Build Up Rich Color with an Underpainting | Watercolor Demo

In the underpainting, I’m striving to open doors and establish opportunities. In this demonstration you can see how I start with weak color and a tiny brush until I have the confidence to paint boldly with paint straight from the tube and a large brush.

Step One:
With a thin wash of manganese blue on a dry sheet of Lanaquarelle paper, I lightly established broad mass with a synthetic rigger. I then continued working with line alone. I have to understand the subject before I can feel confident enough to paint in broad gestures.

Step Two:
I began to establish color, light and form through “sissy” washes. Those areas that I needed to understand may seem overly defined. That’s OK—in the underpainting.

Step Three:
By now I’ve switched from a rigger to a large brush (#36 synthetic round). I’m still in the underpainting stage: the washes are still transparent and weak. My goal in this step was to establish the structure. As soon as I got major divisions of shape and space down, I moved to the next stage.

Step Four:
Defining boundaries through value (not image), I worked wet-into-wet, completing the work section by section and exploiting the interactions between paint and paper in Spectators (watercolor, 30 x 40).

Read Karen Frey’s feature, “Exercise in Translation,” in the April 2011 issue of Watercolor Artist.


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