Oil Painting Techniques – Monochromatic Under-Painting

There are a number of different oil painting techniques that can be used to start an oil painting.

Monochromatic Under-Painting is described in this section.

Monochromatic Under-Painting for Composition, Style and Value Ranges

The first is the traditional approach generally used by plein air painters.

It involves creating a monochromatic quick under-painting and value study prior to applying the 2nd and 3rd layers of paint.

The point of this under-painting technique is to lay down a road map for yourself – This is where you will compose your painting design and also make note of the Value range (from dark, medium and light) of your painting.

  1. Quickly tone your white canvas with a very dilute wash of Transparent Red Oxide oil paint and Mineral Spirits. Let it air dry for a few minutes before proceeding.
  2. Using only Transparent Red Oxide do an outline or sketch of your composition and painting design. Take your time here. If your composition doesn't work at this point, it won't improve when you cover the canvas with more paint.
    If you have a good design and composition, it will work at this very basic level. Keep it simple. Breath and enjoy!

  3. Next, do a Value Study in Transparent Red Oxide – this will be your first layer of paint – keep the mixture thin – remember the oil painter’s rule “Thick over Thin” – this is the Thin stage. Try to stick with 3 Values – Dark, Medium and Light. Start by painting your darkest darks. Decide on your center of interest will be, if you have one. Usually this is a place in the painting where the darkest darks and the lightest lights come together – this extreme value shift attracts the eye – so why not use it to your advantage. The Italians call this effect “chiaoscuro” and this oil painting technique was used by Rembrandt and many other old masters.
  4. Step back and cast a critical eye over your composition and values now before moving on. There is no rush. Enjoy the process as this is where the backbone of a good painting is created.
  5. Let your under-painting dry for 10 minutes or so before proceeding to paint over the top with your usual palette of colors. Some of the under-painting pigment will mix with your 2nd layer of paint and will have a unifying effect on your color harmony over all. Let small glimpses of your vibrant under-painting peek through. Part of the mystery of an oil painting is the layering of paint – it creates a feeling of depth and aliveness - the light rays penetrate and reflect back through the different layers.

Check out our upcoming page on another oil painting technique - using transparent bright pigment to create joyful color in your paintings. We'll give you a link here once it's complete.

Color Palette Suggestions for Oil Painters

Tips on How to Paint Shadows

Fat Over Lean Technique - Painting in Layers

3 Steps to Creating Your Studio Painting from a Plein Air Sketch

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