Introduction To Underpainting

For those of you who don’t know what underpainting is, it’s a technique that most formal painters learn when painting landscapes, portraits and other realistic art pieces. In general, it’s the first draft of a painting, after the background. Usually, painters will start out painting their whole canvas a light, neutral color, such as light pink, beige, light blue, etc. Next, they will paint in lines and blocks of color where the brightest brights and the darkest darks are located in the piece. What you are often left with is a painting that resembles the person or scene, but looks like a negative of a photo, or the subject in the extremes of dark and light.

Sometimes, there will be more than one underpainting, but typically what’s next are layers of refining and detail, adding in the middle tones and smoothing over the gaps and changes between lights and darks in the piece. Finally at the end, a final touch of highlights, like the glint in the eyes or from the hair and then maybe a glaze or two.
This is just one example of the painting process that is usually used when working on long term paintings.

Not everyone paints this way, sometimes I paint quick and fast, creating the painting all in one session without refining or layers. Other times, with abstract paintings, underpainting doesn’t even apply. It’s different for everyone and every situation. For the process of this large landscape painting, I went through even a more complex process because I started out not knowing what I wanted to paint. First it had drastic color and texture, even with oddball earrings attached. Once I decided on doing a landscape, I had to paint my underpainting over the riot of color, which still managed to mix into the white of my underpainting.

However, painting over such a colorful, abstract beginning has given my landscape character that wouldn’t have been there before: strange texture, cracking, and unrelated objects in weird places. Although I now know what I want to paint, it’s still a mystery as to what it will be in the end!


About drunk with magic

Bonjour! Je m’appelle Maya Joy. I am a recent graduate from the University of California: Santa Cruz. I currently reside in San Francisco, California, where I work, study and create collections of art works (among other things). I have great interest in writing, painting, drawing, reading, dancing, physics, Eastern thought, photography and more! If you have any questions feel free to email me at:
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