Oil Painting Techniques - Underpainting

Here you'll find some underpainting examples (in oil painting techniques). A little further down you'll find pics of three stages in a painting. Click here for more information on colors, and how to do an imprimature. Down the bottom of this page, you'll find more related pages.

painted over with white and green earth

Apartment building in the mist

One day, I saw this apartment building standing in the mist. It was standing there so beautifully, as if it was just hovering in the mist. I took a picture, and worked it out later, into a small three-layer oil painting..

The apartment building - step by step

The first underpainting was done in in raw umber and white, no imprimature. It's a small mdf panel, primed with gesso ( mixed with caseine). Painting was done with home-made egg-tempera paint, but it can be done in oils too. Best to take cremser white for that. I planned to let the building stand out in a special way - cold and astonished (I saw it standing in the mist). I used raw umber, because it's the least warm brown.

Underpainting in raw umber
painted over with white and blue

Above on the right, the same picture, painted over with white and dark blue (indigo) oil paints. You see, some parts have been left half-transparent, and some accents were made to suggest light. I used lead white because it dries quickly. The raw umber becomes a little more warm, due to the contrast with the blue.

painted over with white and green earth

Here the final layer was applied, green earth and white. The green unites the contrasting blue and brown. I used titanium white this time, because it's whiter and clearer than led white. You see, here also some of the underpainting was left visible - there's still some blue on the water. The railing was painted over with indigo and white again. To me, the color build-up of this picture indicates a feeling of coldness and astonishment, like when recognizing something in the mist.


Underpainting in burnt siena

This little painting has an underpainting in burnt siena and white - on the left, the burnt siena was used without white (which makes it warmer). The second layer was magenta an white (quinacridone magenta and titanium white), and also some indigo and white. The underpainting is shining through. You see, the amount of white is very much deciding for the light: what kind of light - soft or glittering, how strong etc. The light always tells you something about the air, the atmosphere: is it moist and hazy, or clear and thin etc.


Underpainting in burnt umber

This little one has an underpainting in burnt umber and white. It was painted over with indigo-blue and white (titanium). The bushes and foreground were painted with transparant dark blue, with no white in it, which makes them very dark. The outcome: the light is disappearing. The dark bushes try to hold on to it, but at the same time, they chase the light away, because they try to grab it...(as often in relationships).


I have a dozen more of these (all 15 x 20 centimeters). They're for sale - if you want to know more about that, contact me.


Material oil painting guide

Here you'll find an oil painting guide that has all the necessary info on boards, canvases, primers and oil paint, including several recipes for underpainting materials like egg and caseine tempera

Related pages: