Painter christina ridgeway has agreed to give us an insight into the different kind of underpainting techniques that can be used! To see more of her lovely work visit


Hey guys! I wanted to create a fun blog post going over a few of the different underpainting techniques I have tried over the years – their results and which I like the best! There are quite a few different routes you can take when you want to tackle an underpainting, even if it means not painting one at all.

Creating an underpaintings is useful for determining values, creating a solid base, and also helping to create luminosity if applied correctly. As a self taught artist myself – I soak up a lot of the information around me and experiment with it. I am not saying I am an expert or a master but for those who are new or intrigued to the practice of using an underpainting read on!


1) Tonal/Grisaille Underpainting


I am going  to use a few example from work I created during my solo show :) I actually used several different techniques over the 8 months I worked on that collection of paintings. The first was a brownish underpainting, one layer in acrylic then in oils and then! Color on top. Needless to say this route takes a really long time. I want to make a special note that I think it is much easier using a Raw Umber-like color mixed into the black and white underpainting.

I have also done pure grisaille underpaintings which were just black and white and nothing else and I felt like the greyness of the underpainting dulled the colors on top. Now this is most certainly due to some mistake of mine, so it is just a cautionary for yourself.

Adding Raw Umber, English Rose, Burnt Sienna or another warm brownish color to the mix really does help keep the colors bright in my opinion. It is what I did in the picture above!

I created this underpainting with lots of detail, it was like a near complete painting which sat underneath the color on top. You could create it much looser and use more opaque painting on top to create defined shapes.

Pros: Makes painting color on top much simpler as 90% of the details are in place. Gives a good map of the values you want in the painting.

Cons: Takes a long time to create/dry.


2. Pigment & Turpentine


The next underpainting technique which I have tried is using another reddish brown color and black paint watered down with turpentine to create a very loose sketch. I learned this technique from Scott Waddell, who is an amazzziiinng realistic painter. I bought one of his instructional videos and he uses this technique (though admittedly when he does it it looks a lot prettier 😛 ) for all his portraits. Now, it does work a lot differently on masonite board than it does canvas. Above I painted this on masonite board where it doesn’t soak in or latch on the same way and drips and is runny – but it works!

This created a really nice warm underpainting for many of my solo show pieces. Paint which went on top was not as opaque as it was with the full on acrylic & oils underpainting above but it dries super fast, within a few hours, so you can go ahead and add color on top of it in the same day.

Pros: Dries very fast. Can be as loose as you want, making it a fast process. Creates decent base.

Cons: Drippy, messy. Doesn’t cover the board as thickly so paint on top isn’t as opaque, more layers.

*Note* I have also tried this same combination but with white. Didn’t like it as much but it does create a more opaque underpainting.


3. No Underpainting At All!


I also have just said screw it and just started painting straight on the board 😛 Did it necessarily save me time? No, not in this particular case. Did it feel like I could just get to it a lot faster? Yeah of course. I was under a lot of time pressure when I made this piece and I didn’t want to go all gung ho on the underpainting and hey – I think it turned out very nicely anyway. A lot of the values and so forth which are usually determined in the underpainting just have to be built up otherwise. Your underpainting essentially becomes the first layer of color which you leave to dry and add layers on top.

Pros: Could potentially save time, at least initially.

Cons: Will require more paint. No values mapped out. Just winging it 😉


Conclusion – I think no matter what kind of underpainting you choose you can still create a cohesive body of work. There are pros and cons to each and I would recommend you experiment yourself and see what works best for you and your art!

I personally like the watered down pigments the best as I am often working on a deadline and want to get things mapped out asap. For others, especially hyper realistic painters, the full on grisaille is definitely their weapon of choice! Pay attention to how your favorite artists begin their paintings and don’t be afraid to ask questions. This is how we all learn, grow and expand!


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