Today I began the underpainting. As usual, I mixed up 9 shades of lead white and burnt sienna and numbered them right on the palette for easy reference.
For the underpainting, I work very loosely, while trying to preserve the drawing. I keep everything much lighter in value than it will be in the finished painting because the colors on top look more vibrant with a lighter ground beneath them. Also, if I need to change anything later on, it’s easier to correct on top of a lighter layer. If the under-layer were dark, it might show through the correction. I keep the paint layer very thin because it dries more quickly. Brush strokes are kept to a minimum so that they won’t interfere with the top layer. Any brush-strokes I make this early in the game are bound to be ill-considered, and I don’t want them showing through in the top layers of paint. An exception to this rule is the handling of areas that will be rough-textured, such as the sandstone. These actually do benefit from some roughness showing through, so I don’t bother to smooth them too much.
Another, less- obvious benefit of doing an under-painting is that it breaks the ice. It can be daunting applying finished paint to a white canvas with all of the pressure of having it be right. An under-painting is so simple and un-detailed that it’s easy to approach without fear. Small steps are best!
The drawing that I transferred was a bit light and hard to see in spots, so I sketched it in again right on the canvas. Even though I’d been so very careful to be accurate while I was tracing the drawing onto the tracing paper, and then onto the canvas, I found that many of the lines were incorrect! It reminds me of that childhood game in which everyone sits in a circle and whispers a short story into the ear of the person sitting next to them, on around the circle. By the time the story goes full-circle, it’s unrecognizable! The very act of copying introduces error. Every line drawn must be the result of checking with reality, not the second-hand tracing.
I haven’t painted the shadow cast onto the wall. Later, I will paint the entire wall as though it had no shadow. When that dries, I’ll glaze the shadow over. This nicely mimics the look of an actual shadow with the color and texture of the wall showing through the transparent glaze. The only problem with this method is that I lose the outlines of the shadows that I observed and drew so carefully. For the complicated shadows that I feel I’ll need some guidance with, I indicate them lightly. I will still glaze these, and they will still look transparent. This works especially well with the darker shadows, like the ones on the table-top.
This is as far as I’ll take the under-painting. I’ll let it dry for at least a week before I start painting.