What is an Underpainting?

Hey guys! Happy Friday!

Today I wanted to share a little tutorial, well,more like a description, of the term “underpainting”. Maybe you’ve heard it before when reading painting lessons online or when watching video tutorials, but if you’re not quite sure what exactly an underpainting is, then this post is for you!

The definition of an underpainting is basically what it sounds like: it is a painting under your painting. The underpainting is the initial painting, usually done in monochrome, laid overtop of your ground, and serves as the starting point for your finished piece.

This is the painting I'm currently working on. While I've started to work on the background, you can see my ground colour (the turquoise) and my underpainting overtop (the brown).
This is the painting I’m currently working on. While I’ve started to work on the background, you can see my ground colour (the turquoise) and my underpainting overtop (the brown).

The underpainting is where you can lay out your tones, so when you start painting with colour, you already know where your darkest darks, midtones, and lights are going to be.  This saves you from having to think about it and lets you focus on your colour choices.

Underpaintings can vary in the amount of their rendering.  My underpainting above is fairly simplistic, just showing where the darkest parts are, and mapping out some midtones and details so they’re not lost when I start layering paint.  Other underpaintings can be full renditions of the finished painting: a fully rendered monochrome painting. The artist would then use multple layers of coloured glazes overtop this underpainting until the final colours are achieved.

What Colour Should I Paint my Underpainting?

Underpaintings are generally only one colour, and the different shades and tints of that colour are used to map out the various tones of the painting.  Grey is usually the most popular choice, as it is neutral.  This can also be altered to use warm greys or cool greys depending on the temperature you want your underpainting to be (you can choose to match your underpainting with the overal temperature of your finished piece, or you can contrast it…like using a warmer underpainting for a cool winter scene).

Brown is also a very popular choice, and is usually the colour I go with.  I like browns because they’re warm yet pretty neutral, so they’re easy to paint over but also nice to let show through a few layers for warmth.

I used Raw Umber for this underpainting.  You can see in her lashline the full power of the colour is used for the darks, while around her cheeks I thinned out the umber for a lighter shade, but only raw umber was used, no other colour.
I used Raw Umber for this underpainting. You can see in her lashline the full power of the colour is used for the darks, while around her cheeks I thinned out the umber for a lighter shade, but only raw umber was used, no other colour.

So hopefully this post was helpful, remember to keep your underpainting thin, as you are going to put thicker layers of paint overtop. Thanks for reading!

-Ashley <3

 

Never miss a new post!

Sign up to receive new blog posts instantly, delivered directly to your inbox. Usually this is about once per week (this is NOT the monthly Studio Notes email, this is simply every new blog post mailed directly to you :)

Leave a Comment :)