"My painting teacher encouraged students to get rid of the white surface on which they intended to draw or paint, so we always found a way to accomplish that," Keefe says, "whether it was to apply a collage of tissue paper, spray paint it with several colors, or just brush out the white of the gesso with contrasting colors. When I left the graphic design field to become a full-time fine art painter in 2005, I continued my practice of 'getting rid of the white surface' before I started a painting."
It is not uncommon for artists to apply a thin wash of color on a canvas, especially when they intend to work outdoors under bright sunlight that would bounce off a white surface and distort their perception of values. Pastel painters often dissolve their initial applications of color with denatured alcohol to establish the big shapes of a design and to have an underlying color that peeks through the subsequent strokes of pastel, and portrait painters will sometimes block in the shadow areas in a face with a complementary green color before they apply the reddish flesh colors on top. The only caution one needs to observe when underpainting in acrylic is to keep the paint thin enough that it doesn't cause a problem of adhesion when the oil colors are brushed across.
So while it may seem unusual for a plein air painter to prepare her painting surfaces with strong colors that are often complements to the predominant scene he or she intends to paint, it is not an unprecedented step to take. It actually makes a lot of sense for Keefe to apply a wash of orange acrylic when she intends to paint a blue sky or seascape, reds and purples when the subject is a mass of green trees, and blues and greens when she will be painting the oranges and browns in a fall scene or brick building. "The approach can be distracting at first and some people who try the technique have trouble gauging the right hue and value when they paint on such a strong complementary color," the artist admits, "but after they become comfortable with the process they find it adds energy, excitement, and unity to their paintings."
For more information, read the article in the next issue of PleinAir
magazine or visit www.studiosshelby.com
.DEMONSTRATION: Wiggle Road
The artist sets up her easel along a rood in Wisconsin and applies bold washes of reds, pinks, and yellows in the sunlit areas and blues where the shadows crossed the roadStep 2:
Keefe quickly brushes light valued color mixtures in the distance and along the roadStep 3:
Now she blocks in local colors to establish the treesStep 4:
The completed painting: Wiggle Road
, 2012, oil, 18 x 14 in. Private collection.