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​Working with Under-Paintings for Harmony

Posted by Neadeen Masters, CDA on 22nd Apr 2016

Under-Paintings for Color Harmony

Under-Paintings for Color Harmony

Some artists deliberately allow the under-painting to show through the final painting. When colors of the under-painting show in the final painting, they help tie the colors together.

In the painting on the right, the warm earth tone under-painting can be seen in several of the shadowed areas. look closely at the cushions,bottom of the dress, the face, the wall and background.

The artist then added cooler yellow hues, cool grays and white for temperature contrast and balance. The obvious exposed under-painting gives the painting interest and creates color harmony.

Painting - Young Woman, by Jeans Honore Fragonard - French -1776

Different Colors of Under-Paintings Create Different Effects

- Yellow Hues

Using an acrylic Yellow Oxide pigment as the under-painting for the Red Macaw bird class featured in the graphic below, I was able to achieve several goals with this one color.

- Create overall color harmony with a warm earth color.

- Create the three dimensional form of the bird using differing degrees of opaque applications using the same pigment.

- Create a colored under painting to make the subsequent transparent red glaze of the finished bird appear more brilliant and translucent. This layering method works well for several other subjects.

                         Under-Paintings for Color Harmony by Neadeen Masters

Under-paintings help Solve Composition Problems

As you continue to learn about the diversity of the under painting process, you'll discover its broader use across the painting world. The various color preferences and their appeal, how some artists draw on the techniques of the Old Dutch Masters, who use the under-painting along with additional gray layers to create wonderful optical effects. 

When transparent color glazes are finally applied the results are stunning. Personally, I have used several of these techniques, modifying them for different subjects and results. From painting landscapes to wildlife, the under painting is an important and useful foundation to build upon.

                             Under-Paintings for Color Harmony

Under-Paintings Used in Landscape Painting

In the landscape painting shown above, the umber under-painting will set the tone and mood of the final painting. On close observation, one can see the beginnings of the gray layers applied to the sheep, the woman and the roof of the cottage on the left. This gray layers will support the various values of the transparent color glazes to come.

In Floral Painting: Under-paintings are often used when painting floral compositions. Creating the translucency of flower petals can be a challenge, the under-painting helps to develop form and establish correct value placement without the complications of color applications.

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