Andrew Wyeth’s Techniques in 1942

Andrew Wyeth, The Coot Hunter, 1941

In 1942 American Artist Magazine introduced the 25-year-old Andrew Wyeth as “One of America’s Youngest and Most Talented Painters.” The article describes his painting methods, providing a valuable document, because Wyeth was mysterious about his technique in later years. Here is an excerpt:

Watercolor technique
“He works on a medium rough watercolor paper which he has made up in blocks (22×30 in). He objects to stretched paper, says he believes it loses its capacity for brilliant effects. All his painting is done with three sable brushes, Nos. 5, 10 and 15. The never uses those broad flat brushes so many artists employ for large, covering washes.

Andrew Wyeth’s palette and the three brushes
with which he paints all his watercolors.

“In view of the gusto with which Wyeth works, one is surprised to see such a small palette in his hand, especially since in his rapid painting he must require a quantity of “runny” washes on short order.

“In beginning a watercolor Wyeth very rapidly lays in the large masses in their approximate colors, but without detail definition. This may or may not have been preceded by a slight pencil indication.

Wyeth often makes rapid ink sketches like this,
on the spot, and then does the watercolor in his studio.

“Thus the paper is entirely covered in the first few moments, except for white areas which are untouched by the brush—Wyeth never uses white body color. Occasionally white, or near white, is obtained by a heavy stroke of the brush-handle in a still-wet wash.

“Working back into the wet areas he develops his picture, pulling definition out of the blurred color masses, working all over the picture while it is still moist.

“The technic of watercolor—that is, in the fluid method—presupposes rapid and skillful execution. Yet working within the limitations of its properties some artists proceed with a degree of deliberation. It is quite possible, technically,—and without sacrificing freshness—to work on a picture over a considerable period, even to come back to it the next day. Many artists spend at least two or three hours on a picture. Wyeth’s practice is to skim off the white heat of his emotion and compress it into a half hour of inspired brush work. He is the first to admit the presumption of this kind of attack, and is ready to confess that it fails more often than it succeeds.

Andrew Wyeth, Pennsylvania Landscape, egg tempera on board, 1942, 35×47 inches

Egg Tempera Technique
“Mindful of the dangers inherent in practiced facility with his watercolor brushes he has put them away in moth balls for a season and, during the past year, has been devoting himself to tempera painting, employing a technic that imposes strict disciplines.

“In his temperas Wyeth’s objective is to cover up his brush strokes and obtain a sense of freedom through pattern rather than technic. He paints these pictures with a single sable brush not over 3/4 of an inch long.

“These are done on Masonite upon which three coats of whiting mixed with casein glue are applied as a ground. The pulverized glue is heated, in water, in a double boiler. Wyeth sandpapers the final coat to a very smooth finish. The panel is made rigid by a framework attached to the back. He paints with dry colors mixed on his palette, as he works, with distilled water and egg yolk.

“His procedure is to make a monochrome underpainting in black ink. The colors, applied over this black and white, have a quality of weight and depth preferred to the result of direct painting in color. This is in accordance with the traditional method of old masters who used this medium.

“This turning from the freedom of watercolor to the exactions of tempera illustrates the intelligent purpose of a young artist in seeking strength and breadth as foundation for the work he hopes to do later on. Through his tempera paintings he is acquiring the habit of accuracy and is seeking an intimacy with nature which he feels he cannot attain with his watercolor brush alone. Thus fortified he believes his watercolors, though painted in a burst of enthusiasm, are more likely to be informed and interesting in every detail.

“‘Too often,’ he says, ‘a watercolor appeals solely by virtue of tricks and fortuitous beauties inherent in the medium itself. My aim is to make every part of the picture alive, interesting.’

“The casual observer, turning from Andrew Wyeth’s impulsive watercolors to his tempera paintings, executed in the spirit of old master craftsmanship, might well be puzzled. They appear in temperament as well as in technic like the work of two separate individuals. They are, in the sense that the well-rounded man is a different man at different times, as he takes devious directions to arrive at a goal that cannot be approached by a single paths. Only the artists himself can see the map whereon those divergent paths finally meet in the ground strategy of a single purpose.

“We shall watch for the meeting of those paths in the work of Andrew Wyeth.”
Excerpted from “Andrew Wyeth, One of America’s Youngest and Most Talented Painters,” American Artist Magazine, 1942.

You can also get vintage copies of American Artist Magazine online.

By: Gurney Journey
Via: Feedbin Starred Entries

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