When folks come to the studio to watch me work, they are aways surprised at the amount of time I spend preparing to paint. In fact, the first day of a new project rarely involves any oil painting at all.
Invariably, a bored visitor or student finally asks, “why do you spend so much time on the underpainting when you are just going to cover it up with the oil paint?”
Well, that’s a really good question! One which I will attempt to answer here in words and pictures. I think this is a subject that will matter to my collectors, and also have value to my artist friends.
Folks really want to see me splash down all that crazy color, but much like building a house, the foundation is what really determines the quality of the finished product. This is very true with a work of art.
The Venetian Masters had a method of painting colors “hot over cold, cold over hot”, and that technique starts beneath the oil paint as well. I typically paint a semi-bright red acrylic paint underneath all of my skies because I want the “hot” red underneath the “cold” blues. It is what really makes the colors “pop”, as they say.
In this example, I underpainted the buildings in black with yellow outlining light areas.
The black served to “mute” the tones of the oils a bit, dropping the buildings into the background, even though they are heavily detailed. The yellow served to age the white sills and provide reference for keeping things in perspective.
The red is what makes the color of the water really jump off the canvas, and the white makes the figure almost glow in the center focal point. When I debuted this piece at the Peanut Gallery, everyone’s eye was really drawn to the glowing, ghostly figure in the middle. The feedback was tremendous.
In truth, it is not always hot over cold, cold over hot (depending on the desired result) but you can certainly see the effect it has when it is. The color of the water really stands out, and the boat is able to hold court with the figure, which was essential to the meaning of the piece.
In addition to the effect it can have on the finished color on top, underpainting can often BE the color on top as well.
In this example you can clearly see the red tinting through the building on the left.
You can also see the impact the yellow underpaint has on the yellow bridge, compared to the red under the parts of the bridge in shadow. The yellow of the bridge itself has a bit of a glow to it, while the stairs next to it are more subdued. It also contributes to that feeling of depth in the scene.
The yellow behind the white walls of the building added to the “flat”, aged look of the building, and also shows through in various places to give it a textured, worn look.
The red behind the water perks up that cool color, drawing the eye to a “resting place”.
You can see here, that as I applied the white glazes to the building, the underpainted colors remained visible. In the finished image on the right you can still see areas where those hues “peeked” through and added to the overall texture and weathering of the building.
Finally, another great reason for the underpainting is to guide you in color selection and placement of objects. This is especially true with portraits, where all elements must be precisely placed. A good underpainting results in a good finished portrait, and well chosen colors contribute to matching the flesh tones accurately.
I hope you found this story interesting and insightful.
I also hope it demonstrates to my collectors that there is much more thought and preparation that goes into your masterpiece, and a lot less “splashing” of colors onto a blank canvas.
My commitment is to build the foundation needed to create a work of art that is meaningful and inspirational to you. One that captures your interest every time you stop to gaze at it.
If you have questions, you can reach me at [eeb_content]720-670-8820[/eeb_content],
or [eeb_email email=”firstname.lastname@example.org?subject=Email from DavidFedeli.com” display=”Email me”].