PAINTING TECHNIQUES TO GET YOU STARTED
Blocking in is the step after your sketch, in which the canvas is covered with flat shapes that indicate where elements will go, and what color or value they’ll be. Move past outlines into shapes. You can easily shift and change things around in the blocking in phase, because no investment has been made into details or precise colors, and the paint is thin. Blocking in is when your composition is built and refined. Do not go forward into refinements of color or details until the basic big areas of shapes are satisfying on the canvas as a whole. Think of it as building a house. This is the framework and drywall. You can’t hang curtains until the house is built. (Adapted from the George Bridgman quote: “Don’t think color’s going to do you any good. Or lovely compositions. You can’t paint a house until it’s built.”)
Most artists don’t use white in the blocking in process. If you use the white of the canvas for light colors, you won’t have to wait as long for your underpainting to dry. The paint is usually thin so this layer dries quickly and can be easily painted over with slightly thicker paint. Most of this layer will be covered, so blocking in is usually a fast process, often done with a big bristle brush. Traditionally, artists start with value, and chose one earth color like a burnt umber. Modern artists might choose a single bright complimentary color that will be exciting when seen peeking in between the next layers. Contemporary artists sometimes block in with multiple colors, like a patchwork quilt, but since color is so enticing this tends to be distracting for beginning painters who generally need to practice on seeing the composition and basic forms.
For oil painting, some artists block in using water based paints like casein or acrylic because they’re less expensive and they dry faster, allowing the artist to add the next layer within an hour. Don’t dilute your acrylics with more than 20% water unless you’re ok with your painting not be archival. On the other side, thick glossy acrylic paint may be too slick for the next layer to adhere to. Keep it thin, or lightly sand between layers.
MORE EXAMPLES OF UNDERPAINTING, AND BLOCKING IN:
How to block in an oil painting; demo video below by Bill Inman. Nearly-finished painting below.
Seattle Artist League: art school, art classes, painting classes, figure drawing.