areas of the body where the blood and veins would show through.  This layer is called the under painting because it is a layer which forms the base on which other layers are applied. At this stage I haven’t used in linseed oil as my medium, just paint solvent.

4. The Dead Layer

Dead Layer

This layer I believe is named after the fact that it is painted in neutral greyish tones, (Grisaille) producing an image that looks as if the subject is dead. I used Lamp Black and Titanium White although the original Flemish painters would have used Lead White in the 7 layer technique. If I remember correctly, I didn’t use any medium when applying the paint to the body. Instead I took as much oil out of the paint as I could by squashing it on sheets of paper. I used a hard brush to rub this into the areas I’d already established with the Burnt Umber. As you can see, I am starting to build up my layers, the Burnt Umber is still visible.

The fact that I’ve now added white means that I will have to wait 3 or 4 days for the paint to dry. As I am an impatient painter who has exhausted all the box sets on Netflix, to save time, I added a layer of thin glaze over the sea and the cloth. I’ve also added green to the foliage around the buildings.

5. First Colour layer

dead layer increased

I’ve now started to add more colour. This is where the alchemy starts. I’ve glazed the cloth around her feet using a mixture of Flemish Siccative medium, Chinese Vermillion and half a crocodile (optional). Only joking about the crocodile, the rest is true. At this stage I was still undecided as to what colour the cloth should be. It was originally a white bedspread.

6. Second Colour Layer

Ist paint layer

I have now started building up areas of glaze over the whole painting. I’ve also thinned out the clouds as they were too overpowering, I thought. I’ve also added Titanium White mixed with Light Ochre to unite the skin. Again I didn’t use any oil but instead scumbled the paint on with a dry brush.

7. Further Layers of Glazing

Sailing from Byzantium

In the finished image of my painting, titled: Sailing From Byzantium,’ you can see how I’ve glazed the sea and cloth and added a glaze this time to the girl’s body.

8. Detail

feet detail

Lastly painted in the final details such as the hair and feet.

You can see more of my paintings by visiting

Do You Want to Know The Real Meaning of Art? Just Ask a Bunch of 10 Year Olds


A group of 10 year olds were asked to explain the meaning of 6 the most famous art works of all time. Here’s what they said:

Claude Monet [Public domain or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Monet – Water Lillies and Japanese Bridge
  • The artist is trying to say that normal gardens can be right but just need a bit of work
  • A motorway for fish
  • A rather slimy pond
Leonardo da Vinci - The Last Supper
Leonardo da Vinci – The Last Supper
  • Jesus is at a party where people are drinking and making bad decisions and he is sorting them out
  • It looks like God is having a feast with friends
  • Jesus is having a picnic
Van Gogh - Starry Night
Van Gogh – Starry Night
  • Bethlehem with a tree tower in the galaxy
  • You can see anything how you want to, you just have to imagine
  • The Gods have come out in the night
Monet - Cathedral de Rouen
Monet – Cathedral de Rouen
  • It is saying that the ruler of the planet must live here
  • Looks like a church made of triangles.
El Greco - Toledo
El Greco – Toledo
  • A magical land is in trouble and it is sad
  • To say that people are not equal makes the Gods angry
  • It’s astronomy night, my lad.
Rembrandt- The nightwatch
Rembrandt- The nightwatch
  • Fighting in Tudor times with Tinkerbell
  • There was a war but there was a tea afterwards
  • People fight over girls

For information on up and coming events plus new art work, follow me at Pete Davies Art!


Flintstones, Meet the Flintstones!

I paint using oils, buying the highest quality pigment blends available. Brushes are important, different textures and density to create different effects. Art has evolved, no longer constrained, as we all know, by trying to recreate what we see.
We now work to partially complete paintings, leaving space for interpretation and free thinking. We look behind the art, trying to interpret what the artist is trying to portray and we all come up with a different reality.
How things have changed, or have they? Take a closer look at cave art, the primitive thinking of primitive man.

Lascaux horse
Lascaux horse

But hardly primitive, conceptually complex, life and death depicted with such simplicity of line gives clarity. Something for all of us to think about.

Get On With It, Do It Now!

The Romans called it a memento mori, some object that reminds you life is short and one day we all die. It is a concept that is often explored by artists, it can be seen in the painting and sculpting of bones and skulls found in medieval and Victorian England and on Puritan tomb stones in the United States.

Andrea Previtali - Portrait of a Man - Memento Mori
Andrea Previtali – Portrait of a Man – Memento Mori

It can be expressed in the words, Tempus fugit, meaning, ‘time flies’ which even today are still written alongside clocks.

