A wipeout-style underpainting allows you to broadly push and pull values-- with a thin layer of paint that is free of sharp edges and ridges --until you are satisfied with the results. This binding layer of umber locks your drawing onto the canvas within a brief 3 hours, and leaves you open to explore more nuanced form with consecutive layers of paint.
In this tutorial, David Dwyer-- teaching assistant and painter extraordinaire --demonstrates how to take a drawing to a satisfying wipeout underpainting.
A thoughtful, value-oriented thumbnail sketch is an excellent way to help judge values and make choices. From this humble beginning, the wipeout underpainting is mere steps away.
Transferring Your Drawing
If you have done a drawing, the first stage of the process is to transfer it to your surface. David did a completed thumbnail sketch, seen above, to serve as a guide for his finished piece.
Take your completed line drawing to a copy center-- such as Kinko's. --and make a copy at the size you wish your image to be. It is recommended that the blueprint copy machine be used for larger and/or lighter drawings, as a regular copier may not be large enough or sensitive enough to pick up fine lines.
Once the drawing has been transferred, strengthen your lines with waterproof India ink-- which must dry overnight --or a fine-point Sharpie marker. You may also choose to lay in your lines with a fine brush and raw umber paint; if this is the case, simply mix your paint with a goodly amount of Liquin to allow the lines to seal to your surface.
Applying Your Wipeout Layer
Raw umber is a neutral, semi-transparent tone that is ideal to apply to your surface. It creates a unified layer of neutral tone that dries quickly. When laying down your wipeout layer, you will want to load a thick, coarse brush with raw umber and evenly scrub the paint into the surface until all white spots have been eliminated (approximately 10 minutes).
In the above image, you will note the lines from the transfer drawing that are being thoroughly covered by this binding layer of raw umber. At first glance, it may seem as if they're being utterly obliterated, but you needn't fret! Once the surface has been covered, your lines will be simple to find:
Bear in mind that some paint may dissolve your lines. If you find that this has happened, simply let your paint layer dry overnight and re-transfer your drawing.
Once your surface has been evenly coated with a thin paint layer, you are ready for the fun to begin. Using a thin t-shirt material-type cloth-- not a paper towel, as these will pill –gently wipe your paint back to a fairly even midtone. After this has been achieved, begin looking for areas of contrast and mystery.
Ready, set, go! The speed of a wipeout forces you to think big and move on, but you will have approximately 3 hours before your paint becomes tacky and wipes off unevenly... and you don't want that to happen.
Wrapping the t-shirt material around your finger, start with the lightest value in order to pull up the paint before it begins to soak into your surface. Keep in mind you want your values to be one step lighter than the anticipated value of the final painting. So do not be afraid that you are taking off too much paint! If you find that your rag is becoming dirty, simply move it around on your finger to find a clean spot; for finer lines, you can wrap your rag around the end of a paintbrush or use a cotton cosmetic swab.
At this point, things should start to feel satisfying very quickly. Pulling up paint is magical-- almost like instant form –and you can start adding in other techniques to lighten lights and reinstate darks. If you find that your paint is not lightening enough, take the tiniest dab of odorless mineral spirits-- like a hummingbird sipping from a feeder –and rub this into your surface. Conversely, you can use soft brushes to thinly reinstate your darker values, starting with the absolute darkest first.
Several Small Tricks
To work more subtly, don't change your rag quite so much; a little paint on the rag-- and a little less pressure --can create a gentler feel. Smoothing out granular surface texture can be accomplished with a soft brush and a delicate hand (this is especially useful in midtones). Overly dark areas can be remedied as well: wait until your wipeout layer is dry, lay on a thin layer of alkyd white, then allow it all to dry once more.
Bravo! Your wipeout is complete and you are ready to move on to the next phase of your beautiful painting. Remember the following: the only mistake you can make is to leave something too dark and that this is a learning process. As time passes, you will become more astute in your judgements, learn something new, and will make ground-breaking decisions of your very own.
Much thanks to David Dwyer for his demonstration, Katt Leeds for her meticulous note-taking, and Stephanie Johnson for her photo-taking.
A poster study sketch serves as a teaser for David's still life in progress.