Wednesday, May 07, 2014

The Secret to Choosing Underpainting Colors

'Sunflowers 2'            5x7            pastel  (complementary underpainting)           ©Karen Margulis
available $50 here
It's like choosing the right wine.  Some wines go better with a dish than others. How do you know? How do you decide?  You can take someone else's advice but then you are taking a chance. Wouldn't it be better if you just knew...if you had experience with the wine and the dish you would be able to make an informed decision. Knowing what something tastes like is the key.  And that is the secret to underpaintings.  Really!

The more underpaintings you do and the more color combinations and paper colors you try...the more intuitive your choices will be.  Are you ready to be an Underpainting Connoisseur?  


You have to be motivated and willing to put in some time at the easel. You have to be ready to try new techniques and try different colors.  One of the very best exercises I ever did to expand my understanding of the possibilities of underpaintings is Richard McKinley's Underpainting Exercise. You can find it in his book 'Pastel Pointers' or on his blog here. I highly recommend doing this exercise.

I just did it for the second time along with my class of hard working artists. We chose simple subjects and painted small (5x7) After four hours we had finished 8 paintings based on the exercise. We did 4 wet underpaintings and chose 4 different paper colors. We used the same color palette for all of the paintings. (see my results below)

At the end of the session we discussed which underpainting/color choice we liked best. The answer was surprising!  I will share the answer with you tomorrow. Which version do you like best? Answer in the comments or on my facebook page.

value sensitive underpainting with alcohol wash

oil stain underpainting


watercolor underpainting with warm and cool

black paper

white paper

cool tone paper

warm tone paper


7 comments:

mi fasola said...

I like the warm tone paper, black paper, and alcohol wash. Of course they are all magnificent to say the least. I appreciate you sharing the info. I'll do some homework and share the results with you.

Sheila said...

I like the warm tones, which I would not have guessed. I usually lean towards cool tones. Thanks so much Karen for sharing this with us. All of these are wonderful, and it is great to see the differences lined up together :)

Adriana Guidi said...

Because of you I started doing underpaintings.Thank you so much !!
I love these studies,especially the black paper and warm tone.The alcohol and oil stain are nice too.

CAROL HOPPER -- A PAINTER'S JOURNAL said...

Black underpainting or black paper has a lot of dream to it and makes for consistent perfect framing...black. But I also love the white underpainting. It is so clean and pure. You won't be boxed in so having all techniques available is great and can be appropriately chosen for the painting.

Terri L. West said...

Watercolor underpainting with warm and cool and the big main one on top.

Beverly McAnulty said...

The alc
ohol was my favorite.

Michelle Wrighton said...

I like the oil stain and the warm tone paper.Great excercise to see how the underpainting affects essentially the same painting, thanks for this!