Coloured primers

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Coloured primers

How do you think priming with different colours affects an oil painting?


Ask Jacksons: How do you think priming with different colours affects an oil painting? 


Experimenting with different base colours is a great way of discovering what works best for your style. Whether you use a coloured primer, or apply an underpainting (imprimatura layer) on top of a white primer, the colour you start working from will affect the colour relationships within your painting, particularly if you are using transparent glazing techniques. It’s a good way of establishing an overall colour temperature; a blue base will give your painting cool undertones while a red base will result in warmer undertones. 

You can use complementary colours, for example, a red base will intensify the greens in a landscape painting, even if the red is painted over. Colour theory aside, starting from a white background can be daunting, and surely all artists have been faced with a blank white canvas and wondered where to begin. 

Starting with a colour, or laying down a colour on top of your white canvas often feels like an easier place to start; it can be a ‘way in’ to a painting, and a method of mapping out tonal values before beginning to add form and detail. When considering tonal values, a white canvas can be limiting, allowing you only to work from light to dark. Starting from a mid-tone, such as a blue or burnt umber, means that you can establish both shadows and highlights easily. Browse traditional oil paints on the Jacksons website.


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