In Mexico, the Day of the Dead celebrates and reminds us of those who have already died.

Signs that life is short are everywhere in art, the often quoted Latin phrase, ‘ars long vita brevis,’ dates back to the Greek physician, Hippocrates; tells us that life is short, but art endures.

In an interview George Harrison once spoke about all those books he probably would never read.

‘Life is very short and there’s no time for fussing and fighting my friend,’ is a well known Beatles quote, the unintentional irony of which was later revealed through the many legal wrangles that hounded the Beatles right up until the present day. What a waste.

So perhaps today is the best time to start completing all those things we keep putting off.

Time is short, and as Shakespeare said: ‘our little life, is rounded with a sleep.’ A sleep at the beginning and a sleep at the end. The time to do things is now. And if you haven’t had enough already, here’s another quote:

The happy days are here and now.
Now is the time to laugh and live, drink all the wine,
Sing all the songs that live can give.
Our yesterdays are dead and gone,
Tomorrow lives so far away,
So be alive and think of now as the happy days.

(The Happy Days – Charles Aznavour)

And finally, one more:

Gérôme - An Arab Caravan outside a Fortified Town, Egypt
Gérôme – An Arab Caravan outside a Fortified Town, Egypt

The Moving Finger writes; and, having writ,
Moves on: nor all thy Piety nor Wit
Shall lure it back to cancel half a Line,
Nor all thy Tears wash out a Word of it.

– Omar Khyyam.

Get on with it! Do it now!

Goldfinger is Back – It’s Klimt’s Birthday!

Gustav Klimt - The Kiss
Gustav Klimt – The Kiss

Klimt’s birthday today. Had he lived he would be 150 years old. Although some of his earlier work was considered pornographic, his later Golden Phase brought him much acclaim and financial success. Most of all he enjoyed painting women – a kind of Goldfinger of his day!

Always Paint a Direct Sketch from Nature Every Day

Jean-Léon Gérôme
Jean-Léon Gérôme

When you draw, form is the important thing. But in painting the first thing is to look for the general impression of colour.  Always paint a direct sketch from nature every day – Jean-Léon Gérôme

Wilde About Nature? Yes and No.

When I look at a landscape I cannot help seeing all its defects. It is fortunate for us, however, that Nature is so imperfect, as othewise we should have no art at all.

Oscar Wilde
Oscar Wilde

Is it Good to be Bad? 10 Bad Boys (and one Girl) of the Art World

1. Caravaggio – a bit of a swaggering brawler by all accounts, but also a master of chiaroscuro.

Maria Maddalena by Caravaggio
Maria Maddalena by Caravaggio

Not only was he reputed to have killed a man but he himself also died under mysterious circumstances.  A big influence in later years on Rembrandt and the like.

2. Carl André – famous for selling a collection of fire bricks to the Tate Gallery, he was tried and acquitted of his wife Ana Mendieta’s death in 1979. He is still living today, some say that examples of his work would be better served at the local builder’s merchants.

Lewd sexual acts

3. Cellini – Banished from Florence aged 16 for taking part in a fracas with others, he was later imprisoned for allegedly stealing jewels from the Pope.  Accused of a variety of ‘lewd’ sexual acts he spent 4 year under house arrest. His passing  in 1571 was celebrated with a splendid funeral.

4. Daniel Ballantyne – Here I am researching my new blog on Google when up popped Daniel Ballantyne. After 10 minutes considerable research I rejected my initial idea that this was the famous gym owner, but didn’t twig until well into my first para that Daniel Ballantyne was a figment of the imagination of playwright, Philip Palmer – a forgery himself! (Daniel not Philip). So it looks like I can’t include him in my list! Unless of course I fake it …

Condoms, knickers and empty cigarette packets

5. Tracey Emin – not so much a bad boy more an angst girl personified. Raised in Margate (home of Dreamland so she can’t be all bad) she is well-known for her exhibit, ‘My bed’ – presented with used condoms, knickers, empty cigarette packets, sound familiar? She is now  a Professor of Drawing at the Royal Academy.


6. Egon Schiele – a student of Gustav Klimt, who when arrested had over 100 drawings seized for being pornographic.

Frau mit grünen Strümpfen by Egon Schiele
Frau mit grünen Strümpfen by Egon Schiele

He died during a Spanish ‘flu  epidemic spending his last hours sketching his wife who had died 3 days before him.

