Task 8: Colour Theory & Still Life

Before you get started, go through the following blog post which discusses colour theory. When you know the basics of colour theory, painting becomes more effective (you will see why):


Task 8 Part 1: The Colour Wheel


Following on from colour theory, I will demonstrate some painting techniques for this tutorial.

This time I will be using acrylic paint on canvas.

In the demonstration video you will see me get to this point and produce the basis of a pear. What this image shows is the underpainting that I used to layer my image and this is how colour theory can come into play when you design your own art work. For this painting, I used crimson red.

Your Underpainting Has Three Primary Functions:

  • First: to create some texture, or build on the canvas.
  • Second: To put a colour underneath your painting, allowing that to impact your final work in some way.
  • Third: A way of laying out your painting to see whether all the elements balance up compositionally, and whether they “fit”.

For our pear painting, the first 2 functions are used for this art work. It helped me to create texture on the skin of the pear, and also allowed the colours to clash and sit on top of the red; this impacted how the colours blended from one to the other.


More on underpainting:

It’s a lovely thing to leave flashes of the ground colour showing through. You can experiment with this and have a lot of fun. Try using a colour that’s quite unexpected. If your image happens to have a lot of green, as an example, do your underpainting a luscious vibrant red. This is what is happening with your pear.

For other art works, a lovely hot pink is a fantastic colour to paint over. Little flashes of hot pink through your painting can often give it a lift it would not have had. This way lends itself to throwing chunks of colour onto your canvas, and allowing the “pure” ground colour to show through.

One of the other added benefits of painting onto a coloured ground, is that you can rough sketch in your painting in chalk. Cheap, easy to wipe off, and visible. Lots of time saved. You’ll see me do this in my demonstration.


Some artists like to mark out very clearly on their canvas the position of all of their elements. This is nice, but can sometimes lack the spontaneity of just hurling some paint around, and seeing where it takes you.

As your technique improves, you will become less constrained by the image you want to paint.  Throwing a rough outline of the painting at the canvas, allows you to balance everything (and here’s the beauty of acrylics) and 20 minutes later, make adjustments if you are not happy. It is all about layering and letting one layer dry to make way for the next. Mistakes can be covered up, or you can use the acrylic hue underneath to add to the next. Who cares if you have to move an object over 3 inches? It’s all part of the process, and gets you closer to being happy with the finished painting (without putting your paintbrush down). It’s also another layer of paint on the canvas to work with later on if you need to.

How do I choose my underpainting colour?

There are many colours that are traditionally used for underpainting: burnt or raw umber, burnt sienna, or ultramarine blue. Almost any pigment can be used as long as it is capable of producing an adequate value range from light to dark. Yellow or medium-toned pigments, for example, cannot do this. The broader question, however, is whether the underpainting colour should be similar to the dominant colour of the subject, or contrast with it?


Monochromatic Underpainting (same colour as the main image-like blue underpainting when painting water scene or skies):

  • Advantages: Recommended for those just learning the underpainting method, but also a solid choice for seasoned painters. Makes tonal studies that are beautiful in their own right.
  • Disadvantages: Initial strokes of full colour paint may look out of place against the monochromatic underpainting until more coverage is achieved-keep going and use warm colours on top to bring out a range of tone.

Complementary Underpainting (clashing colours that are opposite on the colour wheel, like red underpainting for a green pear!):

  • Advantage: Can provide exciting colour reactions as the subsequent layers of colours react with the underlying colour.
  • Disadvantages: Like the monochromatic underpainting, initial strokes of full colour may seem out of place until enough coverage is achieved

I will be using complementary colours and explain as I paint what is happening as each layer is added.

With a few extra details and a range of techniques of how to use acrylic paint, you can achieve a basic painting and progress with your technical skills in no time 🙂

See the video below to watch the live video tutorial below to learn how it is done…

Click here to watch the live video tutorial below to learn how it is done…


Join our Facebook Group for LIVE lessons and friendly art community – see you there 🙂

Why not have a go at this and post your artwork for me to see. Maybe I or the community can offer support, encouragement and helpful feedback.  – share your work on TWITTER and INSTAGRAM – POST  using our hashtag #ONLINECOLLEGEART


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