My oil painting teacher was Brooks Anderson from northern California. Click here to see his photos of his amazing work! Among the things he most wanted to impart to us was the value of “underpainting.” He is always asked why his paintings are so luminous, and the answer is found in this underpainting process, as flickers from other layers shine through.
When you paint a blue sky on a white canvas, it looks and feels flat, because nothing is reflected through. Then try painting a blue sky on top of a multicolored layer, and wow, all of a sudden it has depth and gradation!
It was new for many of us to paint a painting that would be simply covered over several times! In many cases it was hard to sacrifice a layer that you liked for one you were not sure you would like. We also had to learn not to be stingy with paint. But it was freeing to paint this way when most of the time it didn’t matter too much as it would be painted over anyway! (Below see Brooks demonstrating an underpainting, complete with an example of his first layer. Above, you can see my class’ first layers from the first day…)
We were living and breathing underpainting at camp so much that it morphed into an all encompassing metaphor, first for our class, and then for the whole camp, as we got so much mileage from it. We realized that our lives so far have just been the underpainting for something much greater to come. Not only are we simply a work in progress, but we are made of many layers, some obliterated and not visible, and some flickering through bringing us luster. But the opportunity for the final layer of our life’s work remains in front of us. That is encouraging. The best is yet to come! We still can become a masterpiece, honoring our Creator.