Friday, March 22, 2013

Importance of a Solid Underpainting

When young artists ask me for advice on painting, the first thing I always tell them is to practice drawing. The second is usually about the importance of patience and the understanding that good paintings take time. Like drawing, a good underpainting is another fundamental building block upon which everything else can be built. When I first started painting, I couldn't conceive any good reason to take the time to paint something only to paint over it again. It seemed redundant, but I was young and had little understanding of how paint works.
Of course it helps to know what you want to accomplish before ever putting down a single dob of paint.

90 minute acrylc underpainting
The small barn owl study featured here (6x8) is a terrific example using a thin underpainting to guide a piece in the desired direction. The purpose for this study is to accurately convey the essence of warm morning sun on the owl's back and head, while capturing the glow filtering through its wing. I want to have a few areas of radiance, especially around the head and upper edge of the wing. It helps to establish those warm tones now, rather than try to put them in later over a dark background. It's not impossible, but much easier to take care of it right at the get-go. This is also the perfect time to assess any drawing problems and correct them.
From here, the tones are close and the rough shapes seem to read pretty well. Now I can start refining with subsequent paint layers and much thicker paint.
Now all I have to do is finish it without screwing it up! Stay tuned.

No comments: