Sep 1, 2016

What the heck is Underpainting in Watercolour all About? - Painting & Drawing Tips


 Okay, so what is the big news.  You know under painting is the first layer of paint that is put on your ground.  It is just the base for the layers that come after.  It is very common practice in working with oils and acrylics. 

However, Watercolorists like to use it too.

But as in all things, watercolour  artists are different. 
READY FOR MISCHIEF - 5 x 7, Watercolour
Note how the background colours run right  into and out of my gull. 
Some artists do very detailed under paintings to define the values while others are fast and loose putting colour everywhere.  I just finished looking at Tim Saternow's work.   He uses Payne's Gray to do a detailed value painting of his street scenes before he adds his colour.  (There is an excellent demo of this in the 19 Issue June/Sept. 2015 of The Art of Watercolour.)  But it is the fast and loose underpainting that catches my eye.  Kim Johnson, who I mentioned in my last post,  does animal portraits with this method, I wanted to give it a go.

My first attempts were with my crow, Busybody, see here and Ready for Mischief, my seagull, above.  You can definitely see I was pretty bold with my underpainting, well bold for me.  I was swirling colours and just having fun.  I did have my drawing down first and I was careful to preserve my white areas but other then that I just dropped colour, wet into wet. 
Once my little experiments were finished I went for the big stuff.

Here are a few ‘work in progress’ pictures for my picture, The Hunter Waits.  
First a pencil drawing of the main shapes. 
My underpainting was lots of splashes of colour on wet paper.  My main goal was to:  preserve the white of my eagle’s head and tail; use all the colours that would be in later layers but in a purer form; use colour in the low to mid value range.  Once the underpainting was finished I let it dry completely.
WIP  #1:  Here the under painting is dry and I have started to layout the rocks.  You can see how the colours blend with the rocks in different ways.  Note the back wash marks along the bottom. 

WIP #2:  More layers  of paint on the rocks, finished the ones in the top right corner.
 Note the detail of the rocks below, you can see how the red under painting is showing through.  It adds interest to the rocks and connects the small rocks to the larger ones. 

WIP #3:  the body of the eagle is now being filled in. Again some of the under painting helps to add interest and connects him to his surroundings.
WIP #3: I love how the the rock in the foreground has those interesting blues and purples from the under painting. 
The finished painting "The Hunter Waits" is in my last post here.  

Things I noticed as I painted:
- lovely little spots of colour showing through in my rocks and sand that made each rock a little different
- great under tones in my sand, in some places I glazed over the sand but others I left alone. 
-it was nice not to have the stark white paper glaring at me as I painted.  It somehow seemed easier to blend my colours and judge my values.
-I wished I had let a bit of my under painting flow into the eagle’s tail as it was too white without some of the local colours on it. I ended up having to paint some in.
-the flow of colour in the under painting seemed to tie the picture together in a more cohesive way. Each part felt connected to the whole. 

Is underpainting fast and loose for every picture? Probably not.  Should you give it a try? Definitely.

Pull out the paper, pour and play, and then paint away.  Be sure and share your results with me. 

Fall is coming fast but there is still time to paint and draw outside.  Check out my series of  Drawing Tips for Summer Fun.  It is a four part series starting here.  Great ideas for quick sketches in your journal or plein air pieces.  Best of all when the cold wind blows you can take these ideas inside and keep on going.

Looking for a starting point in your drawing?  I will be happy to get you up and running.  Call me now and set up a few lessons to get you on the road to a summer of fun with your art.
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Brenda Hill CDM said...

Great info for those that paint

Wendy Mould AFCA said...

Thanks, I hope that it helps to inspire. I was very pleased with my finished picture.