Art Experiments – Underpainting and Colorstudies

As another installment in my sharing experiments with you all, I wanted to talk about underpainting and more color studies.

All painters are different. Some only use 1/2 layers of paint, doing detail from the start, while some build up over time with multiple layers.  Some draw out the entire thing first with a pencil while others attack the canvas with a brush from the start. These differences make us unique, individual artists and I find all the different ways you can approach a work fascinating.

For the longest time (mostly high school) I approached a blank canvas/paper with a pencil, making sure the whole composition was completely sketched out and precise. When I got to college I learned more about the process of building layers and with that came the idea of an underpainting.

A Google search brings up the definition of underpainting as “an initial layer of paint applied to a ground, which serves as a base for subsequent layers of paint. Underpaintings are often monochromatic and help to define colour values for later painting”.

This is how I learned it as well, always starting with a neutral color – in school this was usually yellow ochre – and then a quick sketch with paint just to get the shapes in. For me, this is something I find extremely helpful. I tend to do at least 2/3 layers of “sketching” before I really hit the details on the strokes and stitches.  My current works are no exception.

IMG_1876 IMG_1878

Both of these small paintings have 3 layers of paint on them, and yet are still in the very rough, sketchy stages. Either this is something I just have gotten into the habit of doing or if I’m afraid to start adding real detail. I think it’s a bit of both to be honest.

On a side note – another important aspect is how much Odorless Mineral Spirits and medium you add to your layers, but that is a whole other story for a whole other post.

Relating to the subject of underpainting is the idea of color and building it up. When working with layers, it’s always good to start a work with a more muted color palette and build up the brightness as you progress. For this body of work, I decided to work smaller and do several in the same composition with different lights. You can see my setup below.


Something I find really interesting is how the orange light (which is the same in both) tends to look brighter when paired with the green. There’s something about the green that tends to illuminate the orange more as well. I am also noticing specs of green within my purple study and specs of purple within my green study. Proof that a “green painting” doesn’t actually have to be all green.


It’s been a long time since I worked between two paintings as once (mostly due to the complexity of my setups and lights and not being able to change them out easily). With these, working between two is pretty simple – just changing out a bulb – and I am really learning a lot from it. Having both groups of paint on my palette is allowing me to really learn about color and where to place it within each work. Working small is also a new-ish adventure, but so far it seems to be going well.

I think sharing with everyone helps me think more about my ideas and processes, and I hope that you all enjoyed another glimpse inside my artistic mind. It’s Monday, which means we have a whole new week ahead of us. I hope I can finish these two up by the end of it.



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