Underpainting – what value does it have? If you have been  following my blog for a while, you will have noticed my shift to underpainting most of my works now.  Why do it? Well the main advantage is that it can give great depth to your work if it is covered by several thin layers of paint over the top.

Underpainting is not only a rapid and economical way to envision and develop compositions, it also aids the artist in creating a number of optical effects that cannot be achieved by direct painting with color.

Traditionally underpaintings were usually executed in warm earth tones on neutral gray or warm brown grounds. Raw umber, at times mixed with black, were frequently used for this purpose. Another great mix is Burnt Sienna and French Ultramarine Blue. This mix can give you very neutral grey tones (with the addition of a little white) or the underpainting can be made either warm or cool depending on whether it leans towards the Burnt Sienna or the Ultramarine Blue.

Cool gray underpaintings were also often employed.  In the work below you can see Andrea del Sarto’s half-finished portrait and notice how the flesh has only been worked up on one side  and the underpainting is revealed on the rest of it.

underpainting Andrea del Sarto - unfinished portrait

Andrea del Sarto – unfinished portrait

‘In it’s simplest terms, an underpainting is a monochromatic version of the final painting intended to initially fix the composition, give volume and substance to the forms, and distribute darks and lights in order to create the effect of illumination.’ (1)

If you are going to experiment with underpainting only apply color over the underpainting  when it is thoroughly dry.

Not many painters use the underpainting technique today as most of them are after the immediacy of direct painting i.e.  coloured paint straight onto a white ground.  The problem with this approach is that many opportunities for subtlety are missed as underpainting is often the only way to achieve great depth and luminosity in a work.

Next Thursday’s Post: Songs Of The Sea

Next Monday’s Post: Colour Theory  – Mixing Blues

Posted By: Kadira Jennings

(1) Essential Vermeer 2.0

Pix Credit: Essential Vermeer 2.0


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