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Old 08-04-2009, 11:32 PM
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Lightbulb Underpainting Techniques - Demonstration Two -Woodland Phlox

This is the second in a series of explorations in underpainting techniques. In this demonstration I will produce a complete underpainting in monochrome, thus establishing a full tonal range and three dimensional form for later color glazes. The underpainting is done in a neutral grey, called a “Grisaille", or a cool greenish grey, referred to as a “Verdaccio.”



The Venetian Method:

First Image:

I start with a dry panel that was toned with an imprimatura of umber. And begin to sketch the image directly and thinly in umber. Paying attention to the outline and shadow patterns of the image. My paint is about the consistency of ink, and I will mainly use a soft hair brush. But a steel nib pen can be used to literally draw with the paint some of the finer lines of the contours. I worked this stage in two layers of umber. Refining and correcting until I felt the light and shadow pattern made visual sense and distinguished the most obvious contrast.

Second Image:

I begin working on the umber drawing with a mixture of black, white and ochre. Sort of a cold olive grey called a Verdaccio. Describing the effect of light and shade. I am building in layers opaquely, modeling the form and values to explain in more detail the light family, (planes on the image turned towards the source of light), and shadow family, (planes on the image turned away from the source of light).

Third Image:

Several painting sessions later I have my completed underpainting. I try to keep everything cool, neutral and in a mid tone range, saving the lightest lights and darkest darks for the color glazing step. At this stage the light, middle-tones, shadows, reflected lights and cast shadows should all be well refined. The high-lights will be applied at the end stage. Outside of that, this is the completed painting in monochrome.


Fourth Image: - WIP – Woodland Phlox – 8”x10”




After allowing the underpainting to dry completely I begin the color layers. It always amazes me how little pigment it takes at this stage to start getting some of those deep effects of depth and form. When glazing I will use three brushes, one to apply some medium very thinly to the underpainting in the area I will be working,(called a Couch) and wiping off the excess. Another to apply the paint into the couch and push the glaze around and a third brush to wipe out portions of the glaze. The glazes should have different levels to them, taking full advantage of the values in the underpainting, not applied like a varnish over a piece of wood. I continue building the layers keeping the shadows thin and transparent and the light becoming more and more opaque with scumbling, scumbling lightens up the dried layer, making it more opaque, where glazing darkens the tone of the color on top. I apply the highlight in opaque impasto to finish the piece, hopefully creating the illusion of three dimensional space I was looking for.

At this point I will leave the painting to dry for several days, returning later with a fresh eye to decide if this work is complete.

I have been very interested in understanding the method and procedures of the Old Masters, particularly in regards to their approach of underpainting. Both the Flemish and Venetian Schools, these artists, in a way unmatched for centuries, took an object, canvas or panel, that only has two dimensions, width and height, and gave it a third, …depth.
Not just linear depth but a true glowing internal illusion of space.
This depth gave them a means to truly express, in a masterfully beautiful way, anything they wished to say.
Their methods are certainly an artistic tradition worth investigating.

I have a little more info on my studio blog, and you can see the first post on underpainting techniques here on WetCanvas or here on line.

Hope this was of interest and thanks for looking.
C&C welcomed.
Enjoy Jim
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Old 08-05-2009, 01:14 PM
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Re: Underpainting Techniques - Demonstration Two -Woodland Phlox

Jim...thank you so much for these!! So much information! Beautifully executed too! Do you mind if I pop a copy in with the others?
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Old 08-07-2009, 08:54 AM
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Re: Underpainting Techniques - Demonstration Two -Woodland Phlox

Amazing, the care you take with the underpainting, I am engaged in trying the same thing, but am doing an animal portrait...trying the first stage as you did, but do not have it so detailed...it seems I have to learn to be more detailed, even at the start.
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Old 08-09-2009, 11:22 PM
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Re: Underpainting Techniques - Demonstration Two -Woodland Phlox

Hi irish,
The detail is really an illusion in the underpainting. Concentrate on shape, and value, keeping the edges soft. The grisaille should allow you to make many revision or corrections in it, why I think the Venetian painters were so fond of this method.
This is still a WIP and I am yet pondering the details on this piece, more highlights, and found edges ?
Anyway,..hope to see your latest work.
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Old 08-11-2009, 08:49 AM
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Re: Underpainting Techniques - Demonstration Two -Woodland Phlox

Quote:
Originally Posted by gaugin
Hi irish,
The detail is really an illusion in the underpainting. Concentrate on shape, and value, keeping the edges soft. The grisaille should allow you to make many revision or corrections in it, why I think the Venetian painters were so fond of this method.
This is still a WIP and I am yet pondering the details on this piece, more highlights, and found edges ?
Anyway,..hope to see your latest work.

