Category Archives: Underpainting

This is going to take a while


Fancy Goldfish Power by Meg Lyman

24×12″ oil on board

I started this painting a long time ago. It survived a cross-country move in between 18 months of me working on it when I could. With commission work, calendar art to finish, and shiny objects everywhere, I get distracted from personal projects easily. I should really not do that. I am not going to get any better at painting my visions (that sounds really pretentious sorry) if I don’t practice regularly. And yet I keep taking commissions. There is clearly something wrong with my brain.


Anyway, this isn’t the first time I’ve posted about this piece. I underpainted it with magenta because of reasons. As you can see, the grey of the pole isn’t so eyeball-breaking now, but the underpainting adds a nice vibrancy. I also planned this composition carefully, keeping rhythm and visual pathways in mind. And I didn’t adhere strictly to my gamut map, but used it more as a guide. Learning things is fun! And also really overwhelming because I never feel like I have a handle on everything I should.


Nonetheless, I kinda like this painting. Probably mostly because it’s the first wobbly, tentative step of my grand journey. I may twist some ankles along the way, but as long as I don’t fall face first into the mud I’ll consider it progress.


Disapproving Goldfish is judging me

La Ofrenda


La Ofrenda by Meg Lyman

11×14″ gouache on paper


This one was a labor of love. It taught me artistic patience, and that I will forever need extra tubes of M. Graham’s “Gamboge” gouache because I am maybe a little obsessed with it. In honesty, I am very pleased with parts of this and very displeased with others. I suppose that’s always how it is when you’re trying new things… but I bet you can’t tell which parts are which. If not… success!

Here’s a bit of a WIP: I drew it out on 11×14″ paper, transferred it to this glorious cold press paper, Strathmore Aquarius II. So velvety. I underpainted a sort of grisaille of magenta to help me remember light sources. It helped but I didn’t stick to it religiously.


I chose a limited palette simply by picking only a few tubes of paint to use. Then, paint! Some of it is opaque and some transparent. The sugar skull was painted in opaque, and looked awful, so I scrubbed it with a paper towel and got this lovely transparent, textured finish. Also it didn’t buckle but a little bit, which was fixed by wetting the backside (once it was all done) and pressing it overnight. Paper love!


Shades of Grey

I’m finally starting to lay paint on this background (see the bottom of the post). The magenta underpainting is slicker than snot on a doorknob, and the first layer of paint didn’t stick to it very well in some places. It’s reminiscent of the trials and tribulations I had painting with oils on smooth Gessobord. So, perhaps my problem with that whole thing was a lack of tooth. I’ll sand the gesso less next time and let you know.

Anyway, this is my first painting using gamut mapping. I had my color wheel all ready and cut a triangle into a sheet of palette paper. I picked my gamut and taped the sucker down.

My three primary tubes are Primary Green Light, Quin. Red, and Cerulean Blue. I wanted to start with the neutral grey in the middle, and so mixed the three together. Looks pretty neutral to me, maybe a bit brown. Excellent. I added white to give myself two shades:

I proceeded to paint it onto the magenta underpainting. The more I painted, the greener it looked. It’s a pretty cool effect to see just how relative color is in our brain! The color on the palette looks nothing like the color on the board. And once I paint over the magenta, it’ll look different yet again.

p.s. you can see how it was tough to get the grey to stick to the underpainting. I love learning.

Arches Oil Paper

Happy 2013, everyone! To kick off the new year, I’m posting something related to one of my goals. Go, me!


Mt. Rainier in Green by Meg Lyman

~8×11″ oil on paper

$100 – e-mail for purchasing info or visit Etsy

I bought some Arches Oil Paper after hearing about it somewhere or another. The product is specifically made for oil painting and requires no preparation. I don’t know what chemical magic they did, but I wanted to give it a try. I liked the idea of using it for studies, not only because it requires no preparation (which can be said of gessoed boards), but because of its texture. The surface feels like a velvety mix between nice watercolor paper and cloth. It’s not gessoed – it’s just really nice paper that you can oil up as much as you want. The tooth is nice too, but without being all bumpy and plastic-y like gessoed surfaces can be.

