In praise of underpaintings…

I think I’m going to stop talking about underpaintings. It’s a most misunderstood term. Everyone talks about underpaintings and of course, normally, no-one really wants to do them. Let’s cut to the chase: it’s bad enough going though all the rigmarole of preparation, without yet another preparatory step. For many, it’s never mind the @#$%?? underpainting,  I’m going to….. PAINT!

The underpainting is where much of my art is and then finishing is often the more routine stage. The underpainting is where I establish the composition, work though the value equations and evolve my ideas. It’s where I often have that Eureka! moment, when the painting starts talking to me and I learn where it’s taking me. I’m known as a bit of a colourist, but I actually evolve the image in a very limited palette, applying colour on already established values. It’s difficult to deal with colour and value at the same time and adding colour is never a substitute for a lack in the value department.

So I need better terminology. Terminology that conveys a sense that this is where the action is, where major battles are won or lost. Perhaps I’ll start talking about “foundation-painting” and “overpainting”.

We painters all slave away for future credit. So, no matter what it’s called, spend a little more time on the foundations and your paintings will take care of themselves!


4 thoughts on “In praise of underpaintings…

  1. David, What an exciting entry! Yes, I agree. I don’t have much experience as a painter but I remember taking a painting class with Susan Ashbrook and there I learned about what you’re saying about the value of having an underpainting. For me it’s the step after the sketch were your subject matter really begins to emerge from the paper or canvas… or begins to emerge from the darkness… I can really relate to your ah-ha moment being at this stage because here your painting has the ability to become anything you want it to be… a faithful rendition or some more… thanks for great food for thought. When I get back to painting seriously, I’ll keep this importance of this stage in mind.

    • Many Thanks Michelle,
      I’m glad the idea of value resonates. One of the reasons most painters paint is to use colour and it’s difficult to hold back at the start! Talking about sketching, a preliminary value sketch is an excellent preliminary step for any painting… and a great way of applying your drawing skills for a foray into painting!

  2. David
    Thanks for you insightful postings. I read them regularly although tend not to respond. Just want to let you know that I and likely many others on your list do read and benefit from your thoughts while not acknowledging that we have done so. Just thought I would this time.
    Don Parkinson

    • Great to hear from you Don,
      Your feedback is very much appreciated and I’m really glad that you’re getting something out of the blog. I’m finding it a blast. Thanks again for the encouragement!

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