Underpainting Can Improve The Final Result
Approaching the Underpainting
Last night I completed the underpainting for this week’s project.
Different artists have different goals for using underpaintings, and use a variety of approaches. It’s usually an opportunity to work out the composition and the values without worrying about color or detail. Basically its’ a very simplified first pass in black and white. By resolving issues of composition and lighting in the underpainting phase, I can approach the final painting from a more confident place. The color phase always goes faster and surer as a result.
It also allows me to paint the full 3-dimensional modeling of the objects independent of color. This way I can work with transparent colors more easily, since I don’t need to use them to build up the forms. The modeling has already been done using black and white.
Pigments for Underpaintings
Although a black and white underpainting is probably most common, there are other combinations that work well, depending on the goals of the painting. For instance many work with a green earth (or black and yellow) and white to form a verdaccio. Mixtures of Venetian Red, black, and white also work quite well.
I generally want this phase to dry overnight, so I tend to use faster-drying pigments and perhaps a faster-drying medium. Usually a little Walnut Alkyd mixed into the paint is all I need. For this painting, I used Van Dyke Brown and Lead White. While this is a sound combination (this particular Van Dyke Brown is a formulation that does not contain Bitumen, which is problematic – instead it uses Ivory Black which is not a quick dryer), it did not fully dry to the touch overnight.
This isn’t usually a problem, since I can just pull out other projects to work on. But, I need to finish these paintings in a week, so I can’t afford frequent delays. Going forward, for these pieces, I’ll do the underpaintings with Mars Black, which dries faster than Ivory Black.