Thursday, November 15, 2012

Complementary Underpaintings

If you're an artist you are probably familiar with the concept of using a complementary (or contrasting) underpainting. I don't always do this, especially when I'm painting outside. I do like to use the technique if I am painting from a photo and the photograph is dominated by one color. In this instance I had a client commission a painting of their cabin. It's a beautiful house, set among tall pines on a cool mountainside. From experience I knew the green would overwhelm the piece if I didn't do a little prep work. I completed a loose underpainting in transparent red oxide before I tackled the color and it made a world of difference in how the piece turned out. The base color created harmony and also prevented the greens from becoming too "strong."

I like this kind of project because I have a lot f freedom. I choose the composition, I determine the mood and I am free to make the home more attractive- within reason. It really helps to have painted in many different locations and in all kinds of weather when you paint a house you have never seen. I am always gratified when the client tells me they love the painting and they don't understand how I could paint their house so accurately when I had never been there.

A few things I've learned from painting plein air: the colors are always more brilliant than they are in the photograph. Flowers "pop" in real life, but not necessarily in the photo. Little details like mailboxes and flower boxes are what really personalize the place. Grass is made up of cools, warms and lots of colors in between.

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