This month, we will be looking at how you can take small steps to improve your painting. Underpainting is a technique in which you apply a thin coat of paint to the material and build up your painting slowly through thinned paint, moving from thinned to thick paint. This process is quite simple but can massively help you in shaping your painting and getting more accurate colours. I have tried this on a vase and flowers, let’s see how it goes!
What I have done here is mix Burnt Umber with paint thinner, turning it almost to pure water. I then applied the mixture over the oil paper that I am using. Why do this? Well firstly, it allows you to get a better idea of colour. If you are painting from a white canvas, sometimes it can be difficult to understand dark colours because of how bright the surface is. You can do it in grey or brown; I personally prefer brown because it’s a common colour in painting so requires no colour mixing. I then map out my painting using pencil, as for me I find it easier and also better to cover up with paint.
The first thing you should paint on a painting, in my opinion, is the background. What does this do? Well, like the above, it gives a better idea of the lighter and darker tones of the background, and how you can shape the subject. I thinned down the paint here so that I can build up the painting; you want to go from thin paint to thickest paint, so if you make a mistake, you can easily go back and change it.
Once I had a rough idea of what part of the background is dark and what part is light, I then started to apply less and less paint thinner on the colours and gradually started to build up the layers. I wanted to do this so when I was working on the painting in later stages, I kept the lighting similar to make the painting look natural and not artificial. Once I was able to achieve that, I could then start looking at the subject.
Now for the subject, we are going to do the exact same thing. This is a term called blocking. Blocking is getting a rough idea for a subject without getting too detailed. If you get bogged down in detail, your painting can lose depth, as well as time! Squint your eyes and pick out the main colours. Thin the paint so that it’s just thicker than watercolour and apply the colours following this block in method. Don’t forget to stand back every so often to check your piece so that it’s roughly shaped as you would envision it at the finish.
The benefit of doing these underpaintings is that it allows you to learn about perspective and colour, whilst also giving you the chance to change or alter a particular part. Oil paint can be notoriously thick, but if you thin your paints down and build it up step by step, you can make changes before the paint gets too thick and you end up mixing the paint instead of creating separate, concrete layers. I continued to work on the subject working from top to bottom as to avoid any potential smudging.
As you can see here, I have started to go into more detail on the flower petals. They key to detail is in fact giving the illusion that the detail is there. The first step is to understand where the light is coming from, in this case its coming from the front and slightly to the right (indicated by the left petal in the bottom right flower). Therefore, I adjusted the flowers to achieve this notion. Once you are happy that your painting is shaped the way you like it, continue to apply thicker, smaller brushstrokes to build up that detail. The reason I underpaint is that it can often be quite daunting to start a painting, but see it like you are constructing a building: before you build, you design, lay out and eventually put in the foundations, so it starts to look like a house. Underpainting is a great way of learning and as you progress, you learn shortcuts and ways you can speed up your painting process!
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