How it’s done

Enjoy an underpainting done by a student of mine on the left bank of the French Broad river in Asheville.

Painting with oils on paper is a long-standing practice which deserves to be better known.  It’s cheap, and since you prepare it yourself, you can make it in bulk and cut it to any required size.  It’s great for learning how paint feels at the other end of your brush.

Drawing a scene before painting it builds acquaintance with the scene and confidence in yourself.  And drawing it with a reed pen forces you to think about mark-making and to solve problems in general ways.  A reed pen is clunky at first, but that’s what it takes to keep you from getting lost in details.

handmade pens and inks

Reed pens and different inks

She kept the drawing nearby while she painted.  This has many advantages over working from photographs.  Rather than paint what a device records, you can paint what you see and check it by what you’ve learned.  And because she did an underpainting, she was free later, as she said, “to enjoy the light without worrying about where stuff is.”

Here it is the underpainting in raw umber with a bit of overpainted sky peeking through a thinning late September canopy.

Note the ink drawing against the tree in the foreground.

Notice how much work that raw umber layer is doing: values, placement, edges, modelling, and more.

Note the ink drawing leaning against the tree.

An ink drawing leaning against the tree.

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