So…What’s the Purpose of Underpainting?


When I first began painting (seriously) over 20 years ago, I had absolutely no idea that such a process existed.  I am a self-taught painter and never really had any formal training.  I started teaching myself by trying to copy the greats; Picasso, Dali, Basquiat, DeKooning, etc.  Most of the time I was quite unsuccessful in my attempts, but interestingly enough; what I did find along my artistic journey was my own sense of style, space and color.  I (on my own) figured out that “underpainting” was one of the major things that I could do to create texture, depth and contrast; even if I had no idea of the technical term for what I was doing.

So, here’s the burning question for all you painting enthusiasts and neophytes: What is underpainting and what is its purpose?  It’s very simple really…

First things first, the underpainting creates texture, and adds a layer of color underneath your painting, so that you can eventually see where all elements line up compositionally.  As stated in an earlier post, it’s like putting a puzzle together; strategically aligning each form and shape to create an aesthetically pleasing balance.

Secondly, higher quality canvases already have a layer or two of gesso, so laying down paint as part of your ground texture will give your workspace (canvas) a decent amount of body.

When I begin a work of art I typically use bright colors as my base, adding various shapes and squiggles in varying mediums, this way there’s always unexpected flashes of boldness which shine through beneath the final product.

There are some artist who like to very carefully pinpoint where they are going to make their markings.  I on the other hand, am quite spontaneous and never have a defined idea of what I’m going to do until much later on in my project.  This spontaneity is quite fun, in that I like Forrest Gump, think of my paintings as a “box of chocolate,” never knowing what I’m “going to get.”  That’s what makes this process fun, after all.  Never be afraid to experiment.  The more you paint, the braver you will become.  Don’t get totally mired down in technique.  It will come, it always does.

As always, my friends, peace, love and creative blessings!  Until next time…



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