Monday, 25 July 2011

The Underpainting & First Stages

There is always a great deal of excitement that grips the core of one's belly when the first brush strokes are applied. It is the start of something new and the knowledge that the painting might alter en route. A painting has a life of its own and I still love how an image miraculously emerges out of its 2-dimensional surface.

The surface itself was chosen carefully. I used a very good quality textured oil primed linen canvas. It was a treat to paint on it from start to finish. My underpainting was painted in 3 colours chosen for their fast drying properties, temperatures and tonal values. I enjoy all stages of a painting's development and the underpainting is no exception. Raw umber is usually used on its own but I include cobalt blue which, when mixed with raw umber, cools it down and provides me with a darker tonal value. Naples yellow is added to the raw umber to lighten it and provide yet another part of the colour wheel. One can also include some greens when the naples yellow and cobalt blue are added together. I tend to weaken the mixtures with a little turpentine so that the layer remains very thin. I am careful not to make it watery - it is best to push the paint as far as it will go so that the application feels dry rather than runny. You will find that you can start your 'proper' layers after a day of applying the underpainting.

The underpainting also allows you to place your subject correctly and problem solve challenging areas. You can still see a lot of my rough underpainting in the above image.

I then started blocking in the sky and the bigger building shapes to get a feel for the midtones. It is worth your while premixing your colours before you start. It does take time and can seem very tedious but it does mean that when you start painting you don't spend time (and muddying your brushes) trying to find the right colour. Even though I keep my palette simple to begin with (white, cadmium yellow, naples yellow, yellow ochre, cadmium red, permanent rose, cobalt blue and black), there are subtle sways between the primaries in almost any colour you see in front of you. Mixing with a brush is not always effective and we don't mix enough paint. Premixing also tends to get one 'into the mood' because it is a tactile experience on all levels. It also gives you a chance to think before plunging in.

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