Saturday, July 9, 2011

Underpaintings..Getting the Structure Right

I know that the thought process behind an underpainting is not real appealing to some artists, but for me it's how I can wrap my thoughts around a painting and know whether it's going to hold together at the end or not.

If I don't use a process that lays out the light and dark structures for me I get very tangled up in applying color. Trying to determine the temperature and the value of the color along with drawing and composition at the same time makes me crazy.

Here is the process I use whether working in oil, pastel or colored pencil. The underpainting process works great for all three.

1. I Carefully set up my still life so that my light and dark areas make an interesting composition. Some folks at this stage will do a thumbnail sketch or take photos to work out the best composition. My lighting is usually coming from the left side (a can lamp with incandescent light in a darkened room) and arranged so it carries the viewers eye to the center of interest near the lower right corner (the Golden Mean.)

2. I make a drawing for placement of objects as well as dark structures in the composition. You can see from the photos that the dark sides of the objects have well defined shapes. I'm not really focused on the accuracy of the drawing. However, the colored pencil medium is a little harder to alter as you are painting so I have to make a more accurate drawing when I work in cp.

3. Then I begin to fill in the values starting with the darkest first so that there is somewhat of an abstract feel to the painting. If you are having trouble determining values for you underpainting a great trick to train yourself to see them is to remove the color from your photo (in Photoshop it's the grayscale mode.) In the colored pencil piece I used Inktense pencils which are water soluble and once the darks are all filled in I applied water giving me a solid base to apply the rest of my colors. In pastel I use a very dark pastel (dark purple, black or dark brown works well). For my oil painting I use burnt umber or raw umber for most of the values,but I use a mixture of transparent red oxide and french ultramarine blue for the really dark areas. You could use black I suppose, but I learned about the red/blue mixture from Daniel Keys video and just love the rich dark that the mixture gives you.

I'm not focusing on final colors or brushwork/strokes at this point underpainting stage. What I'm trying to do is work out all the problems with values, line and shapes which will give me the best possible base for the next stage of the painting which is all out fun and games with color, edges and texture.

For the next stage of your painting you can refine your final painting over the underpainting as much as you like. Some artists leave their colors, edges and textures very loose or painterly, or they refine them to achieve a more realistic, photographic effect.

"Apple and Copper Bowl" Photo Resource in Grayscale

"Apple and Copper Bowl" 5 x 7 OIL (Work in Progress)

"Vintage Teapot" COLORED PENCILS (Work in Progress)

To see more of the process and the finished piece click Here

"Cobalt Blue Bottle" PASTEL (Work in Progess)

To see more of the process and the finished piece click

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