Recreations &Underpainting - Part 1

Webster's:  preliminary painting; especially : such painting done on a canvas or panel and covered completely or partially by the final layers of paint.

In other words, the Underpainting is the first coating of oil on the canvas.  This process becomes a roadmap to the execution of a painting.

What Underpainting IS:

  1. A start.
  2. A general, lean application of paint that gives us a guide for color.
  3. A way to establish volumes more than details.
  4. A means to an end, the foundation that for the most part will be covered by future coats of paint.
  5. A roadmap.

What Underpainting IS NOT:

  1. The final painting.
  2. The final colors as they will appear on the composition.
  3. The application of details.
  4. The actual painting. Something that is so perfect that it does not 
    need to be touched again.
  5. The destination.


With that understanding, let us dive right into it.  Our first example is a Re-creation of a Rembrandt self Portrait.  A re-creation is a copy of the original.  It should not be confused with a forgery.  A re-creation has the documentation of the name and date of the artist that painted it. In this part 1 we are going to show how to execute a painting that has dark overall values.

First we must have a toned canvas for this type of painting.  Burnt Umber was used for the toning.

Second, an accurate, yet simple drawing was done to place the elements in place i.e. the eyes, the mouth, etc.  This drawing can be done with pencil, or with a little more practice and skill, can be done with a brush (not recommended for beginners.)

With all that in place, let's start painting.

Here is were the actual painting begins.

There are many styles and methods of painting.  Some artists start with the light tones, and finish with the dark ones.  Although that is a good technique, the opposite is our preferred way of painting, particularly when painting the old masters.

So, we start with the darkest areas, such as the center of the eyes, the back of the head, the background, etc, etc.  In essence, look for all the dark areas of the entire painting and apply color there.

Next, we look for the "semitones."  These are the colors that are nor the darkest, nor the lightest.  Keep in mind what Underpainting is and what is not, as you continue to paint.  The number one downfall of beginners is that they try to accomplish a perfect painting with the first layer of paint.  Not even the masters tried that!

As you continue, apply color to develop VOLUME. In other words, ask yourself: "What volume am I trying to paint?" Is it flat, round, smooth, rough, etc.  FORGET THE DETAILS FOR NOW.  Try to paint what is underneath the details.   Train your eyes to see this layer under the details.  Keep also in mind that color temperature creates volume.

More on color temperature.  If you want for an area to recede (to go away from the viewer,) you must use cool colors.  To bring an object closer to the viewer, you must use warm colors.

As you continue to paint, fill in the lighter tones while maintaining the properties of color temperature in mind.  In this example, there are areas of the face that might be equally bright, but because one is farther than the other from the viewer's eye, the closest one must be warmer.

So, here is the final Underpainting. Not the final painting.  Are all the tones perfect?  Is the background all smooth?  Are the flesh tones right?  Are all the details done?...the answer to all questions is NO!

Remember the function of the Underpainting.  Now we have a map that clearly tells us where each element is located, what each volume is, what parts will be dark, what will be light, what parts will be cool, and what will be warm.


GO TO PART 2 of Re-creations to see this painting finished.


Graphics by Santa Maria Studio. All Rights Reserved. 2003