7. Gauguin – in an attempt to throw of the trappings of a conventional life  Gauguin set sail for Tahiti.  Returning to France 2 years later he started an affair with a teenaged girl and dressed in Polynesian clothing.  Disillusioned with Paris society he returned again to Tahiti, where he experienced a period of great productivity. However ill health and pain dogged him until he died 8 years later possibly from a morphine overdose.

8. Damien Hurst – famous for preserving dead things he was later challenged in court for plagiarism. When I was at Eastbourne Art College I went to the butchers and made an eyeball sandwich, am I too late of does that still count?

9. Andy Warhol – an exponent of pop art, Warhol was famous for turning iconic American objects into art.  His studio, the Factory, was renowned for its parties and filled to the brim with hip, bohemian artists of the time. Looking at today’s fame obsessed society, his statement that ‘in the future, everyone will be world-famous for 15 minutes,’ seems to have come true.

Chasing the nurses

10. Vincent Van Gogh –  the son of a minister, Van Gogh  once worked as a supply teacher in Ramsgate. His personal life was fraught with emotional turmoil, Margo Begemann, who he had intended to marry tried to kill herself with strychnine when both their families disapproved.

Le  Moulin de blute fin by Vincent van Gogh
Le Moulin de blute fin by Vincent van Gogh

Troubled by psychosis, he cut off his ear leaving it as a memento for Gauguin.  When committed to an asylum Gauguin wrote, ‘he wants to sleep with the patients, chase the nurses and wash himself in the coal bucket’.   The 113 year old Jeanne Calment, who met him when she was 13, described him as , ‘dirty, badly dressed  … very ugly, ungracious, impolite, sick.’ What’s not to like?

The Inside Secrets of the Great Masters

Stained Glass

From the 7th century onwards coloured glass was produced by firing a mixture of metal oxides and minerals. This was known as pot metal glass. Later in our history one of the most widespread and sophisticated forms of glass production available for all to see was stained glass.


This all came about during the beginning of the 14th century when it was discovered that if silver stain (a silver compound such as silver nitrate) was applied to the back face of the glass it would produce patches of yellow or orange when fired in a kiln. Not only could the glass colour be changed, white to yellow, blue to green etc, but also with careful manipulation the same piece of  glass could produce different hues.

If a clear piece of glass was coated with red or blue on the front and yellow on the back, a bit like a colourful sandwich, then when the front colour was ground away it would reveal the shining yellow from behind. This was extremely useful as glass with patches of yellow could be used to highlight halos, crowns, sun rays and hair.

The Virgin of the Apocalypse
The Virgin of the Apocalypse

Jan Van Eyck’s Magical Alchemy

Vasari credits Jan Van Eyck with inventing the technique of oil painting in the 15th century,  when in the confines of his ‘alchemist’s lab,’ Van Eyck discovered that oil could be used as a medium to carry pigment.

The Schedula of the 12th century compiler Theophilus Presbyter however shows that this was not the case and that oil as a medium for painting had been looked at a lot earlier. Coincidentally Theophilus Presbyter’s second Schedula happened to deal with stained glass and the painting of stained glass.

Nevertheless history says that on discovering Van Eyck’s magical use of oils, the itinerant Sicilian painter Antonello da Messina rushed off to Italy where this new and sensational idea was readily adopted by not only himself but others, thus opening the floodgates to a painting revolution. So how does this all tie up?

Antonello da Messina – St Jerome in his Study

Van Eyck’s Beautiful Dream

Whether or not Van Eyck invented oil painting is not relevant here, his biggest success was to develop the art of glazing, a sensational technique which would change the way paintings were produced. Looking at Van Eyck’s painting technique now we can see that it appears to be a natural continuation if not an imitation of the stained glass process but this time using oils.

Getting Down in Black and White

After priming the board, Van Eyck would execute his painting in earth tones of browns, blacks or greys with bright, white highlights. Working with immense skill and diligence a complete painting would be built up in stages without colour, similar to a sepia or black and white photograph.

Single or Double Glazing?

We know that when producing medieval stained glass, the dark outline of the figure was the final layer painted on top of the glass. Van Eyck’s innovative glazing process mirrored this stained glass technique but in reverse. With glazing, semi-transparent or transparent colours were painted over the black and white underpainting until a layer of thick, glassy vanish or glaze was produced similar to glass.  Extra glazes would then be added countless times until the desired glossy optical effect and depth was produced. You can see an example of how I have used glazing on the painting on my home page. Look at the turban and the cardigan.

What I’m suggesting is that the roots for glazing in paint lies in an attempt to imitate the richness and depth of colour found in the production of stained glass windows but in oils. Don’t you agree?