Underpainting in Oil and Acrylic

Each artist is aware of the intimidation of a clean white canvas staring again at them, and underpainting is the proper answer when deciding the place to begin. As a method first utilised by the Outdated Masters, it underpins Renaissance portray, and lies quietly beneath masterpieces. Some have thought-about these conventional strategies stifling, restrictive to the spontaneity that occurs on canvas with out a tight plan. However it’s necessary to think about that the definition of an underpainting is versatile and private. It may be so simple as a colored floor with just a few strains, or as complicated as a totally realised tonal research.



What’s Underpainting?

Merely put, underpainting is the primary layer of paint utilized under a completed portray, to present structural and tonal route to the start of the work. This preliminary layer may be utterly obscured or allowed to shine by way of relying on the artist’s intentions, and may be utilised in each oil and acrylic paints. Underpainting may be as temporary or sophisticated as you want — it’s about utilising it to greatest help your individual apply.



The Origins of Underpainting

Underpainting has existed since oil paints had been first utilized in European portray within the early 1400s. Jan Van Eyck is recognised as a pioneer within the alchemy of oil portray, and we will see him utilizing the primary examples of glazing in works resembling The Arnolfini Portrait in 1434.


The Arnolfini Portrait, 1434
Jan Van Eyck
Oil on oak panel of three vertical boards, 82.2 cm × 60 cm | 32.4 in × 23.6 in
Nationwide Gallery, London


From then on, it was adopted by the Masters of the Renaissance, and Titian is believed to have made a number of the first opaque tonal underpaintings, with softer, much less outlined edges to permit for invention exterior of the central motifs. It was embraced throughout Europe, by figures like Da Vinci, Rembrandt, and Rubens.

There are numerous names for the standard sorts of underpainting primarily based on the colors used. A brown underpainting is known as brunaille. A mix of black, white and yellow pigments leading to a greyish inexperienced or brown impartial tone was often called verdaccio, or the lifeless layer, because it does little to have an effect on the ultimate palette of the work. Grisaille is probably probably the most effectively often called it was utilized by the workshops of the Masters’ to copy the preparatory drawings they had been skilled to breed, in greys by way of to blacks.



Classical and Modern Strategies for Underpainting

Most underpaintings are monochromatic and start with a colored floor, which is color utilized as a good layer throughout the floor. The artist might omit or take away highlighted areas to permit the white beneath to point out by way of, giving the ultimate work a higher sense of sunshine and distinction. This primary stage is historically often called imprimatura. Subsequent the construction of the portray is blocked in, in more and more darker layers, and developed to the extent of element that the artist needs. On this instance I’ve painted the identical portrait with a Masters’ type underpainting, after which in a looser type I might use myself.




On high of a conventional underpainting, glazing was utilised so as to add color to the work. Glazing is the appliance of paint in skinny, clear or semi-transparent layers. When constructed up over purposes, it ends in a glowy, unified floor.

For the reason that pigments are utilized in separate layers and allowed to dry, they look like combined within the completed work to our eye, however are literally separate on a chemical degree.

For the reason that pigments are utilized in separate layers, they seem optically combined to our eye, however chemically should not. This makes for a really even, steady, sturdy floor.

Utilizing this methodology, underpainting remains to be very a lot a part of the portray, and shines by way of to the completed floor. This system doesn’t enable for a lot improvisation, so it’s best suited for pre-planned work.



This isn’t the one technique to utilise underpainting. Fully overlaying this primary layer and utilizing it merely as a placement information is a helpful methodology too. I discover {that a} mixture of each approaches provides the portray a dynamic end, with extra translucent areas paired with opaque ones. There are many work the place the unique underpainting is nothing just like the completed work, and I believe feeling the liberty to desert it utterly is typically mandatory. For the spontaneous artist, the underpainting may be seen as the start thought, earlier than the entire one emerges.





The Advantages of Underpainting

The advantages of underpainting ought to be felt primarily by the artist utilizing it, and be tailor-made to their private wants. It’s a very versatile approach and ought to be thought-about in broader phrases than the Outdated Masters methodology.

Permitting the underpainting to shine by way of to the completed floor can create a fascinating impact which might be unattainable to recreate by portray alla prima. Having a picture beneath or past the floor is solely not achievable as soon as the floor is made opaque with colors. On this sense underpainting will not be solely a instrument however a stylistic selection.



For these needing a flat, clean, completed floor, extremely rendered underpainting and glazing is the perfect approach to realize this. Even for the form of painter who relishes texture and brush marks, all paintings boils all the way down to composition, and underpainting is a key instrument for determining an excellent one earlier than committing to element.

Determining the tonal values in your work may be tough with a broad palette, so with the ability to block them out with one color earlier than starting makes the method a lot simpler.

Some artists will work out their composition on their floor as a line drawing with pencil or charcoal earlier than portray, and though this may be useful by way of management, typically these strains can present by way of, or combine along with your paint and boring it. I believe it’s necessary to not distinguish too closely between drawing and portray, and making use of paint as if it’s a line drawing makes for a helpful underpainting, with out the annoyance of muddying that may include dry media. Utilizing an underpainting doesn’t imply it needs to be painterly if this can be a concern.



Selecting a Color and Methodology

When selecting a color to your underpainting, it’s important to think about the content material of the work, the temper you’re hoping to convey, and the palette of the remainder of the work. The color chosen for the underpainting has an amazing influence on the ultimate work, even when it isn’t clearly left seen. Within the Masters custom, a brown or gray underpainting was utilised to be non-invasive to the ultimate work, and supply a flexible framework for vibrancy to be established later. These colors had been additionally probably the most reasonably priced of their time, so it made sense to make use of them for the bottom levels.