So, in order to try it out, I picked a subject from my goals list that I have obsessed over since I moved here: Mt. Rainier. We’re 40 miles from the summit (as the crow flies), and although I can’t see it from my house, I can from a block away. It’s huge and ominous and fascinating and dangerous and coy all at the same time. On the days I can see it, I’m always craning my neck to catch a glimpse. It has a sketchy history and an uncertain future. I love the thing. I’m sure I’ll be painting it a lot.

This first try, I had a photo I took at a stoplight (I wasn’t driving!) and some leftover oil paint piles. I also had been wanting to try some old tubes of acrylic rescued from my grandma’s basement that she used for a class in the 60s. I put down some purple acrylic to define the shadow areas. I let that dry (worked fine on the paper, although the paint’s age made it sorta… chunky) and did the rest wet-in-wet all in one go. I used a heck of a lot of oil on some areas, and true to its claims, the paper took it just fine.

Those areas were I used a lot of oil dried shiny, and the others dried matte. I haven’t decided whether to try varnishing this – unlike canvas and gessoed board, the paint doesn’t come off easily once dried, so varnish may not be required. And it’s going to need a frame anyway. But if I do varnish it, everything will be shiny and it won’t matter. If I don’t, the two finishes will have to coexist in harmony. You can’t see the difference unless you hold it under the light a certain way.


Shiny! Even when dry.

The only thing I don’t like about this paper is its propensity to attract fuzz, and there is a lot of the stuff in my house. Sprocket’s fur in particular floats around on the slightest breeze. Because the surface is soft and velvety, it holds dust and lint like it’s going out of style. There’s not a lot you can do about it – brushing if off doesn’t work – so don’t leave it sitting out flat uncovered until after it’s dry.


Bits of fuzz and fur everywhere. You can see the surface texture too.

This isn’t my favorite finished product, but it was a great test of the paper, the acrylic, and a good motivation to paint more Mt. Rainiers. You’ll see more in 2013!

Gouache on Colourfix Board

Fire Spider WIP by Meg Lyman

I’ve been working on this Fire Spider piece in my brain for quite some time. I made a bunch of sketches and laid out the composition in thumbnails. I then drew it out full size:

I knew some things weren’t right, so I accepted the gracious invitation from a friend to do some critiques. Not a whole lot changed, but I think the final drawing is a huge improvement. I transfered it to a sheet of Art Spectrum Colourfix board (sand color):

I bought this board years ago, and never got around to using it. I’ve been a bit scared of it, although I’m not sure why. The surface is some sort of textured acrylic base, akin to Pastelbord but less rough and sandpapery. It can take nearly any medium, so I went with gouache.

After I transferred it, I used spray fixative because the pencil lines smear easily if not protected. I let it dry overnight, then laid out the first wash with Holbein Pure Blue (PB17) and some ox gall to give me a rough layout of the darks and lights. It turned out OK overall, but I had some areas where the paint wouldn’t stick to the surface at all, kind of like I was trying to paint on a Rain-x-ed windshield:

I can’t figure out exactly what’s wrong. I’ve had problems before with gouache sticking to acrylic primers, but not this bad. Also, the board is years old – you can see that weird lighter arc in the transfered drawing above that had developed over time. I wondered if it was the spray fixative, but the affected areas seem random (I sprayed the whole thing, although some areas were thicker than others). Maybe too much ox gall? But I mixed up the wash really well and used it fairly evenly.

