I'm working on my first painting commission for a client and have finally reached the underpainting (underdrawing) stage — after months of composition drawings, photoshoots, etc., suffering innumerable stumbles and pitfalls.

I finally transferred the image to a primed and toned canvas using carbon paper and a large-format print of the reference photo.

Now I want to refine the drawing on the canvas.
It was suggested to me to use vine charcoal for this purpose — ostensibly when moving to the underpainting stage it is naturally wiped off, where graphite or other forms of charcoal would show through — but find that it doesn't adhere well at all to the primed, semi-smooth canvas.

Unfortunately, because of my NDA with the client, I can't show my work here, but could anyone who has ever encountered this suggest a better tool for creating the underdrawing?

Thanks for any insight!


1 Answer 1


There are a few alternatives I can think of you can use to refine your underdrawing:

  • Using a small brush you can paint the finer details, either with acrylic for quicker corrections, or already in (diluted) oils.
  • Using a dip pen in combination with acrylic inks (I'm not sure how Indian inks will behave under oil paint in the long run).
  • You can use coloured pencils, preferably choosing a colour that is only slightly darker or lighter than your imprimatura (just avoid graphite, as it will will really muddy up any lighter paint).
  • If your imprimatura happens to be darker than white, another option is to use (a) white chalk (pencil), but this is not practical for detailed work.

As a footnote:

"it is naturally wiped off"

This is not entirely true: while the application of the charcoal is usually so light that the mere proximity of a brush will sweep some of it away, it will likely at least partially mix with your paints.
This is obviously not necessarily a bad thing, especially in the underpainting stage, but just something to be aware of.

  • @pjldesign Please let me know what ultimately worked best for you, or anything you might want to add to this. Thanks in advance!
    – Joachim
    Apr 17, 2022 at 10:05

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