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Saturday, September 06, 2014

Why Bother with a Wet Underpainting?

'Hope Springs Eternal'               9x12           pastel           ©Karen Margulis
I love getting questions. Especially when I am doing a demo. It keeps me on my game and makes me think.  I have a student who throws me for a loop every class. And I learn something every time too. This week she wanted to learn how to paint water. So I planned to show her a wet underpainting with pastel and water. A simple but effective way to paint water and reflections.

We discussed the design of the painting and I choose the colors I would use in the underpainting. I drew my shapes and put down the first layer of pastels.  I took out my brush and water and proceeded to demonstrate how I use the water to liquify the pastel.  Before I got very far into my explanation she exclaimed "Why would you even bother with the water?"  Good question.

pastel underpainitng that has been wet with a brush and water

There are so many other ways to start a painting which don't involve the extra time and supplies of a wet underpainitng. Why would we bother doing a wet underpainting?  Why not block in the first layer and just keep going?  I gave my student the  usual responses... wet underpaintings create something interesting to respond to, happy accidents, loosens us up, prevents us from copying our reference.....but then another reason for wetting the pastel occurred to me.

Using a paintbrush!  That's right. Using the paintbrush to wet the pastel and turn it into paint is the best thing about wet underpaintings for me.  I think of the wet pastel as liquid paint (which it is at this stage) and use the brush to actually paint ... not just to wet down the pastel. I think of my brush strokes and how they could be use to describe my subject. I take time and take care with the underpainting. I enjoy it. I get to know my subject better. It prepares me for the next step of adding pastel.

If I have done a good job with the brush and water then adding the pastel is like icing the cake! 

Painting notes: this painting is 9x12 on white Pastelmat with my usual assortment of Terry Ludwig pastels.


Marlene McNew said...

Your blog entries are very helpful & much appreciated!

robertsloan2art said...

That is interesting! I've known about wet underpaintings for a long time but usually use dry ones. My usual method involves a lot of blending on a hard pastel underlayer. Wet underpainting intrigues me.

This one looks a lot like a more muted, loose version of the painting following the same values and more or less the same colors. In previous ones you've used drips and other effects like splatters, then kept some areas of the painting open so these effects are visible. That seems challenging to me since my watercolor style is not as spontaneous either - I seem to loosen up much more with pastels than with wet paint.

So I may have to try it sometime just to see what happens. Your results are beautiful - this latest landscape is one of your all time best, it just sings to me. I love that water. The water is so lively and powerful. Way to go!

You're always growing and improving. I love watching your progress and reading your blog.

Anonymous said...

Always something to learn, thanks for sharing.

JoAnna Carrozzino said...

I'm sorry if this is a silly question. Are you working in oil pastel or chalk pastel? I think I always assumed oil but I would not think that you could add water to an oil pastel underpainting.

Karen said...

JoAnna, not a silly question. I only work in soft (chalk) pastel. I have never even tried oil pastels so I don't know much about them!

MarilynW said...

Beautiful painting. I also use a brush and water underpainting. I would love to see your underpainting before you used the water to see how much pastel you put on before you do it.

Hélène said...

Never miss your blog !
Thank's for sharing your progress with us.

Irene said...

Hi Karen, I am new to pastels and have learned so much from your blog! I have been working on a painting similar to the one above and have been frustrated but didn't know why. The ref photo has dark background trees, and a blue stream surrounded by yellow grasses. As I studied your painting above and others you have done I noticed that your grass is rarely yellow/ gold and think that I may be bothered by so much yellow and green together on my painting. Is this a conscious avoidance of yellow/ gold on your part? Thanks so much!