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    The Uses of Underpaintings (as explained by Ilaekae and Jason Manly)

    Ok, so I am working on my acrylic/oil painting skills. Up until now I have been practicing simply apply my paint to the surface. Sometimes all go all wild and crazy and tone the ground first. In class today, we started talking about and doing under paintings. I'm really not sure I understand what the concept of the underpainting is for. I was reading a "Painting like the old Masters" book in Barnes and Noble and I see for example, if the artist is doing a nude painting, he/she would underpaint the flesh tone areas grey with all of the values being applied in values of grey. I have seen portraits that are more reddish when completed started with a green underpainting and the painting of a pheasant that I was doing in class was recommended to be underpainted in purple because the bird was burgandy with golden yellow areas as the dominant colors. I don't understand why. Can someone explain it, or at least answer these questions?

    1. If an underpainting is done in the compliment of the end point color, how does that help?
    2. Doesn't the top layer of paint cover over the underpainting and effectively nullify it?
    3. Why would grey be used as the underpaint instead of the compliment.
    4. Should only the subject and focal points be underpainted with the designated color or should the entire piece be washed with the color as well.

    Help. I'm just not getting it.

    Last edited by MarkHarchar; March 23rd, 2006 at 08:39 AM.
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  3. #2
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    Underpainting is essentially a technique to organize the painting process or arrive at another technique (luminous lighting via glazing).

    It's like using construction lines when drawing or having a loose sketch before you do a tight overlay drawing. You take care one bit of the painting process at the beginning (values, light-shadow relationships, etc.) so you could worry about other things after that (what paints to use, color mixing, how loose or tight would you stroke details, etc.).

    You don't have to use this technique it if doesn't really benefit what you're trying to paint (i.e., you have a photo ref that already indicates how values relate to each other).

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  4. #3
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    Underpainting is an extremely complex subject because there are many reasons for it. The results desired determine the why/way it's done.

    If you can give me a day or two, I can get a few samples together as a kind of tutorial to give a better idea of how and why it's done and post 'em here.

    Basically, there are a number of ways an underpainting is done...

    1. A value painting is done in grays or another "neutral" color like umber, bluish violet or whatever. This is extremely accurate except for being in a funny color. Then glazes are layered onto the piece to build up the real and final color. It's not unusual to have 200-300 seperate applications of glazes in a complex piece.

    2. A value painting is done as above, but in the primary complementary color of the piece. For example, if the piece is a sunny city scene with a lot of sun-drenched yellowish buildings, the underpainting would be in deep purple. A greenish outdoor scene would require a red underpainting, and a flaming warthog from hell would require green. The initial glazes would form a luminescent neutral shadow system, and the final strokes would usually be applied more opaquely.

    3. In dry brush, especially on a rough painting surface, the initial sketch is blocked in with fairly bright areas of color that are complementary to the final colors desired. The painting is then done rather opaquely and "roughly"--with lots of underpaint spots showing through. This make the painting "sparkle" a bit because the all the areas have complementary spots throughtout--blue sky has orange spots, grass has red undernearth, sunny people have bright lavendar and purple spots, etc. In this case, the underpainting isn't necessarily as accurate as the drawing under the above two examples.

    4. A much more extreme version of Number 3 above. This is close to the Pointellist and extreme Impressionist methodology. The final paint is applied rather opaguely, or in layers that gradually get more opaque, but the strong complementaries underneath are left highly exposed to interact with the final colors on top. The visual mixing of these spots can be controlled to give a lot of depth to the painting, creating imagined OPTICAL colors rather than true mixed shades of various real colors.

    5. an underpainting can be done as a mid tone, as if you were working on a strongly toned paper with charcoal and white chalk. A layer of paint is put done with the image accurately depicted as a kind of ghosty image. This would approximate the middle tones of the final piece. then darks and lights are applied sparingly to create the final piece. Nice way to do the human figure.

    I could probably come up with anther ten examples if I sat and thought about it. Basically, you're trying to save time or increase visual depth by playing color off color, or building color on color.

    In the early days of illustration (maxfield parrish era), color seperations were so primitive that the artists actuall layered their colors on as glazes of black, cyan, yellow and magenta so they wouldn't accidently create a color that the sep camera couldn't "see." That why these old illustrations look so "old" or saturated.

