There’s a lot of confusion about underpainting in watercolour. It’s somewhat similar to underpainting – or blocking-in in other mediums. In other words blocking-in colours strategically (or playing it wild to leave strategy at the door!). I have 2 processes for underpainting:
There’s another idea to consider:
You can either leave it to dry or keep painting into it while it’s wet/damp becoming dry. Most watercolour painters are reluctant to paint into wet or damp but, personally, I find this the most fun, rewarding and absorbing element of watercolour. Just use thicker paint/less water and having a play with placing values to tell your story. Like me, you might need to change your brush to accommodate the amount of water you need so you can avoid blooms where you don’t want them.
I map my painting out and consider my process before I start. For example, I need to know where to place the yellow for a lemon if I want a yellow lemon (next lemon with be pink!!). I stick with transparent colours and leave opaque and granulating pigments for later, this way I know that everything will work together nicely. Remember, for brighter more saturated colour, if you want purple, paint purple on top of purple, if you want red, paint red over red and so on. For more neutral colours, glazing complementaries over your under painting can have incredible effects. Having said this, one of my students pulled out an old painting with a French Ultramarine background. She overpainted with reds and yellows – I was so pleased that she made it work – fearless – excellent - ‘nuff said!!
Underpainting in watercolour can enhance your colours making them stronger, richer and more exciting. Soft-edged background shapes add depth, volume and mystery, further, continuing while damp add richness of colour and value plus more soft edges becoming harder edged as the paper dries. Totally delicious!!
By this time your painting is probably dry (or you need a break!) and your painting will be ready for some calligraphy detail marks with some lovely rich colour straight from the tube – can't beat it!
Give your painting a final check – does your painting say what you want it to say? The cool thing is you don’t have to decide right now!! But do consider if it looks balanced, pleasing? Is there anything annoying you? I just discovered a problem area in a painting I thought I had resolved – so annoyed as I deliberately added “the problem” thinking I was so clever! Prop your painting upside down so you can see when you are walking past, this will give you a better understanding of the composition and structure, if it looks right upside down it will be right in its frame!!
ciao cari pittori
let me know what you think in the comments below!!
KM says …
Mixing pigments! Trying to learn off You tube as best I can. Also paying for a few zoom sessions. No one mentions pigment numbers. I hear a name, but different brands use different pigments and different names and granulation varies for same pigment but different brand! I've mixed a lot of Mud from not paying attention to the number of pigments. I have a mostly transparent palette. I know, I know. Learn by doing and learn from experience. Love your positivity! Have a great time in Italy. Cheers KM
The problem with pigment numbers is that every manufacturer has their own recipe for a colour starting with a particular pigment, numbered and annotated on the colour label. And that’s pretty much where it ends!
Each manufacturer’s recipe will include other processes (eg kiln firing) and other additives and binders that, in varying quantities change the appearance of the colour name, making each a unique blend resulting in a unique colour.
For example Transparent Orange is the same pigment as Light Red but light red undergoes kiln firing which alters it’s characteristics to create a different colour, level of opacity, granulation etc etc. somewhat similar to Winsor Blue red and green shades.
Sometimes a pigment number can help you find a hue in another brand – one of my favourite painters uses a different brand to me, I love her colours – what’s more, I managed to find them using the pigments numbers cited by the manufacturer. This was a lucky find as I discovered I had the correct colours already in my favourite brand – they’re close enough given different computer monitor settings etc.
There is much discussion about only using “single” pigment colours. This is really a misdirection … I regularly use 6, 7 and 8 colours to achieve the value and temperature my painting needs. I also regularly use a brand known for combining 3-4 pigments – I’ve never had a problem mixing their colours.
This leads us to colours labelled as “hue”. In other words, a combination of pigments to achieve the colour of a particular pigment, eg Cobalt blue hue. The characteristics may differ ever so slightly from the genuine pigment, I assume this is to keep prices down for very expensive pigments eg cobalts, or reduce reliance on increasingly rare pigments eg quinacridone gold.
Focus on irrelevant elements just take us away from painting and feeds our fear with details that may or may not impact our painting - we just need get on with it!!
non ferma cari amici!!
PaintBox Tips, secrets, random thoughts,
Poetry in watercolour is made in the freedom of the here and now. Amanda Brett
Inspiration exists, but it has to find you working - Pablo Picasso
There are no mistakes in watercolour, just some extra surprises!!
What my readers and viewers have to say
Your emails are so informative! I must confess I've watched a couple of your demos from beginning to end, and it makes me want to watercolor!!! I've only ever painted with oil or acrylics and haven't know how to begin with WC. Your content is excellent!
Thank you for your tips. They inspired me to practise and I realised I haven’t been loading the brush properly. I learnt about adding more paint, and not water, to washes. In today’s tips I like the idea of painting with purpose. Your tips are very helpful. I very much appreciate receiving them. Elizabeth
Hi Amanda I enjoyed your post and generous tips. Looked up Dan Burt I begin to see that you can colour any subject to give it pizazz so long as the tone and form is correct Certainly adding value now to my attempts Thanks heaps Annie
Yes very wise words. Agree with not fussing and agree with comments about good quality paint. Well written and inspirational as always. Cheers Janet xxxx
Copyright © 2022 All images and text on Amanda's blog and website are the the legal property of Amanda Brett and may not be reproduced without express permission from Amanda Brett or her authorised agent. Thank you for respecting her art and the livelihood of all artists.