View Full Version : Underpainting test (a lot of images!) and painting method

09-26-2013, 06:51 AM
I posted this in the Oil Forum as well, but could be of interest for people interested in color theory and mixing too.

I've been working on finding the best (for me!) method for building up layers. I wanted to find the easiest, most economical way to achieve the effects I want in my end result. So I set up a systematic test, using two variations of four methods for six colors (yellow, red, blue, green, flesh, gray), so I could see their effects side by side. (These are of course not all possibilities for underpaintings. I disgarded many I considered inappropriate for my way of painting or those I've tried before and didn't like, so please note that this is not an exhaustive list.) I figured that perhaps some of you here would find this useful as well.

The test


The methods:

a - In the underpainting I just painted the shadows, using the white of the board to create the lighter tones. The shadows where painted in their final values. Over this, I painted the halftones and lights in opaque paints.
b - Same as "a", but this time I used white to create the lighter tones.
c - I used an orangy wash (mix of raw sienna and venetian red) and wiped out the light parts and strengthened the shadow parts somewhat, but a whole lot lighter than their final values. Over this I painted the shadows in transparant paints (see below for colors used for shadows) and the halftones and shadows in more opaque paints (the lighter, the opaquer).
d - I used an even local color. No modelling whatsoever. Over this I painted just like in "c".

1- Starting on toned (dull yellow) panel.
2- Starting on white panel.

Because an image explains it better, the underpaintings (I forgot to take a picture before I began overpainting, so the most of the yellow spheres are already overpainted and ignore codes written in pencil):


Results in detail


For the underpaintings I used underpainting white, raw sienna, venetian red, burnt umber, prussian blue and permanent carmine, which are all quick drying pigments. These colors, apart from venetian red (and white of course), are also transparant, which is a quality I want in my underpainting, because I want to keep my shadows (not all of my darks per se!) as transparant as posible. With this limited palette, I can mix quite a large range of beautiful, deep darks.


The results were somewhat surprising to me. That's a good thing, because it means I haven't wasted my time with this test.
The differences aren't as big as I had expected. The overall impression is pretty much the same, it's mainly a matter of nuances, but important ones. The dull yellow wash doesn't add too much to the end result, IMO.
I would have thought that method a or b would give the best results, but I liked c and d better. I like the shimmering through of the oranges of method c. C is also the easiest and most fun, to me. In "a" it's very difficult to get a nice gradation.
Method c gives a very pleasant, lively transparancy and a warm glow. Especially useful for skintones. I think the white background in "c" looks nicer as well. Method d gives a very solid look, albeit a bit "dead". Useful perhaps in some occasions.Conclusion

From this test and from my experience gained so far with painting, I've come up with the following painting method. It's sort of a mix of method b and c (b for the lights and halftones, c for the shadows).

Step 1: I tone the board with a mixture of raw sienna and venetian red. I paint the underdrawing unto this, while still wet, then wipe out the lightest parts, to create form and paint in the occlusion shadows in their final values (I want these to lie deepest in the paint layers, for added sense of depth). Step 2: I begin painting the shadows with raw sienna, venetian red, burnt umber, prussian blue and carmine, keeping the shadows as transparant as possible. I then start laying in the halftones, with the same colors plus underpainting white and finally the lightest parts. Everything will now be (more or less) in its final values. The shadows will (more or less) have their final colors. The halftones and lights will be, due to the very limited palette of mainly earths, in grayed versions of the final colors. Grayed versions of warm colors will be cooler than their final colors, grayed versions of cool colors will be warmer than their final colors. Parts of the painting that aren't focal areas, will be mainly left in this stage. The focal areas will be embellished and enlivened in step 3, automatically creating color hierarchy.

