Oils – Guienne Hanover – Umber Under Painting

Reference Photo for Guienne Hanover Painting
This is Guienne Hanover (photo by Jeff Coady, Coady Photography).

In 2007, Guienne Hanover became the world’s fastest three-year-old trotting filly when she trotted one mile in 1:51.2 on October 20, 2007. The previous track and world record was 1:54 and the North American record for the same distance was 1:52.

The record setting race was the Virginia Breeders Elimination at Colonial Downs and Guienne Hanover was the clear winner by 13-1⁄2 lengths in a wire-to-wire victory in which she simply outran the rest of the field. (You can read all about it here.)

The portrait was purchased at the 2007 Michigan Harness Horseman’s Association benefit auction, but it wasn’t until Guienne Hanover turned in her stunning performance at Colonial Downs that she became the subject of the portrait. The original 20×24 portrait was upgraded to 22×28 and the composition was selected by Guienne Hanover’s owner, who wanted to capture that particular moment in time rather then a traditional portrait of the horse.

The painting is a full racing image and includes some elements that were new to me. The tote board in the infield was the biggest challenge.

Drawing of Guienne Hanover
A full-size drawing was developed through a series of steps stretching across many days and through many refinements.

The First Step: The Umber Phase

The Umber Layer for Guienne Hanover
This portrait was created using the classical technique of multiple layers of underpainting. The underpainting is painted in a neutral color as a halftone. Detail is important, but placing values and establishing the composition is more important at this step.

The colors I use most often at this stage are earth tones, usually Raw Umber and white or Burnt Umber and white. These two combinations provide a solid underpainting for almost any color of horse and dry more quickly than any other color on my palette.

The Umber Phase can be completed in a day or two for small paintings, but may take weeks for larger paintings such as this one.

The umber layer is complete when the image looks finished even as a halftone. When the underpainting is well-enough painted to stand on its own as a painting, it is finished.

Once the underpainting is complete, the painting is set aside to dry for a minimum of four weeks. Dry time may be as long as seven or eight weeks.

Adding Color

After the underpainting is completely dry all the way through, the surface is scraped lightly to remove blemishes, hair, dust, and unevenness in the paint film.

Color begins with glazes (transparent layers) over each area, beginning with the background and working forward. Most areas remain transparent, with the lights and darks of the underpainting showing through the transparent colors.

White is opaque by nature, so the lighter areas are usually more opaque, as well.

If an area requires more than one glaze, each layer of paint has to dry completely before the next can be applied. In some cases, this means several days to a week or two may pass between each application of color. Consequently, I try to do every area at each stage so the entire painting is drying at a similar rate.

The final stage is adding the brightest highlights and reviewing the painting to make sure nothing has been overlooked. When I’m satisfied, I photograph the image for client review, then the painting is set aside to dry for a minimum of four weeks. If changes are requested, they are made during this period.

At the end of four weeks, I give the painting one last review and, if it passes muster, I sign and photograph it and it’s ready for framing and delivery.

2 Replies to “Oils – Guienne Hanover – Umber Under Painting”

  1. How interesting! I always wondered about underpainting. The process seems analogous to handcoloring an black and white photograph. I wonder if painters’ transparent glazes could be used on a photograph instead of photo oils (which are quite transparent).

    1. Kay,

      The underpainting process could very easily be compared to hand-coloring black-and-white photos. In fact, I like to think of my underpainting layers as half-tone or monochromatic versions of the painting. That helps keep me from taking shortcuts on the underpainting or quitting work on it too soon.

      I don’t know if oil paints would work on photos. I’ve never tried that. Nor have I talked to anyone who did. Oil paints can be very transparent, but the oil into which they’re ground might not adhere to the surface of the photo.

      If you try it, let us know how it turned out.

      Thank you for reading all about this painting and for your comment.

      Best wishes,


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