Underpainting demonstration

This painting is a commission that is still in progress. It is based very closely on the famous Arnolfini wedding portrait with the exception that an otter and a Westie represent the client's family, and other personal items have been inserted. Here is the original by Jan van Eyck (1434):

I thought it would be fun to show how I tackle such a detailed painting.

1. I researched the animals and made sketches of the otter and Westie in the appropriate pose. There were also some other small sketches made of any areas that were going to be altered, such as the frog and shoes.


2. I mapped the entire composition onto paper and made sure the proportions were balanced. Because I know my panel size will be 11x14", I use an 11x14" piece of paper as well. Jan van Eyck's perspective is a little quirky to start with but it's important to be sure your drawing is firmly rooted. It's a terrible thing to be halfway into a painting and realize your subject's head is too small.

3. I transferred the complete drawing to a panel prepared with a mix of yellow ochre and white. The result looks pretty much the same as fig. 2, except sketched over the light yellow ground.

4. Using Old Holland Raw Umber oil paint, plus white, and my thinnest medium recipe I start developing the painting (A "thin" medium means it's heavier in solvents than oils or resins, at least in comparison with later glazes). This stage can take quite a long time, but it's rewarding when the next step is reached!

5. Color glazing and top coat details will be the final step, although it will still take many hours. I will post again when I get to the color glazing. I would love to figure out how to create a video of the initial color glazing process . . . let's hope I do!

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