Wednesday, October 18, 2006
I tried to post on Tuesday but our satellite was down for most of the day because of weather, rain, not snow yet, thankfully. So I spent the day working on the underpaintings on the big panels. I had gessoed the panels on Monday, sanded them and so they were all ready to go.
I thought I'd describe how I do the underpaintings in a bit more detail. The first thing I do is to rub paint all over the panel. I used a whole tube of paint on each of these panels! Too bad most of it gets rubbed off. Cotton cloths work well here, no paint brushes for me at this stage, I could if I wanted to but I prefer the effect I get from using a cloth.
Then I start to form the image by pulling out the light areas and leaving the darks. My focus here is to get the drawing right, the forms and the lights and darks established. I also try not to think and plan too much as I tend to overwork if I do that. This is where listening to music or talk radio comes in really handy. However, I do have to think a bit about whether I will use a light or a dark color in a specific area. If I leave an area dark in the underpainting, then I am limited as to which colors I can use in order to keep the washy, layered look that I prefer later on. But that is about the most thought I put into the painting at this point. The rest is mostly instinctive-and pretty much the only question I ask myself is whether or not it "looks right".
There is another aspect that I have to balance here though. I would prefer to leave the underpaintings very dark and moody and expressive, but if I do that it is technically really difficult to layer the colors over it later. It becomes too dark or has a "pastey" look to it that I don't like. So I have learned to keep the underpaintings lighter and simpler. I can always add things in later (often I leave windows or doors out in the underpainting) if I want, though I don't do that too often. And if I am not sure about the colors that I will use (normally I have no idea what colors I will use at this point, I decide that later, uh, pretty much at the very moment that I begin to paint) I will make the area really light so I will have more flexibility later on when I choose colors.
This is the large panel about halfway finished. You can see the other large panel on the left:
And a closeup (sorry about the glare on these) :
I am not sure what color the foreground will be so I decide to pull all of the paint off in case I decide that it must be yellow. I also make some adjustments to the barn and shadows. At first the barn was short and squat, which I liked but I didn't really like how it worked with the rest of the composition, so I changed it to a more traditional proportion. Sometimes giving up a part, no matter how much you like it, helps the whole. Remembering that has helped me out of quite a few jams.
And here it is finished.
I consider the underpaintings to be sketches, but really they are an integral part of what you see in the painting. They do much of the work of the image, they are the bones. And I love doing the underpaintings. I love to get my hands in the paint, though now I use gloves instead of bare hands, and I love to create the volume and mood. At first I just wanted to make these, and while they seemed finished to me no one else thought they were, and I began to use color. And then they really started to sing. But while I love the color too, the process of making the underpainting is what really gets me. Often, as I discussed here, I use a different color and leave them as is.
So go ahead and try working like this sometime. It's a good change of pace and can give you a new way to look at things. I prefer the earthier colors now, but I have used many other colors in the past. Blues and greens are effective if you are painting the figure, the flesh colors look amazing over blue, and for a few years after college I did a number of paintings in black, using turpentine to really get the light areas. I have worked with and without brushes and with and without turpentine. It takes some experimenting to get comfortable as it is quite different than working all prima. I have been working with the underpaintings and glazes so long now I am a bit flummoxed when it comes to alla prima anymore!
And this is going to sound really corny, but this whole process really fulfills the various needs that I have as a painter. I get to be really spontaneous, but then I have to show some restraint and patience by working just a little bit each day in order to complete the piece. There is a constant push and pull between those two elements, hurry up and wait. I really dig that. Or that digs me. Either way.