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Thursday, September 10, 2015

A Foolproof Way to Choose Underpainting Colors for Your Paintings

'Meadow Dreams'          18x24              pastel with pink underpainting             ©Karen Margulis
purchase painting on etsy $350
 You've probably heard it before. There is no right or wrong choice when it comes to selecting underpainting colors. That is both comforting and scary at the same time! Imagine facing that big piece of blank paper. It is waiting for you to get started. You need to put down something....but what?  You can't really make a wrong color choice.....or can you?

I have learned through a lot of trial and error that while there is no right or wrong color choice for underpaintings....the colors you choose do have an impact of the final painting. Color choice does matter. It effects how the subsequent layers appear. It can change the whole mood and tone of the painting.

After many many paintings I find that underpainting color choices have become fairly intuitive. But sometimes I just want to be sure without making a big commitment of paper. 
I don't want to experiment with color choices on a good piece of paper! So I resort to a foolproof method....taking color notes.


The plans for my poppy meadow series

Color notes for the paintings. Top colors are final layer choices. 


Color Notes are quick and easy to do. It is just a matter of trying out potential color choices on a small piece of scrap paper. It is so much easier to see a variety of choices together. You can then choose the color combination that best suits your goal for the painting.  Here are some tips:


  • Use the same type and color paper for both the color notes and the painting. The colors will look different on other papers so this is important!
  • There are three parts to taking the notes....part one: choose the underpainting colors and make some small squares. Part two: choose the colors that you might use for the final layers (often the local colors) Part three: Make the underpainitng squares again and this time lightly layer the final layer color on top. Now you can see and judge how the colors work together.
  • Often I like to keep things simple when choosing underpainting colors and select ONE color with FOUR values of the color. So my color notes include a dark, light, middle dark and middle light values. I used this method on all three poppy meadow paintings.
This is a foolproof way of choosing underpainting colors because you can see the results of your color choices on a small scale with little effort and expense. You can quickly try many combinations without wasting your good paper on experiments. You do your 'what ifs' on scrap paper!


'Wandering Through the Poppies'               18x24               pastel with purple underpainting     IAPS demo    
 available $350
'Poppy Walk'                15x21             pastel with yellow underpainting             available  $250
The three paintings shown in today's blog are the result of using Color Notes in the planning stage. Each painting was done using the same colors. The Underpainting colors are the only thing that is different for each one. I was able to judge my results with the small notes before I committed to the big piece of paper. You can see that each underpainting choice resulted in a sublet but different feel to each painting. All paintings on Uart 500 with a mix of Mount Vision and Terry Ludwig pastels.

3 comments:

Alejandra Gos said...

this is super useful, thanks Karen!

robertsloan2art said...

Interesting method! I don't always do preliminaries but I like your way of doing it!

tres said...

Very helpful. I'm staring at this big blank, scary piece of sanded paper now!!! Lol. Really!