What is underpainting and should you employ it? I had the good fortune one time to watch a free gift dvd from a professional artist who demonstrated this technique in spades. It was in oils, and you may be wondering if this technique can apply to acrylics too.
It’s a technique utilized since the great Renaissance by all those old masters that helped set the tone for realism that pops on the canvas.
There are two different types of underpainting, one is called “imprimiatura” and involves a thin transparent layer applied to the canvas pre painting, that sets the tone for all of the other color tones and values.
Another method, called “grisaille” involves monochrome application of the layer, usually a neutral tone like dark brown or gray.
Now most of those great masters of the past worked in oils (remember, accrylics are mostly a post-war, 20th century invention) but that doesn’t mean you should write off this technique. In
fact, you should make full use of it, as it will set the tone for your work and subject matter to really shine through with all the different values and tones.
Subjects that benefit from underpainting include:
- Still lifes
- Some landscapes (depends on the level of detail)
I’ve made use of this technique and it makes a real difference.
You look at your canvas and it’s “bright” white….but its not always a natural white. In fact bright white is kind of stark, and one thing you want to avoid when you paint is stark colors. When you apply an under layer of a color tone, it will show through when you work on the main layer.
There’s a technique called “fat over lean”. No, it’s nothing to do with weight loss. It means that you apply the thin “lean” layer first, then the heavier application of color afterward.
I saw this one artists demonstrate this and it was astonishing, to say the least. It makes a big difference that will become apparent later when your subject matter begins to take shape.
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