Underpainting – Definition, Examples, History & More – Art Techniques and Materials Glossary

What is Underpainting?

Underpainting is a technique used in painting where a base layer of paint is applied to a canvas before adding additional layers of paint. This initial layer serves as a foundation for the rest of the painting, helping to establish the composition, values, and overall tone of the artwork. Underpainting can be done in a variety of colors, depending on the desired effect, and can be applied using different techniques such as washes, glazes, or blocking in.

Purpose of Underpainting

The primary purpose of underpainting is to establish a strong foundation for the painting. By creating a base layer of paint, artists can map out the composition, values, and colors of their artwork before adding more detailed layers. This helps to ensure that the final painting has a cohesive and well-balanced look. Underpainting also allows artists to experiment with different color schemes and techniques without committing to a final outcome, making it easier to make adjustments as needed.

Techniques for Underpainting

There are several techniques that artists can use for underpainting, depending on the desired effect. Some common techniques include:

1. Washes: A wash is a thin layer of paint that is applied to the canvas using a large brush. This technique is often used to establish the overall tone of the painting and create a sense of depth.

2. Glazes: Glazing involves applying transparent layers of paint over the underpainting to create rich, luminous colors. This technique is often used to add depth and complexity to the painting.

3. Blocking in: Blocking in involves using broad strokes of paint to establish the basic shapes and forms of the composition. This technique is useful for quickly establishing the overall structure of the painting.

Materials for Underpainting

The materials needed for underpainting will depend on the chosen technique, but some common supplies include:

1. Acrylic or oil paints: These are the most commonly used types of paint for underpainting. Acrylic paints dry quickly and are easy to layer, while oil paints have a longer drying time and can be blended more easily.

2. Brushes: Different types of brushes can be used for underpainting, including large brushes for washes and smaller brushes for detail work.

3. Canvas or paper: A sturdy canvas or paper surface is needed to support the layers of paint used in underpainting.

Examples of Underpainting in Art

Many famous artists have used underpainting in their work to create depth and complexity. One notable example is Leonardo da Vinci’s “Mona Lisa,” where he used a combination of washes and glazes to build up the layers of paint and create a realistic portrait. Another example is Vincent van Gogh’s “Starry Night,” where he used bold blocking in techniques to establish the swirling sky and landscape.

Tips for Underpainting Success

To achieve successful underpainting, consider the following tips:

1. Plan your composition: Before starting the underpainting, sketch out the composition and values of your painting to ensure a strong foundation.

2. Experiment with different techniques: Try out different underpainting techniques to see which works best for your style and subject matter.

3. Be patient: Underpainting takes time and patience, so don’t rush the process. Allow each layer to dry before adding additional layers.

4. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes: Underpainting is a great opportunity to experiment and make adjustments as needed. Don’t be afraid to try new things and see what works best for your painting.

In conclusion, underpainting is a valuable technique that can help artists create strong and cohesive paintings. By establishing a solid foundation with a base layer of paint, artists can experiment with different colors and techniques to achieve the desired effect. Whether using washes, glazes, or blocking in, underpainting can add depth and complexity to artwork and enhance the overall composition. By following these tips and techniques, artists can achieve success with underpainting in their own work.