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Monday, February 09, 2015

Watercolor Underpaintings and Pastel.....How to Preserve the Underpainting

'Dune Walk'              11x14               pastel             ©Karen Margulis
painting available here $165
 It is elusive....that wonderful peek of watercolor under a thin veil of pastel. Sometimes I am successful and sometimes it doesn't go as planned. But I remind myself that the creation of a watercolor underpainting will influence the direction of my painting even if I completely cover it with pastel.

Still, that thought doesn't stop me from trying! I always approach a watercolor underpainting with the intent to allow a lot of it to show through the pastel layers. I want the wonderful drips, blooms and mingling of the paint to do much of the work.  But once I start layering pastel I often go farther than I wanted. Many a painting gets completely covered with pastel much to my dissappointment. How much pastel is too much? It is a personal preference. I love the contrast between the transparent watercolor and the opaque pastel so I want some of the watercolor to show. I've discovered some tips....

It is all about restraint. Work slowly and deliberately. Think about every pastel mark.

The watercolor underpainting and my reference photo

Here are some things I do to help me preserve the underpainting:

  • After the watercolor is dry I spend a few minutes evaluating it. Is there any area I love and want to be sure to save? Do I like the colors? Make note of these areas.
  • When I am ready to add pastel I begin by choosing colors and values that closely match the underpainting. I apply a VERY light layer so that I can hardly see the pastel. I will change color and value very gradually....small areas with a light touch. 
  • If I like the passage with this thin veil of pastel I will leave it and move on. In this way I don't get too heavy too quickly. I remind myself that it is OK to let the paper/underpainting show.
  • I find I most often overwork the pastel application  when I get too thick too fast. I then feel the need to keep adding heavier layers all over the painting. When I keep a light touch and work slowly I have more success.

close up detail 

The sky....just a thin layer of pastel
Painting notes: Uart paper with Terry Ludwig pastels and watercolor underpainting.


Sandi G said...

Hi Karen , love that you have been so restrained with your painting over a watercolor underpainting .I love the sweet serendipity of the whole piece . I often will paint over watercolor underpainting but your advice to be more restrained in application is how the magic happens . I often lose my way and cover up too much .
Thanks for the demo ! Love the painting !

Karen said...

Thank you very much Sandi! It's nice when it works!! I appreciate your comments!

robertsloan2art said...

Great article and interesting technique. I can see this is very powerful and love how you succeed at it. I don't often use watercolor underpainting, my favorite is a dry underpainting in hard pastels if I'm going to layer and occasionally watercolor under the clear Colourfix primer where it's protected but it's also going to lose that watercolor look in the process.

I might want to try this sometime. It's a powerful technique but of course it rests on being able to do a good watercolor painting. Your underpainting could stand alone as a watercolor painting, when you do this it borders on mixed media. Beautiful effect.