My latest work is trying to do this the way you did, I finished the underpainting and am waiting for the drying period before starting the color glazes. Thanks for doing this......
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Old 08-13-2009, 02:46 AM
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Re: Underpainting Techniques - Demonstration Two -Woodland Phlox

I'm dying to find out how some of you set up your still life objects. Do you put them in a box and manipulate the lighting? If so, how? I'm stuck there and can't get going. Thanks.
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Old 08-17-2009, 03:40 PM
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Thumbs up Re: Underpainting Techniques - Demonstration Two -Woodland Phlox

I'm a newbie and found your fantastic workshop post. I went to the previous one and am ready to try your methods. Is there a way of using these without being on line? I have done watercolor underpaintings, but haven't touched acrylics or oils in decades.....I would like to try a couple of stills in both oils and acrylics. Did I miss which you used in these, I guessed oils?
I would love any of my work to be as good as your #2s or #3s!
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Old 08-18-2009, 08:31 PM
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Smile Re: Underpainting Techniques - Demonstration Two -Woodland Phlox

Quote:
Originally Posted by lastborn
I'm dying to find out how some of you set up your still life objects. Do you put them in a box and manipulate the lighting? If so, how? I'm stuck there and can't get going. Thanks.

Hi lastborn.
Sorry I missed your comment, but hey,.. better late than never.
I think the staging idea is the way to go. There is a very good article here in this forum by Ruth Cox that gives excellent basics and instruction.
Certainly worth a read.
North light is certainly the best way to go, but is not always possible in my studio or with my schedule. So artificially lighting is what I use the majority of the time.
I use a site size method in all my set ups, and lighting can be a big problem. I try for the same lighting on my subject as my canvas, I have lights clipped and hung all over the place, looks like some mad scientist experiment with different temperature lights and wattage.
And I guess that’s the key to it all, just start experimenting with it. And follow your artistic vision.
Hope I was of some help.
Thanks so much for your comment.
This is a picture of a current work and my set up.

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Old 08-18-2009, 08:52 PM
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Smile Re: Underpainting Techniques - Demonstration Two -Woodland Phlox

Quote:
Originally Posted by Kurlie
I'm a newbie and found your fantastic workshop post. I went to the previous one and am ready to try your methods. Is there a way of using these without being on line? I have done watercolor underpaintings, but haven't touched acrylics or oils in decades.....I would like to try a couple of stills in both oils and acrylics. Did I miss which you used in these, I guessed oils?
I would love any of my work to be as good as your #2s or #3s!


Hello Kurlie, and welcome to Wet Canvas.

You don’t know how much I appreciate your comments, I am just so glad that my post generated the interest in you to pursue doing a piece in this method.
Having done watercolors this process should be pretty easy for you.

I would suggest reading up on the Flemish and Venetian Methods, this article by the artist Elliot Virgil is worth a read.

The first piece “Spring Flowers” was my interpretation of the Flemish approach and the second piece “Woodland Phlox” is based on the Venetian method. The amount of detail in the underpainting certainly went through some revision and metamorphosis by these artists. And I am trying to understand their process and just how much of it I can use in my own art. I believe that I have improved by doing these studies and am working on the third installment based On Titian’s method.

There are several artist here on WC working with this classical approach, use the search at the top and you’ll find a wealth of information here by artist willing to share their knowledge and insight.
Definitely look at Mark Woodland ’s posts here, he is working in acrylic.
Or some of the pieces by Andreas Günter here on WC.

Again thanks so much for the comment, and I am ( we are ) happy to help in any way.
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Old 08-19-2009, 02:39 AM
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Re: Underpainting Techniques - Demonstration Two -Woodland Phlox

Quote:
Originally Posted by gaugin
I would suggest reading up on the Flemish and Venetian Methods, this article by the artist Elliot Virgil is worth a read.


Jim,

Good job on the still lifes.

I think it should be pointed out that the article you mentioned was an excerpt from an early draft of my book, which ended up with the title Traditional Oil Painting: Advanced Techniques and Concepts from the Renaissance to the Present, published in 2007 by Watson-Guptill Publications. I'm glad you appreciate the excerpt. I believe you'd find more information that might interest you in the book.

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Old 08-20-2009, 02:16 PM
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Exclamation Re: Underpainting Techniques - Demonstration Two -Woodland Phlox

Hello Virgil Elliott,
I have found a couple of articles by you online of great interest.
It is a privilege to have an artist and scholar of your reputation join in.
I probably have a thousand and one questions; however I won’t impose on you that.

