The Importance Of Base Color Painting In Creating Brilliant Paintings

As a colorblind artist I had to learn without any context anything to do with colors so working out what a base color was in painting was crucial for me to progress as a young artist.

Base color painting refers to the initial layer of paint that is applied to a surface or canvas as the foundation for a painting.

This layer is typically the first layer of color that an artist applies to a painting and provides the starting point for the rest of the painting process.

The purpose of the base color is to establish the overall tone and color scheme of the painting.

It can help to create the illusion of depth and dimension and can serve as a guide for subsequent layers of paint.

Depending on the desired outcome and your own personal tastes, the base color can be applied in a bunch of different ways.

Some artists prefer to work with a monochromatic base color, such as a single shade of gray or brown, while others may choose a more colorful base to establish a specific color scheme.

All in all, selecting the base color is a crucial step for any painting, as it provides the foundation that can influence the artwork’s look and feel.

Base Color Painting Explained

Base color painting is the initial layer of paint that is applied to a surface or canvas as the foundation for a painting.

This layer is usually the first layer of color that an artist applies to a painting and provides the starting point for the rest of the painting process.

The reason we have a base color is to set the overall tone and color scheme of the painting.

It can help to create the illusion of depth and dimension and can act as a guide for subsequent layers of paint.

The base color can be applied to the surface in a few ways, depending on the artist’s preferences and the desired effect.

Some artists prefer to work with a monochromatic base color, such as a single shade of gray or brown, while others may choose a more colorful base to establish a specific color scheme.

Why Base Color Painting Is Important

As mentioned earlier, base color painting is important for several reasons.

  • It establishes the overall tone and color scheme of the painting. This can help to create a sense of harmony and balance throughout the artwork. Without a well established base color, the painting can feel disjointed and lack cohesion.
  • The base color can help to create the illusion of depth and dimension. By establishing a solid foundation of color, an artist can create a sense of space and distance within the painting.

This can be important in landscapes or other scenes where the artist wants to convey a sense of depth and scale.

By establishing the underlying color scheme, as an artist, you can more easily build on that foundation and create a cohesive, balanced, and harmonious painting.

How to Choose a Base Color In Painting

Deciding on which base color to choose is an important decision that can impact the overall feel of the painting.

There are several factors to consider when selecting a base color, including the subject matter, the desired mood or atmosphere, and your own personal preferences.

If the painting will feature a particular color scheme, such as a sunset or ocean scene, the base color should reflect that color scheme.

For example, if the painting will feature warm oranges and yellows, a warm-toned base color such as light orange or yellow may be appropriate.

If you want to create a more subdued or moody atmosphere, a monochromatic base color such as gray or brown can be effective.

These neutral colors can help to create a sense of depth and dimension, without overwhelming the other colors in the painting.

Until I learned about base colors I had settled on always using Grisaille (shades of gray) for every painting’s base color.

It took a lot of experimenting and studying to break free from my fear and try something new.

Gray was my personal preference as it was ‘safe’ for me but you need to decide what is safe or good for you.

Some artists may prefer to work with a particular color or shade and stick with those for all paintings.

You don’t have to pick a new base color for every new painting.

Most artists work with the same color palette anyway so it is not unusual for the same base colors being applied in every painting.

Your mood can also influence your choice of the base color.

The angrier or sadder you are the darker the base color. Interesting hey!

If you decide to not have a base color, make sure that all other colors are complementary. Either opt for hues near each other in the color wheel or mix one hue into the others while painting.

Failing to choose any base color, I have been known to just stir up some dirty solvent, dip in an old cloth and “wash” my canvas with it.

It gives it a brown/gray coat that helps me get started.

How to Apply a Base Color

Once the base color has been chosen, it’s time to apply it to the surface or canvas.

There are several techniques that can be used to apply a base color, including washes, glazes, and opaque layers.

You can use these techniques whether you are using oils, acrylics, and the like.

A wash is a thin layer of paint that is diluted with water and applied to the surface or canvas.

This technique is often used for watercolor paintings and can create a soft and subtle base color.

A glaze is a transparent layer of paint that is applied over the top of the base color.

This technique can add depth and luminosity to the painting, as the base color can still be seen through the glaze.

Opaque layers are solid layers of paint that completely cover the surface or canvas.

This technique can be used to create a more solid and bold base color, particularly for paintings that feature a lot of texture or detail.

Regardless of the technique used, it’s important to apply the base color evenly and consistently.

Any variations or inconsistencies in the base color can be magnified by subsequent layers of paint and can impact the overall appearance of the painting.

The best starter colors for acrylic painting

When selecting base colors for painting, it should not matter if you are using acrylics or oils unless you are looking for a specific hue that cannot be found in one medium or the other.

That is why I have addressed this question below with acrylics in mind.

When it comes to choosing starter colors for acrylic painting, it’s important to consider the role of the base color in establishing the overall tone and color scheme of the painting.

Some good starter colors for base color painting with acrylics include:

Titanium White: This is a versatile and essential white for any acrylic painter. It can be used to create tints and highlights and is often used as the base color for paintings with a lighter or more pastel color scheme.

Mars Black: This is another essential color for acrylic painting. It can be used to create darker shades and shadows and is often used as the base color for paintings with a more dramatic or moody color scheme.

Cadmium Yellow: This is a warm and vibrant yellow that can be used to create a range of shades and tones. It is often used as the base color for paintings with a warm or sunny color scheme.

Ultramarine Blue: This is a rich and deep blue that can be used to create a range of shades and tones. It is often used as the base color for paintings with a cool or watery color scheme.

Cadmium Red: This is a warm and bright red that can be used to create a range of shades and tones. It is often used as the base color for paintings with a warm or fiery color scheme.

These colors can be mixed together (not literally or you get brown) but you can apply them together on the same painting to create a wide range of hues and shades and can be used as a starting point for more complex color schemes.

As with any aspect of painting, it’s important to experiment and find the colors that work best for your style and preferences.

Base color in oil painting

I recommend you get basic colors to start and create others by mixing. Here’s a good starting list of oil paint colors in alphabetical order: 

  • Burnt sienna or burnt umber.
  • Cadmium red is another good pick as it has a great variety of tones.
  • Cerulean blue.
  • Ivory black or lamp black.
  • Mars black or mars yellow are also popular choices for a base color in oil painting.
  • Raw Umber is a popular choice.
  • Titanium white, zinc white, or flake white.
  • Ultramarine blue.
  • Viridian green.
  • Yellow ochre is often used for earthy colors or bright shades of yellow.

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