Three Studies of Underpainting Color Choices

There are a number of underpainting techniques that I enjoy using with my oil pastel paintings:  watercolor or soft pastel washes (washed with either water or alcohol), and gouache – acrylic – oil thinned paint.  Each offer a different result and are used for a variety of purposes.

But today I decided to use a watercolor wash for three studies of underpainting colors to see the overall effect on a landscape scene that I plan to paint in a larger size using one of these techniques.  The scene is 2/3rds clouds and the rest is land.   What follows is the study for each technique w/a corresponding painting study for each using Cotsman Watercolor Paper.  Click onto the images to increase the size.

Which style appeals the most to you?

Complementary (using opposite color on color wheel from natural color):  (9 x .45)

Complementary UP

Complementary UP


Complementary UP, The Sky

Complementary UP, The Sky










Analagous (using color next to natural color on color wheel):   (9 x 4)

Analagous UP

Analagous UP

Analagous UP, The Sky

Analagous UP, The Sky










Monochromatic (using one color):  Blue  (9 x 4.5)

Monochromatic UP

Monochromatic UP

Monochromatic UP, The Sky

Monochromatic UP, The Sky

About Mary

Oil Pastelist
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36 Responses to Three Studies of Underpainting Color Choices

  1. Interesting exercise. Often wondered what would work best myself. I like all of these, but possibly complementary & monochrome look more realistic—maybe complimentary the most. Nice painting!

    • Mary says:

      Thank you K.A. for your nice comment and thoughts. If I painted in a more loose style the differences between these three underpainting color styles. I do use the monochromatic style a lot as I like the effect with oil pastels.

  2. Terrific to see the process! I really can’t decide, they all look quite marvelous. But, if I had to choose, I’d decide on #1.

  3. lesliepaints says:

    Hi Mary. They are all exceptional but I really like the complimentary best. Don’t know if it will always happen that way, but the complimentary one really grounds the land and makes it appear heavy and solid, thus contrasting with the sky and causing the sky to appear even lighter and more airy.

    • Mary says:

      Thanks Leslie so much for your comments – you have such a great eye for composition, color and values. I’ve spent the last couple of days considering how I want the sky to read in the scene and I think I’ve settled on the mood and colors – stay tuned. Thanks again.

  4. I believe I like the analogous the best in these paintings. Not sure why though. 🙂 I normally like complimentary under painting best. o_O

    • Mary says:

      Thanks Elizabeth, interesting. I kind of like all three depending on the scene – I read once that if your painting is mainly sky then analogous. So I’m leaning toward that for this scene.

  5. Mary, I like the complimentary the best. These are lovely! 🙂

  6. aFrankAngle says:

    As a whole, complementary for me …. on the other hand, I imagine I would prefer some paintings in other styles, that is depending on the painting as a whole. Does this make any sense?

    • Mary says:

      Makes a lot of sense Frank. Each style accomplishes something a bit different and as you’ll see the final painting will be unique to the style chosen but will also have some structural changes. Hmmm now I’m excited to get going on this piece.

  7. Maria says:

    I bet you had fun with this study!!! It looks really interesting!! To be honest with you, I prefer the first one, it looks warmer! 🙂

  8. coastalcrone says:

    Complimentary seems to be winning so they must be the artists. I liked the Analagous UP. I am sure the experts know best. I only paint match boxes! lol Thanks for the recent visit and comment on one of my posts! Your opinion is always welcome.

  9. Painting for Joy says:

    I’m always a fan of the complimentary color schemes as I like vibrant colors, but that’s me. The first study on the top right is my fav and looks like a finished work! Beautiful. Can’t wait to see the larger piece. xo

  10. Don says:

    For me it’s the complementary, Mary. But I don’t want to sound stuck in it. I like the others as well. Such an interesting post Mary – thank you.

    • Mary says:

      Thanks Don for your feedback. I’ve been considering this cloudscape for a while now, but have been undecided on the underpainting so the experiment got me out of the rut and into the scene.

  11. Gallivanta says:

    Gosh, difficult to decide. Maybe, I prefer the monochromatic.

  12. violetski says:

    Great sudy dear Mary! ❤️
    I personally like first version 😃❤️
    It should be fun, isn’t it?😃

  13. M-R says:

    Into this I can not be drawn: it is much too far above my head.
    It’s lovely but. 😀

  14. Love this! Complementary=Rich and Warm, Analogous=Bright and Light, Monochromatic=Cool and Crisp, so now is time to decide…..since 2/3 of the scene is sky I will base my preference on that, meaning I love a “blue” sky which equals the Monochromatic study! They are all great studies but for me #3 gives the best effect for a beautiful blue sky covered with crispy and fluffy white clouds! Now this was really great fun to be and get involved with your study!:)

    • Mary says:

      Hi Eva, thanks so much it was a great little experiment that helped me to see this cloudscape in a different light (so to speak). You have such an eye for seeing the interesting subtleties of each scenario- loved reading your feedback on this study. Now we’ll have to see what comes about in the real painting.

  15. Francesca says:

    Nice study, Mary! Definitely complimentary! Well at least, this is my humble opinion! 🙂

  16. sefeniak says:

    I am liking the complimentary version or #1. They are similar so it is hard to pick. Interesting that they are three different techniques! Truth be known I like them all. 🙂

  17. Yes, this IS fun, Mary. I favor the first one…complementaries comprise all three of the primaries within them, so they seem somehow richer to me. 🙂

  18. I’m somewhere between 1 and 2 with 1 being slightly ahead!
    Nice study, Mary! This is fun, isn’t it?! 🙂 xx

    • Mary says:

      Thank you Marina – this was a fun exercise. Only thing when I use colors in underpaintings I have to remind myself not to cover them completely with oil pastels, will have to remember this w/my larger painting.

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