Part 2 : The Underpainting (in Acrylic)

Fig.1 Drawing on Canvas Board... starting the Underpainting

In this next part, I shall be going in to the details of the underpainting of the Ghost Rider Painting (Clayton Crain's Original Artpiece) done in Acrylic's.
Although there's still some controversy about the use of acrylic's under oil paint ( I recommend doing some of your own research before deciding ) I haven't encountered any problems nor does Winsor & Newton discourage it according to this.
Now lets get this under way...


1. Acrylic Paint ( I used mostly Daler Rowney Cryla Acrylic )

  • Burnt Umber
  • Ultramarine
  • Titanium White ( Systems 3 a more fluid version was used part of the way ( was on sale :) ) which did not pose any problems since I was painting in somewhat thin smooth layers anyway)

Fig.2 Burnt Umber + Ultramarine, Slow Drying Medium and Titanium White

2. Slow Drying Medium (again Daler Rowney) as an aid in blending. (a mixture of 1: 1 should double the drying time, do not exceed this amount for it'll cause paint to become unbound (thinner and stickier in consistency))

3. Stay-Wet Palette Membrane & Reservoir Paper ( You can definitely replace this with a more affordable alternative of tracing paper and thin watercolour paper ( experiment with different grades and types to find the perfect fit)

Fig.3 Stay-Wet Pallet Paper is cut to size to fit comfortably in to small tupperware

4. Shallow tupperware or any air tight container ( I used two small ones to keep my colours separate)

5. Brushes ( 2 Round sable brushes size : 0 and 00 )

Fig.4 Colour Shaper
6. Any sort of nonabsorbent lollipop stick to mix up paints. I used a Colour Shaper ( I just had one lying around and since I never use it for actual painting I put it to good use mixing up the colours throughly before painting ). These are easier to clean and avoids the complication of paint getting stuck deep within the ferrule of the brush if one was used.

7. Containers for water, I had 3....

  • one for adding water to the mixtures and washing out brushes now and then. Change the water regularly though, however with such a limited pallet, contamination between colours were not as much of a concern.
  • another closed container for keeping clean boiled water to moisten the pallet reservoir paper whenever it started to dry out. 
  • and one with a lil watered down handwash for when I wished to give the brushes a more thorough wash).

8. Soft Clean Cloth (to dab your brushes of access water while painting)


Preparing Materials
For those who are new to acrylics or are just interested, I thought I might add this section showing what practices I have found suit me well.

1. Stay-Wet Palette

The stay-wet pallet keeps the paints from drying out too fast.

  • Cut the thin tracing and thicker reservoir paper (or watercolour paper) to fit comfortably in to the air tight container ( Fig.3 ).
  • Disinfect the palette container before placing the palette paper inside with clean hands. ( keep the conditions inside the pallet as sterile as possible or you may find mold appearing the next day.)
  • Always ensure you use boiled clean water to moisten the reservoir paper (this is placed under the thinner tracing paper which is then used as a base for placing and mixing paints).

2. Paints

Acrylics are insoluble once dry and without a gel retarder can dry within seconds of applying a thin wash. This may suit you or you may wish to adjust it's working consistency with any of the specialized mediums widely available. Experiment or research to find what you feel would be best for your method of working. Here's Winsor & Newtons Mediums page to get you started.

Although you can still use moist paint left in a stay-wet palette for a few days, fresh paint is always best and I would suggest just mixing enough for one or two painting sessions only.

Two mixtures were prepared for the underpainting (kept in separate containers, for minimal contamination)....
- Titanium White + Drying Retarder  ( 1 : 1 )

- Burnt Umber + Ultramarine + Drying Retarder  ( 10 : 2 : 12 )

When mixing, try to do so in a smooth manner so as not to create any bubbles in the mix which may complicate painting. Brushes have a higher tendency to create bubbles so if you don't have something like a Colour Shaper then try a nonabsorbent sort of lollipop stick.


The Burnt Umber mixture was the primary colour used (not mixed with white). White only being used minimally when I wished to lighten or retrieve highlights in the painting.

I basically painted as one would with watercolours, laying in lighter blended washes of colour, then proceeding with darker washes in ever increasing detail. The Drying Retarder helped a lot in keeping the paint workable for longer so I could create the soft blends I wanted. Although water is added naturally one should be sure to avoid overthinning acrylics with water.

Fig.6 Completed Underpainting

I still have much to discover but here are a few things I've learnt so far...

  • add just enough water to make the paint application smooth and fluid.
  • Moistening the canvas area to be painted just before paint application, helps in blending and extending the acrylics drying time on the surface of the canvas.
  • It's better to apply many thin smooth layers to achieve really dark passages than to use an application of thick opaque paint. (you want to keep the surface smooth for the glazing technique to come later). This also gives more optical depth, an almost 3D effect. This effect will also come in to play later with the colour glazes.
  • Make sure the tones are already accurate. Although I didn't utilize a grayscale in determining the tones, I'm sure one would help quite a bit . Half squinting helps as well in focusing your attention on tones rather than the details.
  • All the tones should be 1 to 2 tones lighter than the tone you wish the final result to be (this applies to the Dead layer as well) as the coloured glazes darken with each successive layer. 
  • the tonal composition can be worked out here too, such as the visual path for the eye, focal point etc... all of which are highly influenced by the tonal composition.
  • though I don't think the underpainting need be as detailed as i did, the more detailed it is, the better in aiding you with subsequent layers. 
  • Remember oil paint becomes more and more transparent in time. All the layers will have an effect on the final look and feel of the painting as a result of the luminous optical mixing of each layer. 
  • a common adage is that each layer ( underpainting, dead layer...) should be esthetically appealing as a finished painting all of its own.

Note on Brushes
  • Always wash brushes immediately after with soap, scrubbing in the palm of your hand to remove all residue from deep within the hairs of the brush.
  • Store them on their side not pointing upwards in a jar as commonly depicted, as any left over residue will flow down deep in to the ferrules of the brush, drying and making the brush spay out in time.
These points are especially important when it comes to painting with Acrylic due to their fast drying and insoluble properties after drying.
However if one was to unintentionally neglect doing so, as we all do sometimes.. 
Save brushes by soaking in hot water for a bit to help remove dried paint from the hairs (Try not to do this too often, as hot water can damage the hairs of the brush too, just be sure to reshape bristles after)
  • Reshape hairs with a bit of liquid soap (or your own saliva usually does the trick too.. ;)). Store, laid on it's side.

One would be able to build up thin glazes of coloured acrylic (after an acrylic dead layer) to create the Venetian look as well, for the optical mix of the coloured glazes would still apply.. However I have an affinity towards working with Oils as well, and the proceeding steps will be taken using Alkyd (a fast drying oil paint), and normal oil paint with the addition of Liquin a modern resin Alkyd medium.

P.s. Check out the preliminary steps that I took in recreating this painting at....

or fast forward to 
which finally completes all stages of this painting!..


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