The Underpainting

This weekend I’m driving up to Sedona to take a collage class. It’s a type of chine collé in which you create an underpainting, then, following the shades of the colors, collage over the underpainting.

Our homework was to create two underpaintings–one of an apple (so the class will all be working on the same idea) and another underpainting of a different topic.

The chicken in an underpainting.

The chicken in an underpainting.

I wanted to do a koi underwater, but the sketch showed me it would require too much detail work and be too difficult. So I did a chicken, instead. I don’t paint with acrylics, and I have no idea how to do a real underpainting. I work with watercolor pencils, watercolor and inks. But I leaped in and tried it anyway. I hesitated only a bit, and then I thought, “This is a class I am taking to step way out of my comfort zone, so I might as well feel weird about it.


Minimalist koi

I then went back and created a totally minimalist koi drawing. I think the background will be hugely interesting, and I can’t wait to work on it.

While I was working on the underpainting, I thought of what a good idea it was. You put down the shapes and colors you want, and it makes the detail work easier–less filled with instant decisions.

It’s not that different from an outline for writers. A guide that helps you see the big picture. And of course, it’s the same thing as envisioning the future, or a success in life. Once you’ve seen where you are going, it’s easier to take the steps to get there.

So, tomorrow, off to Sedona for a get-away class! And yes, I’m taking the computer because I have work to do at night. No rest for the wicked!

Quinn McDonald seems to have something about chickens. The one above made her laugh.

24 thoughts on “The Underpainting

  1. Underpainting can be just a layer of paint ….painting a blank canvas can be intimidating but once some paint is there it makes a difference! of course some medium doesnt lend itself to it but I often reuse my paper by painting over a painting in white house paint and then starting again – the paper starts to build up a history of layers and can be more alot more interesting… underlayers often then influence whats on top! … I call it “intuitative underpainting” 🙂

    • Yep, you are right. I was explaining underpainting to Pam in context of the blog post and my homework. And I must admit, as a user of watercolor and ink, underpaintings don’t often happen. Time to experiment!

  2. Thank you for explaining underpaintings, I really didn’t have any idea of what was meant. So much to learn, but that’s what makes life and art so interesting. The picture of the koi really appeals to me and makes me think of yin and yang. Can’t wait to see the finished piece! As for stretching yourself in the studio, that’s so much fun! Seeing just how far one can get from their comfort zone is frightening, but maybe it tells something about life and where the artist is heading. I’m hoping to stretch my myself in and out of the studio just to see what will happen and what I can learn. Looking forward to your post about the workshop and the final versions of the chicken and the koi!

  3. By the way, while I don’t know anything about UNDER painting, I just remembered that when I was about 10 I singlehandedly invented a close variant. I’d finished assembling a model car — IIRC correctly a Plymouth Superbird. I invited my Dad to watch as I completed the last step: painting. I had a can of Testor’s gold spray enamel that I carefully shook, rattling the ball bearings inside, carefully aimed at the model, carefully pressed the button…and carefully sprayed gold enamel directly to the right onto my Dad’s sweatshirt. I call it…SIDE painting!

    P.S. I didn’t even get in trouble, although my Dad told the story, with great hilarity, for quite some time afterward.

  4. I love both underpaintings! I’m amazed at the detail of the chicken and can’t imagine what I would come up with if I had to do something similar. You have great talent and I can’t wait to see the results from your class…I know you’ll have a great time and stretch your boundaries.

    • The chicken image is too detailed, but I didn’t know how to make it less so. I hope to learn that part. I have to constantly remind myself that I am going to play and learn in a fun atmosphere, not to make the perfect chicken collage. Sigh. Still.

  5. Am I the only one not grasping the term “under painting”? I would think that term referred to gesso, or a background of color, or something generic upon which to collage. Your feathered fowl is too handsome to cover up! I do hope you have a lovely time and I look forward to learning the true meaning of under painting.

    • I had to have it explained when I was in color-pencil class, too. An underpainting creates the shape, placement and color values you want to achieve in the end. In an under-paninting, you make a lot of technical decisions about your drawing–where is the light coming from? What does that do to the shadows? (In the chicken painting, you can see that the chicken is walking into the light, with a dark area of shadow or storm behind him.) I also defined the kind of chicken he is, and where the color of his feathers go. When I create the collage, I will be choosing papers or painting papers to put over the color. So, for example, I don’t want to create a pile of pink papers, even if I love the color, because I’m looking at the chicken and see that I don’t need pink at all. A clever friend of mine defined an underpainting as “making your own paint by number background.” It’s crucial to precise work, like color pencil, because you can’t erase color pencil, so you want to have all the concept decisions out of the way. One of my big revelations in doing the underpainting (which is far too detailed, but oh, well) is that while the chicken photograph is largely black, I used no black on the underpainting at all. Therefore, I won’t be choosing black papers to work with.

  6. I love the koi underpainting. I think that will really work well for what you will be doing. Have fun at the class. I have never been to Sedona. Once I am in Tucson for longer than a week I will venture up there.

  7. I love your chicken! And the koi fishies, too—well done! Bright spots on this rainy morning. 🙂

  8. My theory about why chickens are inherently funny goes back to the invention of writing itself. Some henpecked guy was lamenting the good old days back in the caves and had to turn down his buddies’ invitation to go mammoth hunting so they called him chicken. His wife, watching all this, looked down at the chicken scratchings in the dirt, had the brainstorm about writing, and just when she looked up saw one of the chickens trotting across the path for no apparent reason. She wondered “why did it do that?” and a moment later started laughing uncontrollably, having accidentally loosened the valve on 30,000 years of comedy under tremendous pressure because that was not only the birth of writing, it was also the first joke. All because of a chicken.

    But wait, isn’t that a rooster?

  9. Your chicken made me laugh too. Have fun with that class, sounds awesome! Is Elizabeth the teacher? She was in FEATURING – her work is awesome!

    • Actually, I owe finding Elizabeth to you–when I saw her in Featuring, I thought, “I must look at her work,” and while on her website, saw that she was teaching in Sedona and signed up. So I have you to thank!

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