Monday, June 04, 2012

How to Create a More Successful Underpainting

'Morning Dunes'         10x10        pastel         ©Karen Margulis     $165
I am taking it slow and easy these days....with my underpaintings that is!  I love doing a wet underpainting for a pastel and the way I have approached the underpainting has evolved over the last couple of years. I first discovered the turpenoid wash from an Ann Templeton dvd.  My friend Jayne and I watched the dvd and tried Ann's technique. We were amazed and hooked.  But I don't think I really understood just how to go about doing a successful underpainting. All I did was put down some pastel and then wet it and brush it in with a brush and turpenoid or alcohol. The results were not always great. I would loose my shapes and the colors would turn muddy or run together making a big dark blob. What was the point!

Step by Step Demo for 'Morning Dunes'

We had the pleasure of attending one of Ann Templeton's workshops and got to see her do several underpaintings in person. I have tried to incorporate some of the things we observed and the key for me was to slooooooooooow down!  I did the underpainting for 'Morning Dunes' in class last week and I worked on it for at least 1/2 hour. My students couldn't believe that I took that long. But when they tried slowing down they were very pleased with the results. Here is a step by step with some tips:
  1. (from top left)  I began by blocking in the big simple shapes with some hard pastels. I use a combination of Nupastels and Poly chromos. I used an old bristle brush and rubbing alcohol to liquify the pastel. I made sure not to use too much alcohol. I just want to barely wet the pastel so that I can 'paint' with it. If your brush is too wet then you risk having the colors wash into each other and turn muddy. You have much more control if your brush isn't too wet. Think of the wet pastel as paint and use the brush to actually paint with the wet pastel.  I do like the drips that come from soupy alcohol or turpenoid but I save that for the end of the underpainting process and only where I want the drips. I chose to avoid drips in this underpainting so I used less alcohol.
  2. When the underpainting is dry I start using softer pastels and begin by putting in the darkest areas.
  3. I continue building up the painting with very light layers of pastel. I am leaving a lot of the underpainting showing.
  4. For the finish I added the lightest sand colors and some bright greens in the bushes. 
The next time you do an alcohol wash underpainting try slowing down and taking your time. I am finding that if I do this and spend time developing the underpainting the actual pastel application can much easier because you solve a lot of the problems in advance!

New to underpaintings? You might like to read my post on Underpaintings HERE

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