I did go to your website and buy a copy of your book through Amazon.
Can not wait to get it, and I am sure it will answer many of my questions.
This thread is an exercise and learning experience, and comments and critique are welcome.
If you are inclined, your input and expertise would greatly appreciated.


Again thanks for the comment, look foreword to reading your book.
Jim
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Old 09-01-2009, 02:01 AM
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Re: Underpainting Techniques - Demonstration Two -Woodland Phlox

Thank you so much for sharing your technique and knowledge with all of us. I know many people who want to try this, but it is so intimidating, including me. I read everything I can get my hands on. I am particularly amazed that you did such a good job with flowers, which are so picky, unlike a big, fat grapefruit. Thanks again!
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Old 10-06-2009, 08:45 PM
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Lightbulb Re: Underpainting Techniques - Demonstration Two -Woodland Phlox

Hey Carolyn, I missed your comment here.
I've been following this thread in the Still Life Hall of Fame.....

( is that not cool this demo and the Spring Flower demonstration have been inducted. What a nice privilege, and greatly appreciated)

..... the truth is I find this approach much less intimidating than a alla-prima, direct approach. None of my oil sketches achieve this type of depth.
Give it a try, it really is easier than you may think.
Best Jim
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Old 10-08-2009, 01:10 AM
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Re: Underpainting Techniques - Demonstration Two -Woodland Phlox

Quote:
Originally Posted by gaugin
Hello Virgil Elliott,
I have found a couple of articles by you online of great interest.
It is a privilege to have an artist and scholar of your reputation join in.
I probably have a thousand and one questions; however I won’t impose on you that.

I did go to your website and buy a copy of your book through Amazon.
Can not wait to get it, and I am sure it will answer many of my questions.
This thread is an exercise and learning experience, and comments and critique are welcome.
If you are inclined, your input and expertise would greatly appreciated.


Again thanks for the comment, look foreword to reading your book.
Jim

Jim,

One thing about still lifes, if they contain any perishable subjects, is that there isn't time to do an underpainting and let it dry before going over it in color, because the flowers will die and lose their petals, the grapes will turn into raisins, things will rot, shrivel up, go moldy, etc. In those instances it's probably best to go for the full effect in one step, so you'll be able to observe your subjects directly while you paint them from start to finish. A photo is a poor substitute for directly observing something with your own eyes. Cameras and film are inferior to the human viewing apparatus, and cannot realistically be expected to give us everything that our own eyes will.

Of course we can replace a drooping flower with a new one of the same kind if we need to, and a bunch of shriveled grapes with fresh ones, and that's a good way to work, too. I think it's well for artists to be able to work in more than one way and still get good results.

Not criticizing your paintings, just making some general points on still life painting.

I often work with underpainting and overpainting myself, but not when I do a still life. Those, I will always paint directly in full color right from the beginning, working from direct observation the whole time.

Virgil Elliott
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Old 10-08-2009, 01:09 PM
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Lightbulb Re: Underpainting Techniques - Demonstration Two -Woodland Phlox

Hello Virgil.

I could not agree with your comments more.
These studies started with the Reluctant Gardner piece some time back.
Sort of a blending of my site-size and underpainting studies, and my indoctrination into the world of gardening by my fiancé.
So it has been a good synergy.
I've become flower and vegetable rich lately.
Keeping them on a small scale, simple design and with good references. They were nice studies to explore these techniques with.

The piece posted earlier in this thread with the pear crate has been very frustrating, I was doing it in the direct method.The Bartlett pears kept roting, so I replaced them with artificial ones, the plants keep shifting position. I just lost what it was that exactly inspired me to paint that set up, which pretty much sent it to the unfinished morgue.

For me it is about having and understanding a plan of attack to fit the subject in front of me. What method, approach would work best. Building up the tools in my toolbox, so that I can understand the language of our craft and apply them to my expression.

I spent over twenty years working as a scenic/pictorial artist, painting and illustrating from ad agency supplied photo sources. Although a great living, I truly believe it has warped my artistic eye. I could be a poster child for why not to use photographic material. So getting back to basics, like working from life and traditional techniques is of the greatest importance to me to develop as a artist.

And is why I am so impressed with your book. Many artists at your skill level would have used that format for self promotion. Instead you chose to write, and concentrate on principles, procedure, and aesthetics. Sharing your understanding of the work of the Great Masters. In your introduction you speak of attitudes, good and bad, with some very interesting insights.
Your book is a wonderful example of the right attitude from a dedicated artist.

Thanks again, I am really enjoying it, what a contribution you've made.
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