The Composition #6

“The elements of composition embrace the whole creative process.”

The Art of the Artist – Composition – by Fletcher Martin

Composite #6 CJM 5 x 7

Composite #6 CJM 5 x 7


A grisaille and grisaille underpainting are similar to a value study in that they are monochromatic in color. Typically done in black and white or gray.  Throughout history they have been a foundational element to the creation of many master works particularly when using glazing as a technique in oil painting.  There are many grisaille’s that stand on their own as masterworks .  Grisailles date back to the 15th century.

A few definitions:

  • GRISAILLE – (French: gris [ɡʁizaj] ‘grey’) is a term for painting executed entirely in monochrome or near-monochrome, usually in shades of grey. Wikipedia
  • GRISAILLE – (the technique by which artists work without color, using only the resources of black and white.”) The Art Tribune May 2014
  • GRISAILLE –  “A grisaille underpainting is meant to provide the form and tone of a structure that will later be tinted with a finishing glaze of color.” Color for Painters by Al Gury

 Tip!  Observe art

Tip! Keep practicing


These are helpful historical works to view in terms of developing your eye and sensitivity to “value” in your composition.  While you may not paint a grisaille they are a useful in broadening understanding and as a result can contribute to the development of your own work.

The following are examples of masterworks using grisaille. The first work “Scalzo” by Andrea del Sarto in the  15th century is in a monochromatic state. This can be seen at Chiostro dello Scalzo in Florence, Italy.  This looks like a relief and that is another characteristic of a grisaille.

Andrea del Sarto - "Scalzo" grisaille fresco

Andrea del Sarto – “Scalzo” grisaille fresco

The second artwork “The Holy Family” by El Greco during the 16th century, has color applied through glazing technique to a grisaille.   This is part of the collection at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC.

"The Holy Family" El Greco

“The Holy Family” El Greco

You can see the vast amount of detail each artist was able to achieve.  As I have read, grisailles tend to have light masses painted much lighter than nature and in that sense they are different than a value study.  Painting the lighter areas in this way on a grisaille allowed room for the layering of color as glazes to ultimately define the proper values.



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s