Underpainting and the palette knife

Several painting friends have encouraged me to try the underpainting techniques described by Lois Griffel in her book “Painting the Impressionist Landscape”; in the book she describes this technique, which was used by the Cape Cod School of Art under Henry Hensche.

Unlike more traditional underpainting techniques, which might use a single color or may use a value painting done in that color with thinned paint, this technique starts with the white gessoed canvas or board and proceeds to a value painting of the major value forms (“light keys”) done with palette knife and various colors of paint chosen to represent the values present in the scene to be painted.  Then the final colors are painted gradually and carefully on top of the underpainting, often leaving some of the underpainting to show through.  I like this technique because of it’s focus on both value and color and the beautiful vibrant light effects that result in the final painting

“Two in the Snow”, Oil on board 11×14

This week I did a painting of two horses in a snowy field using this underpainting technique.  I started with an underpainting that used dark purple and blue for the background trees, bright dark orange for the barn, yellow for the horses and a light blue for the snow.  Working from the background, I applied the final colors on top of the underpainting.  There is a depth to the colors that I don’t think would be there if the underpainting colors were not there.

I’ve started a painting of a sailing race; the sky will eventually be stormy and grey, and the water dark with white caps.  But the underpainting is done in different colors, still reflecting the values that will be in the final painting.  I really like this technique and look forward to using it in many of my paintings.

Underpainting for sailing race painting
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