When I watch time lapses of Photoshop (and the like) artwork, I always ask myself why they paint a huge area over the picture over and over again (like layers).

As reference watch the first seconds in this video.

The artist paints a large chunk of black over the picture (the fine black drawing itself is always on top).

Is this to provide more contrast? Is this like a backup? Painting a big area implies that the layers beyond are finished?

Later the black is overpainted again.

Since I am not a painter/drawer/designer etc, I have no clue what this is supposed to do/help with. I used paint to make some signatures in discussion boards but those where only patterns and filter.

2 Answers 2


Every artist works differently, but the basic concept is called "painting on a colored ground."

The idea is that you do not start with white, and the most (western) traditional method is to start with a 40-70% grey (or brown) tone.

This allows you to work "up" to white and "down" to black.

In my experience anything darker than 50% grey tends to give an oppressive overall feel to a picture, but seems to be popular in fantasy illustration, VElvis, Rainbow Unicorns etc.

  • I can +1 this as a beginner/amateur, too: Starting with a grey and moving towards white for the lighter areas allows for a ton more leeway when it comes to shading and such, as our urge is to keep the pure white for white, even though a light grey can still be seen as white
    – Izkata
    Commented Mar 12, 2014 at 13:57
  • I think it is a little deeper than that: if you are able to tone the ground to something that is in keeping with the tone of the surroundings of the thing you are working on, then every other tone you work with can be properly evaluated in context. There are lots of illusions that play on the juxtaposition of different grey values and how they are evaluated by our perception. Knowing this, when you place a dark area on a white background, are you evaluating/percieving its absolute value or its relative value? And how does this impact further tonal choices?
    – horatio
    Commented Mar 12, 2014 at 15:01
  • I did say "as a beginner"; I think you're still coming from a place with more experience.
    – Izkata
    Commented Mar 12, 2014 at 15:54
  • :) If you were an expert, I wouldn't have typed it out. Its just something to think about, and I offer it in the spirit of learning.
    – horatio
    Commented Mar 12, 2014 at 16:27

The artist in your link is painting from dark to light. By laying down a dark layer first, he can then paint highlights on top of it. This is often easier than trying to paint in every crease which creates a shadow.

In general, you can paint from dark to light, light to dark, or middle to light and dark. If the overall piece is intended to be of a darker nature it's often easier to start with a dark base and build brighter color on top of that base.

Note, he doesn't paint in a "black" layer. He paints in a dark layer but he can still see his black edges on top of it.

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