Underpainting: Why You Need to Do It

Develop Contrast and Values Before Color

Sometimes when starting a new oil painting, nothing can be more intimidating than a big white blank canvas staring you down. Each paint squeezed out on your palette looking more vibrant, vivid and intimidating. If you're the type of person who see's that blank canvas and it terrifies you like a killer clown in white makeup, then maybe underpainting might be the answer for you!

Underpainting and Finished Worked, Evening Flight by Jan Blencowe 

In painting, an underpainting is a first layer of paint applied to a canvas or board and it functions as a base for other layers of paint. It acts as a foundation for your painting and is a great way to start your painting off with some built in contrast and tonal values. It's a technique that was widely used by the old masters as a way to develop a plan for future color placement and to establish certain values and tones within a painting's color palette. An underpainting, if used correctly, is a great way to unite color values in the overall painting and add a subjective color key to the painting that will create a tonal dominance of the painting. 

Underpainting is simple, but can have major effects on the rest of the painting. It can invigorate areas of the painting that are mundane or uniform like a sky or rolling field. And, it can even act as an outline how the painting feels. For example:

  • A blue toned underpainting can make a painting feel cold, even if something is red-like a barn in wintertime against a white, snowy backdrop. 
  • A yellow toned underpainting is great for a swamp or desert scene, because the painting will seem like it takes place in a hot climate.
  • Some purples are great for warm layers later on, or for making shadows.

There are two types of underpainting:

1. Tonal Grounds Under Painting- This type of painting has the entire canvas covered in a single transparent color. This layer will create backlighting shadows that will tone the entire painting and provide contrast for complimentary colors.



(Perfect for contrasting complimentary colors to appear warmer)

2.A Tonal Under-Painting- Still using just one color to cover your canvas; in a tonal under-painting, map out where you want the darker and lighter areas. In this version, you can leave certain areas unpainted to let some white canvas stick through. As you apply more colors when you start your "real" painting, the white canvas will shine through even greater and appear much brighter. As a whole, this technique can give you brighter top colors and a head start on developing subjects in your painting.



(In this underpainting, values are added and the designs for the painting are being mapped out)

Side Note: You can also color in your areas with different local colors instead of leaving the canvas blank .This type of color blocking can make the composition seem a bit more edgy or dramatic even when you paint over it with complimentary colors later on. It will also take away that blank white canvas space.


When attempting an underpainting, one of the best ways to start is by thinning your paint with a bit of turpentine which will thin the pigment and then lift off a bit and blend in with later layers of paint as you continue with your painting highlighting the underpainting and the extra work you've done (We suggest LUKAS Turpentine with oil paint). Other thinning mediums can help as well, but need to be applied lightly or you risk the outer layers cracking and peeling as time goes on. 

The paint you choose is also important in underpainting. A poor underpainting can make the overall painting muddy. A paint that mixes well and has a great high pigment load can really make a difference. LUKAS 1862 Oil Paints are perfect for mixing and layer terrifically. However, if you're new to painting and are just trying things out, SoHo Urban Artist Oil Colors might fit your budget a bit better and you will still get a great quality paint for mixing and layering.

Underpainting is a great way to grow as a painter and learn without having the overbearing presence of a stark white canvas in front of you making each first stroke of color seem more important and final than they really are. It can add a world of depth and value to your work that change the way you see color and tonal values. 


Top 10 Perfect Summer Paintings

Inspiration for the First Day of Summer!

As today is the Summer Solstice and the First Day of the Summer Season, we at the blog squad sure needed some inspiration and with the sweltering heat of summer upon us we did some research and pulled up some of the best representations of what summer is from front porches to the beach to fireflies and lightning storms. Now that we're inspired, we can keep sharing with you art tips, news and the best in new products and art supplies from Jerry's Artrama. Along with tons of great upcoming content, we thought we'd share a little summer inspiration with the Top Ten Summer Paintings of all time:

10. Rhyl Sands by David Cox

The summer was meant for beach weather!


9. Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte by Georges Seurat

 And picnics by the lake


8. Bigger Splash by David Hockney

Can't be summer without jumping in a pool 


7. Second Story Sunlight by Edward Hopper

 A beautiful vista is key during a warm summer morning


6. Summer Evening by Isaac Levitan

 This painting could use some fireflies, but its pretty much a perfect summer evening


5. Wheat Field with Cypresses by Vincent Van Gogh

 You can see the heat thermals rising from the ground


4. Sunflowers by Vincent Van Gogh

 Summer, when everything is in bloom


3. Un-named Illustration by Bernie Fuchs


Wouldn't be summer without a lightning storm 


2. Tahitian Landscape by Paul Gauguin

 Summer in the tropics


1. Un-named Illustration by Bernie Fuchs

Can you a picture a more perfect summer evening?


Have your own summer art you love? Share it in the comments below!


The Complete Liquitex Acrylic System

New Complete Liquitex System offers Seamless Crossover and Color Consistency among Acrylic Products

Shared Color System Blends Perfectly

You may have heard about two recent additions to the family of Liquitex Professional Acrylic Colors.

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Liquitex is unique in that it is the only international color manufacturer that has designed two new ranges of professional artists' acrylic colors in the last two years that are not in tubes or jars.

Same paints, same pigments-new delivery method for a universal acrylic experience!

Take a look at the Complete Liquitex System

Add the new Sprays and Markers to existing color ranges to see the beauty behind the design of the all-acrylic Liquitex System:

The "Liquitex System" is designed with one clear goal- to give you the artist, unlimited ways to paint with professional acrylic colors while using one universal color chart for all ranges. In addition, being able to inter-mix all media within the Liquitex System provides true creative freedom. 

We have heard from instructors, students, professional artists, mural designers and kids. They all love to imagine the all of the possibilities that Liquitex now provides. They see the Liquitex System as a new pathway to art creation that provides various paint application tools to put color easily in its proper place.

Find the full list of Liquitex Products at Jerrys Artarama.

To Learn More About the Complete Liquitex System, Click Here!

Special Deal

Buy $30 of Professional Spray Paint and receive a FREE Professional Paint Marker (choice of 3 colors) with Special Rebate!

Additional Information on Liquitex

In 1955, a small family owned company in Ohio called the Permanent Pigments Company created the first water-based acrylic paint, although until that point manufactured only oil colors. The owner, Henry Levinson searched for a name that would capture the uniqueness of his new product. The new paint could stick to anything and could be used thick, thin or of any consistency, and most importantly, could be altered or cleaned up with water. Levinson decided to call the product Liquid Texture and Liquitex was born. Other notable achievements in Liquitex's history are the development of the first gloss and matte mediums, the first removable acrylic varnish, as well as the first iridescent acrylic paint. Liquitex offers the largest range of materials for acrylic artists including several lines of paints, mediums, brushes and even a new acrylic spray paint. Liquitex still innovates today, always searching for and creating unique ways acrylic artists can express themselves.


Great Deals

Back To Class online: up to 85% off with online exclusive sales

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