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Sunday, August 25, 2013

Why Bother with Underpaintings When They End Up Getting Covered?

'Just Another Beautiful Day'            11x14          pastel         ©Karen Margulis
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Is it a waste of time and effort?  I spent an hour doing an alcohol wash underpainting and waiting for it to dry.  I chose colors and carefully brushed it in. I ended up with a vibrant underpainting with some great drips.  I was excited to start adding the pastel. 

But in the end most if not all of this underpainting was completely covered by my pastel layers. What's the point?  I am often asked about this. Why bother with an underpainting if you're going to cover it up anyway? It isn't a waste of time at all. Here are  my thoughts on this....

First of all with some planning and restraint you can leave a lot of the underpainting showing if that is your goal. Often it is my goal but I get carried away with pastel and the next thing you know the underpainting is hidden.

Restraint is the key. 

If there is an area of the underpainting you really like don't touch it!  Try working in your area of interest with the pastel and then you might not need to add much pastel to the unimportant areas.  Or add a very light layer of pastel in the same color and value of the underpainting you like. This way you have added some pastel but preserved the feeling of the underpainting.

But if you find yourself covering everything up don't fret about it. I believe the colors, values and movement that you established in your underpainting will have influenced and guided the choices you make with the pastel layers.  It gives you something to work with and respond to. It is less intimidating than a blank piece of paper.  It is a set up for the painting. I often say it feels like cheating because with a wet underpainting down, half the painting is finished already!

Unless you use very heavy strokes chances are that bits and pieces of the underpainting will be peeking through your pastel layers so there is a definite influence! And you can always add back the underpainting colors to your top layers of pastel as I did in this painting. I covered up the underpainting but I introduced the same salmon color in the final layer.

Do you have any tips for preserving an underpainting? Share them in the comments!


Dorothy Bassett said...

Oh thanks for this post Karen.I most certainly believe in underpaintings. I love to see the glow of them peek out.

Anonymous said...

Love your web site. You have been very generous and helpful with sharing so much on your site. I am doing watercolor underpaintings with my landscapes; however, how do you choose your underpainting color when painting a white building? Also, how do you choose your shadows of trees(or any object for that matter) on the white building? Thanks so much.

Betty Siska

Karen said...

Hi Betty,
Thank you so much for reading my blog! I'm glad you find it helpful. Good question about underpainting colors. I don't always use the same colors. I like to experiment and try different solutions so I don't really have a good answer for you! There is no right or wrong color. Try different colors and see what effect they have and soon your choices will become intuitive. I hope that helps somewhat!