However the reverse strategy will also be taken, the place a vibrant color might instantly set up the route of the work. When envisioning the palette of your completed work, selecting a complementary color for the underpainting can add a variety of visible drama. For instance, many portrait artists paint on high of a inexperienced underpainting, in order that heat, reddish flesh tones bounce from it.

If excessive distinction isn’t what you need, selecting a similar color (subsequent to one another on the color wheel) to your underpainting often is the answer. This may be particularly helpful if you would like a harmonious end, and customarily makes for a calmer temper.





The temper of the completed portray should even be thought-about. In case you’re aiming for a sombre feeling, a chilly color will immediately chill all the colors you add on high — and vice versa for making a comforting, heat atmosphere.

A multi-colour underpainting may be helpful if you wish to reap the benefits of varied base colors on one floor. Favoured by the likes of Titian and Giotto, I discover this strategy to be very helpful in the event you’re sure in regards to the zones of color you need to set up. It additionally removes the issue of the underpainting doubtlessly dulling your later layers, after they’re solely supported by the identical or comparable pigment under. Nonetheless, that is one other methodology that may be restrictive in the event you change your thoughts in a while.



For any brightly colored underpainting, I’d recommend making a separate pattern take a look at of how your colors sit on high earlier than you begin. On some extremely chromatic colors, different colors can gray and look boring, so it’s necessary to check out your palette.


Underpainting in Oil

Underpainting in oil paint is extraordinarily forgivable, because the gradual drying time permits for adjusting, wiping away, and a a lot slower choice making course of. So as to add highlights again into the floor, you possibly can merely rub a rag with some solvent onto the world you want to lighten.





It’s necessary to recollect that you may solely apply oil on high of an oil underpainting, since making use of acrylic on high would finally crack and flake off as a result of acrylic doesn’t adhere to grease.

The combination of medium you’re portray with is essential in oil underpainting, so {that a} affordable drying time and adhesion to the floor occurs with out disturbing your earlier layers. Typically, oil underpaintings start with a a lot bigger proportion of solvent and a small quantity of oil. This makes the paint dry quicker, and fewer slick, in order that future layers will connect correctly.

Pre-mixed oil portray mediums might also be helpful for this goal, so long as you keep in mind the ‘fat-over-lean’ methodology. Because of this the preliminary layers of a portray ought to be ‘thinner’ (much less oily) than the later ones, making them ‘fatter’. In case you make an underpainting with an oil-heavy medium, it’ll take a very long time to the touch dry — doubtlessly weeks — and will slip and slide throughout this time. Even when dry it might have an excessive amount of sheen to carry future layers correctly. But when utilized correctly, an oil underpainting will make a sturdy base for a portray that may final. For my oil underpaintings seen right here, I used a combination of 1:6 linseed oil and turpentine.

When glazing oil on high of an oil underpainting, the earlier layer have to be dry earlier than you apply the following one, or the paint will shift, or might dry at completely different charges making it unstable. As I described above, you need to work ‘fat-over-lean’ when glazing too, so your remaining layers can have an elevated quantity of oil and due to this fact dry down with sheen.



It’s additionally necessary to pick out paints that aren’t opaque so that they don’t cowl your work, signified by an open sq. image on paint tubes. From left to proper, these Jackson’s Skilled Oil Paints are clear, semi-transparent, semi-opaque and opaque. I’d suggest sticking to the clear and semi-transparent colors for a refined, buildable impact.




Underpainting in Acrylic

An underpainting in acrylic can be utilized beneath acrylic or oil paint, and has a speedy drying time. This makes acrylic maybe probably the most versatile underpainting materials. Nonetheless, as soon as acrylic has dried down it’s unattainable to maneuver, not like oil may be with solvents. Attempting to lighten dried areas with water gained’t have any impact, so you will have to introduce white paint to any mistakenly darkened areas. This doesn’t give such a seamless impact because the white floor of the canvas displaying by way of, and will lead to undesirable ridges of texture. My recommendation can be to use the acrylic underpainting in skinny, watery layers, providing you with the power to nonetheless make corrections with little texture. Don’t fear an excessive amount of about errors or omissions in acrylic underpaintings, and deal with correcting them on the floor of the work.

With the ability to use acrylic paint beneath oils is advantageous, as you don’t have to fret about color leakage, lengthy drying time, or measuring solvent ratios. It’s my private favorite methodology so I can begin on the oil layers on the identical day.




Utilizing an acrylic underpainting for an acrylic portray can be useful. You may nonetheless set up some depth with washes in the event you’re engaged on canvas or board, although with out as deep of a end as oil glazing. I discover that abandoning the underpainting is simpler with acrylics, as they are often utilized to obscure your earlier work very simply with out bleeding by way of. I additionally get pleasure from utilizing an acrylic underpainting in a few of my drawings, or combined media items, as later making use of dry media is totally steady. That is particularly useful to be used on paper, and even when used subtly can provide work a brand new dynamism.






Underpainting in oil and acrylic is a flexible approach for every kind of painters. The advantages of conventional underpainting are skilled most by those that want to have a seamless completed portray floor. A flat, clear face to the portray may be exceptionally lovely, however it isn’t mandatory for all artists. In case you benefit from the texture and spontaneous construct up of paint, underpainting ought to be a instrument you employ to briefly assist your self assemble the portray, as a substitute of a guiding hand.

All painters ought to think about underpainting in oil and acrylic as a instrument they will select to make use of to their very own extent. Understanding the method and its advantages may be seen as a part of an issue fixing course of, somewhat than dictating the ultimate reply.



Additional Studying

Color Mixing: the Atmospheric High quality of Cool Color Palettes

How Oil Portray Mediums Work

Acrylic Portray for Learners – What You Have to Get Began

Every little thing You Have to Know About Oil Portray Paper


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