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Friday, October 24, 2014

Creating a Mood with Underpainting Colors

'Another Peaceful Day'             9x12             pastel           ©Karen Margulis
 The possibilities are endless. I approach each blank piece of paper with eager anticipation. I feel empowered. I am about to create something from nothing. Hopefully it will be something compelling, or interesting or beautiful. It is up to me. I have the power to take a scene and create the mood I wish to express. And I don't have to be true to the scene. I can tweak it if I want.

I can make a landscape look bright and sunny. I can make it gray and moody. I can change the season or time of day. It's such a wonderful thing to be an artist!

There are many ways to create a mood in a painting but one of my favorite techniques is a simple four value underpainting. The mood is created by the colors that are selected for the underpainting.

color blocks to help evaluate underpainting colors
There is no right or wrong color to choose for the underpainting. Each choice will result in a different feeling to the painting because the underpainting colors will peek through the top layers. This will effect how the top layers will appear. For example warm colors underneath tend to create a sunnier, warmer feeling. How do we choose the underpainting colors?

  • Practice. The more we experiment and try different underpainting colors, the more intuitive our choices will become. Practice!!
  • Color Studies and Color Blocks are a quick way to judge how an underpainting color will appear. Choose a color and pick 4 values of the color. Make little blocks of color on a scrap piece of paper the same color as the paper you will paint on. Now choose the colors you might use for your top layers. Lightly layer the top colors over the underpainting blocks. Think of theses as quick test strips. It is better to try out colors in small blocks than experiment on your painting! ( I learned this great tip from Doug Dawson)
For the marsh painting in this post I wanted a moody, gray day feeling. When evaluating possible underpainting colors I decided the Red Violets gave me the mood I was after. I blocked in the painting with four values of Red Violet. You can see it peek through and unify the whole painting. 

TRY THIS: Cut 4-8 small pieces of paper.  4x6 or 5x7. Find a simple subject. Do at least 4 paintings using a different color for the underpainting in each study. Allow 15 minutes for each study. Compare your studies....what mood or feeling did each color create?


Sandi Graham Pastels said...

Thanks , Karen for this tip , I am doing this tomorrow and I know I'm going to learn a lot . I will do 4 5x7 and use the color block values similar to yours . Have a simple photo and see what I get. Very exciting study . I'll let you know how it went . Sandi

Catherine M said...

This is awesome. I am starting a large commissioned piece today and will try this before diving in! Thank you for sharing.

Tina said...

Thanks for the post today.
It remind me of all the pictures you have on your wall (saw them in the background in your youtube demonstrations) -same subject, but different colors .... can you tell a little more about them, please?

BJR said...

Awesome!!I LOVE your marsh paintings especially! This is beautiful!...

robertsloan2art said...

Oh wow! I usually do either complementary underpainting, literal same-color underpainting or Colourist underpainting (warms in light, colds in shadow, bright colors.)

Your approach is a great one. So much variety and so much control. Thank you so much for this article. I have to try it - some "Crazy" underpainting experiments I did once in a while that worked now make sense to me.

The painting is wonderful. I love the beauty and feel of it. Looks cold and damp! Sweater weather. Peaceful if you're healthy and outdoorsy and love the chill of autumn, got me wincing in pain but still loving the look and imagining being able to go out in that kind of weather. It's like my painting snowscapes, the sort of scene that makes me imagine painting it from a window.

Karen said...

Thanks everyone for taking the time to comment! I don't always have time to respnd but I enjoy each comment and I know everyone else enjoys the conversations! Keep commenting!!

Tina, Great idea for a blog topic. Those little 5x7 were part of a project I did...100 variations on one simple subject.