Underpainting is central to planning the painting’s composition in traditional, indirect painting techniques. With few colors, a tonal foundation can effectively and quickly establish the painting’s value scheme. Colors such as Transparent Earth Red, Yellow Ochre, Raw Umber, and Titanium White are well-suited for this technique. Underpainting isn’t limited to traditional techniques, however. Our broad palette of FastMatte Alkyd Oil Colors allows for vibrant base layers for all painting styles and techniques.

FastMatte for Underpainting

An important quality of the FastMatte colors is that they make an excellent base layer for a painting. Traditionally, earth colors have been widely used for underpainting in oils because they dry fast, due to their iron content, and matte, due to their large particle size. These are the two characteristics that we incorporated into a wider color range in our FastMatte line, making them ideal for underpainting techniques. The 24-color FastMatte palette give painters a broad, intense color range for underpainting and indirect painting techniques.


Artist Timothy Robert Smith builds his base using Gamblin FastMatte for the underpainting (left). The completed painting (right) Smith used Gamblin Artist’s Oil Colors and Galkyd Gel.

The history of oil paintings has taught us that “like materials” are best used within the structure of a painting – the simpler the construction of the painting, the better its permanence. Therefore, the use of an oil-based color for underpainting is preferred over using a color of a totally different binder, such as acrylics.

The line of FastMatte Alkyd Oil Colors has a binder made from oil, so traditional oil paint films applied on top will form a chemical bond. These colors dry to a velvety, matte surface quality. This is a function of the dry paint layers having a subtle tooth, which creates a receptive surface for subsequent layers – whether they be traditional oil colors or additional FastMatte layers. This mechanical adhesion ensures that a strong physical bond is made in the foundation of the painting structure.

FastMatte for Underpainting

To thin FastMatte colors for underpainting, we recommend a 50/50 mixture of Galkyd and Gamsol. This mixture, used in moderation, thins colors without slowing dry-times or significantly increasing gloss.

Ground Layers

Ground Layers

The Ground is the foundation of an oil painting. Gamblin Oil Painting Ground makes a strong, bright, non-absorbent foundation for oil paintings. The lower absorbency of the Ground, compared to acrylic “gesso,” is important for painters working in reductive underpainting techniques – wiping away to the white of the ground layer.

For painters interested in working on colored grounds, consider a uniform layer of our FastMatte colors over the Ground. FastMatte colors can also be used to tint the Oil Painting Ground.

Additional Note on Underpainting

We recommend extending oil colors with a mixture of solvent and binder, rather than solvent alone.  Thinning with only solvent will make oil colors too “lean” which may prevent proper adhesion and permanence of paint layers. For creating thin washes of color, we recommend Galkyd Slow Dry or a 50/50 mixture of Galkyd and Gamsol.

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