I’ve had problems with oil paint sticking to spray-fixed gesso as well. I prepared this board with high-quality gesso, transfered the drawing with graphite, and spray fixed it. The first layer of paint is M Graham Quinacridone Violet (VP19) thinned with Turpenoid, and a month after painting it’s still sticky to the touch (although bone dry) and it scrapes off very easily:

(I know I should let painted boards lie, but Sprocket hairs stick to EVERYTHING)

The spray fixative is the only common element, but I’ve used it before without issues. I wonder if it’s getting old or I’m laying it on too thick. Anyone have ideas? I’m going to soldier on with this one, hoping that the first layer of gouache, plus a less “washy” second layer will work. I hope.

Oils on Gessobord

Blue Crab

Blue Crab by Meg Lyman

6×8″ oil on cradled Gessobord

$85 – e-mail to purchase or visit Etsy

I’ve painted with oils on Gessobord only a handful of times before. It seemed to work fine. This time, however, was challenging.

I slathered some thinned paint on it a couple years ago to create the basic shape, and promptly forgot about it. When I pulled it out of the closet to finish it, the thinned paint was obviously dry as a bone. I sized it with walnut oil to help the new paint stick – I’d heard that was a good tool to get new paint to stick to old paint – and laid in the background grey. I let that dry a few days and went in with the colors. I had my hand resting on the dry background paint while working, and eventually noticed this:

Great. I must have rubbed it too much or something. I’ll fix it later. Moved on to another area and found a cat hair buried in the grey paint, which is not surprising considering the fuzzy menagerie that lives here. It’s happened often before and I’ve become quite adept at pulling hairs out of wet and dry paint with a palette knife. I went to remove this one, and with one delicate touch, the knife did this:

Now, I admittedly wasn’t this rough on my previous Gessobord oil paintings, but I am becoming wary of the surface nonetheless. It could be any of the following:

1. The years-old underpainting

2. The sizing

3. The Gessobord’s surface

After stories from Larry and personal experience, I have a fear of inferior gesso, and am considering re-gessoing all the prepared panels I buy. Anyone have experience with these things?

Headless Chicken

Felipe the Flaming Salamander, WIP

15×20 Gouache on Illustration Board

Y’all know the saying “running around like a chicken with its head cut off.” I figured it’s more efficient to say “running around like a headless chicken,” but whenever I say it, people go, “what?”

I’ve been running around like a headless chicken all week. I’m leaving for Con on the Cob on Thursday, and it’ll be the first time I’ll have an exhibitor’s table at a convention. I’m also entering 3 6×2′ panels in the art show. Preparation for this includes the following:

  • Painting “Felipe” specifically for Con on the Cob (at one of last year’s Quick Draw competitions, a “flaming salamander wearing cowboy boots at a taco stand” was suggested)
  • Matting, backing, labeling, and bagging all my new pieces
  • Laying out the art show panels so I know how much art I can hang
  • Labeling non-show pieces with prices to sell at the table
  • Buying and labeling a portfolio for unmatted sketches
  • Buying and filling a print binder
  • Getting prints made
  • Creating and uploading notecards and magnets to Vistaprint (their notecards are nice quality but say “” on the back)
  • Buying ungodly amounts of candy to draw people to the table
  • Buying a 29 cent ACEO frame at the resale shop only to find that a 1/8″ frame border swallows up a lot of the ACEO
  • Buying a 49 cent jar at the resale shop for animal shelter donations
  • Purchasing a receipt book
  • Researching vendor taxes in the state of Ohio
  • Designing and ordering from Kinko’s a 3×1.5′ banner. It looks awesome and cost ~$50.
  • Creating a small pricing sign (for prints and commissions)
  • Pilfering binder clips from the office
  • Panicking
  • I think that’s it.

Luckily, I have most of these done. However, it’s the first of the month, so I should update my website. And as you can see, I still have half of Felipe to paint. *runs around like a chicken*

p.s. I underpainted with three warm orange washes and it is working really well. You can layer gouache as long as you aren’t heavy-handed and use the right tools. Illo board soaks up paint fast, so it’s much easier to layer than Gessobord.

