Another Approach / Experiment

Recently, Stephen Quiller introduced me to another angle in watermedia painting. I do not know why it hadn’t occurred to me before now because I use a similar approach in oil paintings frequently. That is the idea of coloring the ground on which the painter paints. In oil painting, or acrylics, orange is often used as an undercolor, letting that color peek through in non deliberate places. It can make for a very unusual spark of energy in an otherwise mundane subject.

In this case, I painted a very thin coat of diluted acrylic paint onto the paper and allowed it to completely dry. Then drew my image onto that orange paper and set about painting the painting using sometimes opaque pigments and sometimes transparent pigments. The results are startling!

Here I have included a landscape with a very dramatic oblique dominance and a brilliant orange underpainting. That orange shows through and helps much of the foliage in the (lower parts of the painting) glow. The opaque gouache used in the sky and a few other spots causes the transparent passages to sing out.

Also, as a class demonstration, the still life (number 103, I believe) was used as a subject. A calmer orange was used in this painting and grays employed to cause the oranges and blue violets to appeal more to the viewer. This piece was literally slapped together to show how the underpainting could be used. Later, line was used through the piece to deliver more texture and interest.

The nice part of doing this is that it sets a color harmony through the entire painting establishing a strong unity. Even subconsciously, we see the orange shining through other colors, which sets a close relationship between all the colors used in the painting. It is a very effective tool to build dominance and unity.
Sort of fun and spectacular at the same time, eh?

6 thoughts on “Another Approach / Experiment”

  1. Mike, I've been using underpaintings for years and agree that its a very effective technique for creating both vibrancy and unity in a painting. It's fun to experiment with different hues for the underpaintings as well. You can get some amazing effects. Good lesson!

  2. These are a couple of fun paintings. I love your color choices, especially in the still life. I also use an underpainting on all my works – mainly because I hate starting from white. Recently I've been experimenting with black gesso and love the results. Thanks for sharing these experiments and congratulations on them being successful works of art. -Don

  3. Thanks for the comments Kathy, Peggy and Don.

    I NOTICED something about this simple, even obvious idea . . . . I had never given the possbility of painting over ACRYLIC stained paper a single thought . . . . .actually I never ALLOWED the possbility to be considered or tried.

    The LESSON gained here, for me, was not the revelation of using underpainting, but realizing that I sometimes DISALLOW possible solutions without trying them or getting to the bottom of why it would, or would not, work. I have been shaking my head in disbelief about my idiotic refusal to consider ideas and prove their value (or not). It just goes to show: Assume nothing! Try everything!

  4. Never thought of underpainting watercolors!! even though I do it on every oil painting!

    Two very different yet very dynamic works!..Well done Mike!

    Happy New Year Bro! Can't believe we're starting yet another year of blogarticulating…..All the best to you and your family!

  5. Hi Mike, great results you got with the orange underpainting! I guess you don't tend to think about an underpainting in watercolor because we need the white of the paper since "we don't use white in traditional watercolor". When you allow yourself the addition of opaque paint, as you mentioned, then it changes all the format rules, and opens up more possibilities. I have often used a yellow base coat in watercolor portraits. Love the colors in this piece!

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