1. Colours used
Many artists used to use monochromatic underpaintings. The reason for this was to give substance and volume to the different aspects of the painting, as well as to enhance the contrast between darker areas and lighter areas. However, any colour and any colour of combinations can be used. It’s worth experimenting to see what different effects can be produced by using different colours and colour combinations for your underpainting. Many choose to use lots of different colours as a sort of template for layers to be painted on top.
Underpaintings are used to give paintings more tonality and texture. Many artists use a limited number of colours to create a first version of their painting, marking of areas that are going to be rich in colour as further layers are added. Underpaintings can also be used to give your painting flashes of colour. The colour used in the underpainting will very slightly show through the layers on top of it. It’s a good idea to experiment with contrasting colours, so the colours from the bottom layer will be shown more effectively. A really good underpainting can produce colours that visually mix with colours from the topmost layers of the painting without the colours physically blending together. Think of an underpainting as a blueprint for the final version of the painting.
3. Popularity today
A lot of artists don’t actually use this technique today. The reason is because they simply don’t see the point in spending time on the bottom layers when it’s the topmost layers that matter the most. Underpaintings were very popular throughout history, though nowadays the practice of creating an underpainting has lost favour with many artists. Using this technique definitely has its advantages, as it allows you to map out your painting and highlight areas where more colour is going to be applied. Using underpaintings can be a great way to get you to think more about the composition of your painting.
Grisaille refers to paintings that are completed either in monochrome or nearly all in monochrome. The colour used in grisaille paintings is usually grey; grisaille works can be found in many different shades of grey. Artists also use grisaille as an underpainting: the first and bottommost layer of the painting they complete in grey. Using the grisaille underpainting technique can give paintings a sort of 3D effect. Grisaille was developed by French painters and was commonly used throughout the Renaissance. Though grey is mainly used, browns can be used as well.
Verdaccio is the name given to a specific mixture of pigments. Those pigments are black, white and yellow. When these pigments are mixed together, they produce soft green colour that has hints of yellow or grey, depending on how much of each colour is used. This mixture of pigments was very commonly used by Italian artists for underpainting. It was especially popular for portraits and other works featuring people, as the green of the verdaccio would complement and balance the pinks and other light colours used to depict the subject’s skin tones.
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