Wednesday, January 23, 2013

What Comes After the Underpainting? Part 1

'Hollyhock Heaven'         11x14          pastel over watercolor  $165 Etsy
You are standing in front of your now dry watercolor underpainting.  You worked hard and took your time and it really isn't too bad. You have your apron on and your pastels out.....Now What?

Deciding where to put that first pastel mark can be intimidating. Especially if you have an underpainting that pleases you. First, remind yourself that it is only paper and that you are having fun!  Then study the underpainting and decide where it might lead you. It may suggest something very different than your reference photo  and that is OK. That is the beauty of a WU....it can help you become a more expressive painter.

But the time does come for you to make your first mark. I have discovered that there are two ways that work for me. I can either develop the painting as I usually do by laying in the dark shapes and working all over the painting or by painting the star first. The choice depends on how much of the underpainting I want to preserve.  Let me describe the star method first. (I will detail the first method in part 2)

watercolor underpainting for a hollyhock painting
Paint the Star First
If I have an underpainting that I really like. Maybe it has cool drips or interesting colors. Maybe I was successful in suggesting details with the watercolor. I know that I don't want to cover it all up with pastel. It is so easy to get too heavy handed and overwork the pastel and before you know it those yummy drips are gone! (trust me I have done it more often than not)  Here is another approach:

  • Decide on your center of interest and chose the element that is the most important. In the hollyhock painting it was the flowers.  Paint this thing first. 
  • Be sure to keep a very light touch. Whisper your pastel at first. You can always add more pastel but you want to build it up gradually.
  • After painting the center of interest then evaluate the painting to see where else you need pastel. You are working out from your center of interest.  If the underpainting is working consider leaving it be or adding a light glaze of pastel so as not to obscure the watercolor.
  • TIP:  If you like a color in the underpainting and wish to keep it, find a pastel to match it in color and value. If you lightly apply the pastel it will work beautifully with the watercolor.
I used this approach with today's hollyhock painting. I painted the flowers first and built them up with several layers of pastel. I only used light layers over the rest of the painting especially the sky area.  I like the way the transparency of the watercolor and thin pastel contrasts with the heavier flowers.

Tomorrow I will cover my more typical approach to the pastel application.

8 comments:

Mariela said...

Very beautiful painting and thanks so much for the advice. I'm on a pastel challenge right now. I will be very happy if you have the time to take a look....

Paula Ann Ford said...

Gorgeous painting, Karen!!

Karen said...

Thank you Mariela. I love a pastel challenge. I will have a look at yours! Thanks for sharing!

Karen said...

Thank you Paula!!

pattisjarrett said...

Always fun to see what you're doing.

myrtle said...

Cool! What an awesome masterpiece indeed.=D

Dee Martella said...

is it necessary to spray fixative before you start?

Karen said...

Hi Dee, I don't use fixative in a watercolor underpainting. Really the only time I use it is to build texture in a painting such as in a meadow or marsh.