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Saturday, February 21, 2015

Want to Try a Oil Stain Underpainting?

'Quiet Waters'                    11x14                  pastel                 ©Karen Margulis
purchase painting on Etsy $165
Ahhhh the smell of oil paint and Gamsol filled my studio today. It made it feel like a real art studio somehow. Pastel is an odorless medium and I forget how much I love the smell of paint.  I took the oils out today because I was looking for something different to try. It seems I have stumbled onto a series of marsh with water scenes. Whenever this happens I have to work it until the fire burns out.

But in order for the series to be interesting I need to change things up. Different papers, different pastels and different underpainting techniques are all things I look to try. Today I decided to do an oil stain underpainting. It has been awhile since I have used this technique but I do love it. Read on for some tips on making the best of this technique.

Tools of the trade


  •  Paint: a few tubes of oil paint. I only use alizarin crimson, ultramarine blue and cadmium yellow medium and mix the colors I need. I don't use white since I want my colors to be rich and transparent. I don't use black either but mix red and blue for a nice rich dark.
  • Brush: I use a cheap bristle brush because I like to scrub the paint and the sanded papers are hard on a brush!
  • OMS: which stands for odorless mineral spirits. You can use your preferred brand. I use Gamsol or Turpenoid. Do not use the Turpenoid in the green can. In my experience it doesn't dry as well especially if you use it to do a wash with pastels. You will also need a can or jar for the OMS.
  • Paper: You need a pastel paper or board that can get wet. I prefer Uart paper. Ampersand Pastelbords are an excellent choice as well. For today's painting I used Pastelmat which wasn't my favorite choice. I didn't get the drips I usually get with Uart paper. (I will do a Pastelmat review soon)

the finished underpainting

I love the vibrancy of the oil paint. It makes a rich and colorful underpainting. The trick is getting the paint the right consistency. I call it an Oil Stain because you want to get the paint the consistency of wood stain. I use the OMS liberally when mixing my paint and make a puddle of color the consistency of stain or tea.  If it is too thick the painting will fill the tooth of the paper and you won't be able to layer much pastel. If it is too wet it will just run and it won't stain the paper.

TIP: If you can see brush marks in the paint then it is too thick....thin it with more OMS. Practice, practice and more practice will allow you to know just how much OMS is enough.

As the paint dries the magic begins. The best underpaintings will result in interesting drips that look like root systems.  The Pastelmat absorbed the paint so quickly that it didn't drip. It was a bit disappointing but I still loved the vibrancy of the oil paint and it gave me something colorful to respond to.

For a more detailed tutorial to a Turpenoid wash underpainting see my pdf demo available in my Etsy shop .https://www.etsy.com/listing/162168002/pastel-painting-lesson-demo-pdf


Doris said...

Karen, thanks for always being so generous with sharing your experiences. As soon as I saw this painting posted and read that you had used an oil stain underpainting I thought, "How did she do it? I pray that she tells us through her blog!" And of course, here it is. Thanks so much! One question, how much of the underpainting shows in the completed work, if any? Thanks!

robertsloan2art said...

Great demonstration! I've seen this before and like your palette. I haven't done it mostly for logistic reasons but can see how doing it that thin, an oil stain, is the way to go. The sandy tooth has to still be there afterward.

The green can Turpenoid, aka Turpenoid Natural, is a Citrus Based Cleaner. It's not meant to be used as a medium and you're not supposed to mix it to more than 25% with oil paint as it won't be stable after that. I found this out AFTER I bought it, thinking it'd smell nice and be less toxic. Well it is, for cleaning up after oil painting. It just isn't a turpenoid substitute.