Underpainting in watercolor?

I am often asked about underpainting. I am a big proponent of underlayering with yellow. Since writing my book (1997-99) I have subsequently refined my palette down to just 12 colours. All transparent or semi transparent hues. I now only use two yellows: Schmincke Indian Yellow (warm) or Schmincke Aureolin yellow(cooler). I underwash every subject with either of these yellows.

Imagine a black and white photograph – well it is the same idea – but in yellow. Two or three washes in the dark areas, one in the mid-tone areas and of course I often don’t paint any yellow in the highlights. I call it my tonal underwash. It also creates a map which is an added bonus. I can see where I am at any time. It allows confidence to paint more freely in subsequent stages as you can see where you are heading!

Underpainting in Watercolor - Water Color Art Lessons

Sometimes the yellow is almost imperceptible – especially if the final hue is to be blue or purple. At the other end of the scale I use very rich yellow underwashes if the final hue and tone require it. Two examples where this richness and density is required are: a still life with a dark background, or a floral with a deep rich luminous dark undergrowth. Both of these require three, four washes of yellow. I build my underwashes up in fine washes (allowing each one to dry between) until they are the density of the wet colour from the tube. One area dries as I work on another. Be sure not to lay in thick washes as the colour will sit on the surface and will mix with subsequent layers. Mud ensues and you will loose the luminosity that makes this method so wonderful!

My ‘priming method’ and fine washes, along with the use of transparent or semi-transparent hues create glowing, jewel-like colours. Yellow under-washes also give a ‘substance’ to the work and gives the impression of a ‘presence’. I find when I don’t use this method, my work has a ‘raw’ look where the white paper is too dominant, resulting in flat and dull painting.

The surface of my paper is not compromised because I use Arches Hot Pressed paper 300gsm (140lbs). I stretch this paper prior to painting. The size on the surface of this paper is very hard. It withstands a great number of washes without loosening fibres.

Fabriano Uno and a few other hot pressed papers have a much softer and finer layer of size. These papers do not cope well with many washes. They also do not like masking tapes or masking fluid.

Arches hot pressed on the other hand copes well with all I can throw at it. It also allows me to use my little scrubby brushes which are ideal for all sorts of things like softening edges, lifting colour, moving paint, removing mistakes etc etc.

Now these little scrubby brushes are an amazing find. It has taken me years of trial and error to find the perfect brushes including these little scrubbies that have the perfect flex – not too hard and not too weak.

You can read more about the materials I use in the suppliers list by clicking HERE.

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