    At one time, illustrations were actually done as seperations in place on four different registered surfaces. ALL (repeat--ALL) the art was executed in black and shades of gray, one for each of the CMYK seps. The artist had to know mentally where the appropriate black or gray value had to be in order for the final piece to come out right. (It is now time for everybody here under the age of fifty to go "HOLY SHIT!," "HOLY FUCK!," or some other appropriate comment...). To get a real grasp of how this works, take one of your color pieces in photoshop and go to channels. What you see is a stack of four black/gray drawings that make up the final full color art you've done. This is after the fact in photoshop, but imagine having to do what you see in the channels in order TO GET YOUR FINAL PIECE...

    heeheehee

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    Please do that tutorial Ilaekae! I had been wondering about this too and your explanation clarified alot, but seeing it in pictures would be even better.

    -hal
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    Ilaekae,
    Thank you my friend for the extremely in depth explanation. I will need to read those over a couple more times to really get the grasp, but It is starting to become clear. If you would be so kind, I would appreciate the tutorial that you eluded to and I can wait until you have time to gather and arrange it. I seem to be better at getting the explanation first, processing it and then applying it to an example as opposed to the other way around, which is what is happening in class. The synapses just aren't firing the right way as I'm stand there painting a purple chicken.

    Thanks all for the responses and I (al well as others) eagerly await your tutorial!

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    But what's the point of an underpainting with the main complimentary color? i have seen it done... will it make the end result richer?

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    I think we should give Ilaekae a medal or something. Thanks for that info.


    Oh, and CMYK steps? HOLY SHIT!

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    Gringoloco, the underpainting definitely makes the piece more luminescent. The interaction of the underpainting with the transparent/translucent glazes allows light to penetrate to the base color, so when it reflects back, it's a much more vibrant and exciting mix than just plunking down a solid mechanically mixed color.

    Here's an experiment that anybody can try really fast...

    Rough pencil a bunch of 2" squares on some board. Fill two with a solid bright green, another two with a deeper darker green, and another with a washy slap of a bright green so there are obvious brush strokes showing.

    Make sure everything drys.

    On one of the solid bright greens, wack on some cad red med or something similar (bright red) as if you were doing a water color. Use a lot of med so its fairly transparent in some spots.

    On the second bright green square, make up some OPAQUE bright red and using a small brush, cover about 85-90% of the green with a random pattern of daubs of red. You want to end up with a red square with just touches of exposed green showing through.

    Do exactly the same thing to the two squares with the much darker green in them.

    On the fifth washy-looking green square, take your transparent glaze of red and cover the entire square with red in a washy manner, just as you did to the underpainting.

    When these all dry, take a good look at them. You will see a completely different effect with each, and if you squint, you'll start to see various little bits that surprise you. The fifth square may seem to vibrate a bit in some areas, and you'll notice areas that are more red, areas that are more green, and areas that are just wierd color. When you squint at this one, you should see a lot more luminosity and depth to the colors. This is the primary benefit of underpainting over solid color. It makes your brain work, which makes the viewing of the art more pleasurable.

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    I did that experiment. Here's the image link. I used gouache cause I didn't wanna have to wait two days for my oils to dry. And maybe that's where I went wrong cause I don't see the effects you said I was going to see... The square that looks best to me is the top left one, but the only difference I see in that one compared to the square with no underpaint at all is that the first one is darker. Maybe I oughta try this in oils instead.

    -hal
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  11. #10
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    Boogie, gouache is opaque by nature. You need to use something that will allow transparent glazes like acrylics. You can use the gouache for the underpainting but not the overpainting unless you want totally opaque results. I'm right in the middle of something right now, but if you give me two days, I'll get a demonstration together for you and post it in here...sorry to make you wait...but it will be a lot easier to see than to describe it verbally...

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    Quote Originally Posted by Boogieman
    I used gouache cause I didn't wanna have to wait two days for my oils to dry. And maybe that's where I went wrong cause I don't see the effects you said I was going to see...Maybe I oughta try this in oils instead.
    Bingo.


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    N 36...

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    you can use the new water oils. they dry in an hour or so.

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