August 30, 2009

Underdrawing for Red Cone

It is very traditional in egg tempera painting to do an underdrawing in ink. We can see this technique in uncompleted or worn quattrocento panel paintings. I've always done a tonal drawing before beginning the work in color. (I started this blog too late to show the underdrawing for Yellow Curve.) Because tempera is translucent, I find that having the values laid out is helpful, especially in the dark areas.

For this painting and the previous one, I traced the outlines of the form in the color study and transferred the tracing to the panel. Before this, I had always done a careful pencil drawing to work out the exact composition and details. Now I find that I like starting more loosely, while closing the form as I go along.


  1. I'm curious - in making the grayscale translation are you doing it by eye or do you turn your reference photo into grayscale and work from that? I suppose this example is pretty straight forward, easy to eyeball. but sometimes colors read differently from their tonal values.
    I've always liked seeing how compositions look without their colors on, I suppose it comes from years of black and white printing.

  2. My reference photos are shot in black and white. I don't need color photos because I have the color study, which is closer to the way I see color than a photograph would be; it is also more subtle. I find that a black and white image is more helpful in elucidating form and detail.

    You're right about colors reading differently from their values; for instance, greens always read darker in black and white. Since the underdrawing is just that, it's not essential that it be completely accurate as to value.