Shiner 97 Bohemian Black Lager and Gouache Underpainting, Part 2

Most of the beers I’ve posted have been good. Time for a disappointment. Although it is not a stout or porter, we picked up Shiner 97 Bohemian Black Lager because of the word “black.” Some very good dark beers are labeled simply as “black,” not stout or porter. But this beer really is a lager, and has almost no dark beer qualities. It tastes just like a light beer, but with heavy undertones. Conclusion: although it might be a good lager (I don’t really know), we won’t be buying it again.

M: 4
N: 4

Gouache Underpainting, the Final Chapter

I admit to being a complete newbie when it comes to 1) painting 2) color and 3) portraits. So I really didn’t know what I was doing. I chose some colors that I thought would make a good skin tone, and mixed them willy-nilly. I ended up with a color that would look good on a tropical parakeet… but I wasn’t going to throw out all that paint. So forgive the ultra-tanned sheen that makes Grandpa look like he’s a snorkel instructor in Tuvalu.

I attempted to paint over Left Grandpa. I mixed four values with this shade, but added some blue into the darks for a more interesting contrast. I mixed a few shades of suit and hair color as well. And I painted over.
I forgot to paint the glasses. Anyway, You can see that on the face, the underpainting didn’t show through at all. I used opaque mixes for the face, and although the underpainting was a good guide, it didn’t do much else. It was great to paint on something other than white, though. On the suit, I used a much more transparent mix, and the underpainting showed through.
Here are some of the techniques I used. You can see the results – not too great. Dry brush looks terrible. Add water and it gives nice texture. Scrubbing an area lifts like nobody’s business.

So I learned how to make it work, but didn’t much like the results. Lesson: if you make the second layer transparent enough for the underpainting to show through, it tends to lift. Therefore, my actual painting of grandpa will use a watery wash as the underpainting, so I am not painting on white. From this experiment, mostly I learned what not to do.

Terrapin Coffee Oatmeal Imperial Stout and Gouache Underpainting

Is it just me, or are these beer names getting longer?

The Terrapin Beer Company is local to Athens, GA, and regularly sends its “limited edition” brews to the local stores. After we first tried Terrapin Coffee Oatmeal Imperial Stout, we fell in love with it, and were devastated when the stores discontinued it. Well, last week, it was there again! Woo!

This beer was the First Place winner at the Atlanta Cask Ale Tasting in 2005 and People’s Choice winner in 2006, and for good reason. It’s one of the very best beers we’ve tried. It’s expensive, but delicious. You only get 4 for 8 bucks, but it’s worth it. It tastes like a chocolatey coffee and a home-baked oatmeal cookie put together. It has no bitterness and no bad aftertaste. It’s brewed with coffee. Mmmm. Therapeutic.

M: 10
N: 9.5

Gouache Underpainting – Part 1

This was an experiment in underpainting, to learn the dos and don’ts. As such, it doesn’t look very pretty. But I learned from it, and I hope you do too. Also, it’s too long to post all at once.

My excellent Grandpa passed away when I was in college. He was a great man whose personality and good deeds I didn’t fully learn about until people spoke at his funeral. Grandma still misses him a great deal, so I’m paiting a portrait of him for her. Do not tell Grandma or it’ll ruin her birthday surprise. Thank you.
I traced Grandpa’s bust onto cheap illo board with a light “table” I rigged with a desk lamp, textbooks, and a piece of glass. The outlines were very rough and simply showed the major value areas. Then I painted the values with one hue. For Left Grandpa, I mixed grey-blue and cool green. For Right Grandpa, cool red and warm green. I added white in various amounts to get a total of four values. Neither of these are a very good likeness, but that’s fine, since this is a value experiment.
I liked how the values turned out. They showed the form well. Using monochrome values was very useful to me because it’s what I’m used to with pencils. Even if I don’t use an underpainting in the final portrait, I will use these value studies to help. They were great learning experiences in themselves.

The conclusions: next week!