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Thursday, March 13, 2014

Watercolor Underpainting....Choosing Colors

'The Morning View'             8x8          pastel            ©Karen Margulis

It's the million dollar question!  What colors do we choose for a watercolor underpainting?  Actually, it doesn't matter what kind of underpainting we are doing....whether it be a pastel block-in or a wet media such as watercolor.....we have to pick colors.  But which ones?  It can be a bit scary. What if we choose the wrong colors?

There is good news and bad news.  The good news is there really is no such thing as the wrong color.  Any color that we put down in the underpainting will have an effect on how the pastel layers we add will look so some color choices will better than others in expressing our idea for the painting.  Cool colors will generally make a painting cool and moody and a warm underpainting will help a painting feel warm and sunny. 

Having an idea of what we want to achieve will help. But we can certainly work with any colors we put down so never be afraid of trying a color.

The bad news....there is no formula to help us know what color choices are better...there is no quick answer.  You just have to do lots of underpaintings until you start to see what works. Then your color choices will become more intuitive. Practice is fun though!

Watercolor underpainting on matboard with clear gesso 
In my daily painting practice I have done hundreds of underpaintings of all kinds. Choosing colors is easier than it used to be. I am not afraid to try different combinations of colors to see what might happen. I am not afraid of always getting it right.  A lot can be discovered by unexpected colors!  Here are a few ideas to get you started in underpainting practice:

  • Choose to underpaint with values rather than worry about color....make a value map
  • Use Complimentary colors...decide what your ending colors will be and choose the compliment for the underpainting colors.
  • Use bolder than usual colors....it is always easier to tone down a bright color than try to put it in on top of a lot of layers of pastel.
  • Use colors to help suggest depth....cooler in the distance and warmer in the foreground.
  • Use local color. There's nothing wrong with that! But try a bolder version of the local color to add some punch.
In my underpainting for today's painting I used a combination of the ideas above. I used bolder local colors with a value map.  Underpainting practice is a lot of fun and you never know what you might discover!

If you would like to learn more about watercolor underpainting and see lots of progress photos have a look at my latest pdf demo (available in my Etsy Shop)


Lorna Hunt said...

Thank you Karen, for all your timely tips! I'm working on under paintings now. Have you ever used En Plein Air Pro easel system? I want to get one, but would like to hear from a pro. first.

Kami said...

I really do like this painting. So soft with tiny strokes!!!

Karen said...

Thanks Lorna,
I don't have any experience with en plein air pro. If anyone does and cares to comment please do!!

farbvielfalt said...

What a vibrant painting, wonderful colour combinations!!!
And thank you for your tips you always share with us. Greetings from Germany, Alexandra