Ken Campbell Fine Art

Demo: Underpainting & Glazes


This is one of my main studio techniques for creating oil paintings. It makes the whole process controlled and logical and can be very fast. It can also be flexible and allows for spontaneity. Underpainting and glazes, as the name suggests is an 'indirect' painting technique — developed in the Renaissance and used by such masters as Leonardo, Vermeer, Valasquez, Caravaggio and others — where the design, drawing and values are created in the first step and then colour is applied in thin glazes or washes over top to create the final effect in a series of steps. Usually for me the whole process takes 5 to 7 sittings or more, allowing paint to dry before applying the next layer (wet over dry). Underpainting and glazing can also be done quickly in 2 to 3 sittings. In my Underpainting and Glazes Workshop I demonstrate how I do this technique in a short period.

1st Sitting 3rd Sitting 5th Sitting 7th Sitting

Here are my notes on the underpainting & glazes technique for "Les Nymphéas Canadienne – I", 84 X 24. oil on canvas.

1st Sitting

The grisaille (study in greys) is an achromatic painting in black, white and grey. In the sample you can see all the values (for the canoe at this point) are painted in accurate values resulting in a 'portrait by moon light' effect. In the end, the grisaille is a completely detailed and accurate rendering minus any colour. (Note: The steps that precede this include a) having a plan of the painting; b) accurate reference drawing; and c) composition design.)

3rd Sitting

Once the grisaille is dry, the first thin layers of glaze — a mixture of medium, paint and odourless mineral spirits — are applied to establish the colour plan for the piece. The overall effect is relatively flat at this point but the glazes are starting to enliven the composition and confirm my colour plan.

5th Sitting

Here I have applied opaque impasto and semi-opaque glazes to reinforce colours, deepen shadows and lighten highlights. Zones of texture are developing with added colours and more contrast... generally more dynamics are slowly emerging. I can easily control this by applying more or less glazing and adjusting it to suit desired effects.

7th Sitting (Final)

The finishing brush strokes are applied here. This sitting will usually include a final application of transparent glazes, semi-opaque glazes and impasto brush strokes. Later, after this stage has dried thoroughly, I sign it and put a final barrier coat over the entire canvas. The result is a beautiful, lustrous surface with sophisticated colour effect.

For a full explanation and demonstration join a Underpainting and Glazes Workshop, and try this technique for yourself.