Focused practice: acrylic wipe out underpainting

Daily Art 08-27-2018 - 08-31-2018 wipe out value underpaintings in acrylic
Experiments with the wipe out underpainting technique in acrylic paint — except for the lower left which ended up as an opaque monochromatic underpainting.

My sixth and final week of this focused practice I’ve been doing on values marked a big turning point for me: I bought oil painting supplies! After trying to get acrylics to behave more like oils (which was an informative process and helped me understand acrylics a bit better, so really I do think it’s been a valuable effort) my husband suggested I just get the oil paints and give them a try. He reminded me that traveling from watercolor to gouache to acrylic has all been an enjoyable and worthwhile experience, so it made sense to give the oils a try soon rather than get ten years down the road and realize I’d been missing out on something cool.

I couldn’t argue with that and I think I’ve been avoiding oil paints based on some preconceived misconceptions — like that they are unhealthy to use or caused fumes that would irritate me. I learned that it was the solvents that cause most issues and did some quick research on solvent-free painting options. After a trip to Jerry’s Artarama and a couple of supplemental online orders, I have a path to getting more familiar with them that I’m excited about. I think it will be great to have options, more tools in my tool box.

But back to the value studies. I started each one with a series of thumbnails, planning out my composition, focal point, and value structure. I primarily used an L-shaped armature to guide the eye. To do the wipe out underpainting, I experimented with a variety of grounds (sometimes gesso and sometimes prepped with an isolation coat) and approaches for the paint itself, sometimes adding glazing liquid and sometimes water.

My favorite combination was with a Grand Prix bristle brush, using water to thin the burnt umber acrylic paint for the initial wash, and the isolation coat surface. I worked quickly, but it gave enough flexibility to be able to brush on the darker values without them just sliding off from too much glazing liquid. Toward the end of the session, if I needed to pick out more lights I used the bristle brush to loosen the paint on the surface and wipe out with a smooth rag.

Six weeks of value studies: wrap-up

  1. 2-value notan studies
  2. 3-value plans
  3. 4-value block paintings from life
  4. 3-value block paintings from life
  5. 4-value paintings from reference photos

This six-week series of focused practice has been really valuable for me. I loved having a plan for each day and knowing that I was using my time effectively to gain new knowledge. I feel more comfortable with determining values, designing compositions, making several preliminary thumbnails, getting paint on the canvas, my brushes, and acrylic paint.

Going through this process has given me a greater understanding of the painting process in general, and dispelled the myth that “real” artists just pick up a brush and whip out a masterpiece. I like how this series has helped me feel out possibilities for more methodical approaches, which resonates with me. It also drove home the point that there’s no one right way to make a painting — for different situations something might work better than others, and some people just have their personal preferences. I appreciate artists who remind us that there are many, many ways to do this stuff and sure, some people have their own recommended approaches, but that’s because it’s what works for them personally.

I may take a little time for free-form exploration next week and then get back to a new unit of focused practice.

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