Part 3 of my WIP. Underpainting!

I am now moving onto Part 3 of this Work-In-Progress tutorial.

I have settled upon a rough composition and prepared a more refined drawing.

To start, I have opened the file in Corel Painter X which is my current digital painting application of choice. It has many things in common with PhotoShop and much of what I will do here is also possible in PhotoShop. (I will also be speaking more generally when it comes to the painting process as this tutorial isn’t really an article about a specific program).

My first step is to create a new “Multiply” Layer and , using the Paint Bucket Tool, fill that layer with a dark gray. In this instance, I chose to go with a value of 16% white ( as my program measures the gray value).  Some folks like to use a color for their underpainting, but I prefer gray because it helps me to focus on what is most important to me at this moment—the value range of my piece.


I can now begin rendering the piece with an eraser. I am effectively drawing and sculpting the forms with light. I select the eraser tool and set it to around 4-5% opacity. I then start removing the gray from the Multiply Layer where the light will strike and allow the shadows to remain.

This is the exact opposite way of how I used to do things, actually. I used to build up the forms in a slow series of gray washes working from light to dark. This was a relic of my older training with penciling, watercolor, and acrylic wash techniques. While it helped me to wrap my brain around performing artwork digitally (by mimicking traditional media), it was also more time consuming. This method is much faster for me and gets me the initial results I ‘m after with time to spare.


My pencils remain intact beneath the Multiply Layer and I can play with the value levels of the layer to darken or lighten as I see fit. 

On a new standard default layer I can now begin a more refined rendering by painting with white and carefully blending. I add strong highlights and more carefully modeled middle tones.

I also add visible details in the shadows using tones of gray. I make strong use of reflected light ( light bouncing off of nearby surfaces that help illuminate areas in shadow)  and I like to place a good deal of subtle detail into even my deepest shadows to add interest and give depth to the forms.  Where appropriate I also add rim lighting ( lighting visible along the edge or contour of a form).

I mentioned in my previous post that changes will occur along the away as I work. You may notice that the Mind Flayer in the background has been given a more extreme tilt. I found that his pose and angle were a bit too similar to my critter in the middle ground in my initial drawing. Since both creatures are on separate layers, it was an easy fix.

I think he’s looking much better now.

I also shifted them both a smidge to aid the composition. Nothing drastic, but it is an improvement to my eye.


This stage is so important to me because it is here where the lighting is established and the drawing and details are further refined. 

Before adopting this working method, my work ran the risk of being too narrow in value range.

It failed to take advantage of the compositional possibilities of value and relied too heavily on contrasting color to guide the eyes of viewers. My earlier work sometimes had rather odd color palettes as I attempted to add much-needed contrast.

Now, I don’t move forward to color until I am confident that I have properly developed the picture’s value range and established the lighting and detail. Minor changes may be made as I move onto the next stage, but I have further strengthened the foundation of my painting with this important step.

Part 4 will be under way shortly!

Thanks for reading.


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One Response to “Part 3 of my WIP. Underpainting!”

  1. Chelsea Says:

    I’m really enjoying these tutorials so far, Jeremy! I’m going to have to try out the erasing method in my next piece. I recall you talking about it on an episode of NM quite a while ago, but seeing it in action helps me get a batter grasp on what you meant and how it’s beneficial. Thanks for sharing this! 🙂

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