7 Layer Painting Techniques


In the 15th century, the Flemish began heavily using an oil painting technique that involved layering paint. The paint layers often used glaze and dried in thin, even layers, which made the paintings easier to correct. Each layer of the painting required seven weeks to dry. The process was long and tedious and often took six to twelve months or more to complete. There were seven layers in all and each layer was oiled before the next color of paint was applied.

Pencil Drawing

  • Use a true to life photograph or use a still life object as your subject for your drawing. Draw your still life image and include the smallest of details. Create precise borders in the image and add shading. Your canvas should be sanded and smooth prior to transferring the image. For best results when you are preparing the canvas, rub it with Linseed oil before you begin. You can draw the picture on paper and transfer it using carbon if you prefer.

Ink Drawing

  • The first layer of oil will wash away the pencil drawing so you must go in and go over your lines with ink. The ink will not wash away and you will still be left with a guide. If you've transferred the image using carbon you should still use ink to go back over the picture so that it will show through the paint.


  • The imprimatura is the first layer of oil in the seven layer technique. An olive hue paint is applied to the entire canvas. You will obtain this hue by mixing Red Ochre, Yellow Ochre Light and Ivory Black. Add shading in areas of the canvas that will need shading from your drawing. You will create light areas and dark areas over the painting. Once you have the canvas completely covered it should be placed in a location where it will not be bothered. Allow it to dry for seven weeks. This will ensure that the oils have completely set.

Umber Underlayer

  • The umber layer begins to add some depth to your painting. You will not use it to make corrections to the first layer but to work with the first layer to add dimension. Apply the paint in the shadowed areas and use it as shading on the image itself. You will build up the underlayer by adding contours to your image. Allow this to completely dry. Flemish tradition again calls for seven weeks.

Dead Underlayer

  • The dead underlayer is a cold grey color that resembles moonlight hitting your image. This color is achieved by mixing Flake White, Light Ocher, Red Ocher, Burnt Umber, Prussian Blue and Ivory Black. It can also be achieved by mixing White Lead, Light Ocher, Red Ocher, and Burnt Bone. Light in the picture is applied thinly and half a tone higher, shadows are very transparent and are a half a tone lighter. Allow to dry completely.

Color Layer

  • The color layer is applied and gives life to your painting. Mix your colors to create a lifelike image. Use highlights and reflections to give your image more depth. Color can be applied thickly. Allow the painting to fully dry before adding the final layer.

Finishing Layer

  • The final layer is the layer that gives your painting its life. Add the imperfections and textures. Work in the lightest color areas. Do not try to go back over darker areas. After this layer has dried you will apply a varnish to protect the layers of paint. They will fade over time if not protected.

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