Wednesday, March 27, 2013

How to Choose the Colors for an Underpainting



'Interpretation of a Marsh'           8x10          pastel         ©Karen Margulis
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You are ready to start your painting. You decide to do an underpainting of some kind....dry, wet...it doesn't really matter.  The next step is to choose the colors you will use for the underpainting.  This is probably the question I am most often asked ...."How do I know what colors to use for the underpainting?"

The Bad News.....there is no formula or 'right' colors.
The Good News..there is no formula or 'right' colors.

That isn't the answer most people want to hear.  For some of us it is thrilling to know we don't have any  rules  to follow.  For others it is downright scary.  There are many directions to take when it comes to choosing underpainting colors and all will give you different results. The only way you will know what   those results will be is to have experience with them.  The more underpaintings you do and the more you try different color approaches the easier it will be to make intuitive color choices.

I used four values of warm colors for my dry underpainting

closeup of details in the grasses

If you are adventurous with your underpainting color choices then you just never know where it may lead you. In today's painting for example, I chose 4 values of warm colors for the underpainting. I decided that I liked the yellow sky in the underpainting so instead of painting it blue as planned....I left it and it set the mood for an entirely different painting that I originally intended.

My advice.....play with your underpainting colors and don't get so hung up and picking the *right* colors. You will learn more from playing and seeing what happens!


So you see there is no quick answer or shortcut. It takes painting and trying different color combinations and gaining the experience with how they can work in a painting.  If you want to speed up this learning curve I recommend trying Richard McKinley's Underpainting exercise.  He shares the exercise in his book 'Pastel Pointers' (which is a must- have book)  Basically you do 8 or 9 small paintings using  different underpainting choices/toned surfaces.  It takes a bit of effort but it is well worth it!
Click here for more information and links to the exercise.


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