Step 3: I finish the halftones and lights in the focal areas with their final, more saturated colors, making sure I let the second layer show through here and there. Because the final colors are painted over grayer versions of themselves, the final colors will shine and because of the temperature differences, there will be automatic temperature variations, creating visual interest. It's very important (and still somewhat difficult, I find) to paint the final colors in the same values as the colors in the second layer. If necessary I will adjust, deepen or enlive the shadow areas with glazes.

Step 4: Add the final details and highlights, small corrections and necessary glazes.

I feel that this method is a very practical, rational and economical way of painting to achieve the effects I'm after. I hope this information is useful to others as well.

09-30-2013, 01:45 AM
Interesting painting methods. All of the colors and techniques look good, depending on what type of style you're going for.

09-30-2013, 05:25 AM
Hi, 0chre!

You said your tests were similar. I suppose the reason they are similar is that you may have tried to compensate the underpainting and reach the colors you wanted.

If you want your underpainting to have any effect on your painting, you must allow it to show through either by using transparent pigments or by diluting opaque ones into a medium.

I hope this helps!

09-30-2013, 11:21 AM
Interesting painting methods. Method a is sort of how Rembrandt (and many 17th century painters with him) painted, but with more colors. Rembrandt would have used only earths/browns, but I like more color in my shadows. (See here (http://www.wetcanvas.com/forums/showpost.php?p=13871859&postcount=9).) Method b is a just a variation of method a.

D comes close to the way Alma-Tadema and Gérôme would have built up their layers. Judging from their unfinished paintings they used local colors to block in their sketches. There are some differences between them though:

Gérôme seemed to have prefered a yellowish toned canvas to start (like "1") and did some modelling in this stage.

Alma-Tadema a white one (like "2") and did almost no modelling in this stage.
Although he seems to have used method c (sort of) as well, some times, but without the wiping out the light parts.

Method c seems to have been quite common among 19th century painters, although many probably didn't wipe out the lights:

I do like to wipe out the light parts though, because it gives me a better idea of what the final painting will look like, which motivates me. Other than that it doesn't have a real purpose. A more or less even layer of "orange" would do just as well, since the light parts will be mostly covered by opaque paints anyway.

I'm not sure 19th century painters used grayed down versions of the final colors in their second layer for the halftones and lights. I haven't seen any evidence for this yet. I think that this addition is very useful for achieving color hierarchy and interesting and subtle temperature variations almost automatically as well as for creating brighter, more sparkling colors without having to use very saturated colors.

I suppose the reason they are similar is that you may have tried to compensate the underpainting and reach the colors you wanted.The goalwas to have the same colors in the end, so I could directly compare the effects of the underpainting. Since the underpainting methods were not very dissimilar, it's kind of logical that there wasn't much difference in the end results, but I had expected them to be somewhat more different for some reason (maybe the wish was father to the thought here).

The end result are, however, different enough (especially in the more transparant shadows and halftones) to have a preference, even though these differences are subtle (see images in first post).

09-30-2013, 04:24 PM
Hi 0chre!

Indeed, the results are subtle, and I couldn't tell if they were because of photograph differences (different color correction, different white balance, saturation, etc) or because the painting itself was different. However, I'm sure that if you paint opaque enough, you could overpaint the underlayers, negating partially or totally their effect.

10-01-2013, 04:23 AM
However, I'm sure that if you paint opaque enough, you could overpaint the underlayers, negating partially or totally their effect.Yes, this is true. You can negate their effect completely, indeed. I see this being done by many painters. I think that it's best to use opaque paints for your lights and more transparant ones in your shadows and halftones. The differences in my test are therefore most visible in the darks.

Linda Navroth
12-06-2013, 06:15 PM
This is a great exercise! I bookmarked it.
And it gave me an idea of how to approach testing some glazing formulas I want to try.

12-08-2013, 09:02 AM
Thanks, I'm glad it was useful to you!

11-27-2017, 02:06 AM
Thank you. :)

11-28-2017, 09:59 AM
Seems like it was ages ago that I did this... But you're very welcome! :)