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Friday, March 27, 2015

How to Introduce Mystery into Your Paintings

'Buzzing in the Garden'              9x12                pastel                ©Karen Margulis
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Things started dripping. I could see stems and petals emerge from the paint.  As the paint dried a wet brush created even more interesting lines and spots. It was mysterious and exciting. I could imagine a wonderous tangle of flowers and grass and maybe a few bumblebees. The watercolor underpainting was doing its job. It was setting the stage for my impression of some flowers in a garden.

The watercolor underpainting on Uart 500
"A painting requires a little mystery, some vagueness, some fantasy. When you always make your meaning perfectly plain you end up boring people." Edgar Degas



 I agree wholeheartedly with Degas. I didn't want to paint perfect flowers and bees. I didn't want to copy my reference photo. I wanted to leave something for the imagination. The watercolor underpainting got me started in the right direction. The tangle of drips suggested the flowers and stems. The looseness of the watercolor encouraged me to keep my pastel marks expressive.

I tried to say as much as possible with few strokes. Keeping the mystery. Keeping things vague. My little bumblebees emerged from just 4 or 5 strokes of pastel. Up close they are a collection of marks. The colors and shapes suggest a bee and so they become bees.


Watercolor underpaintings are the perfect way to start a pastel painting with a little mystery! They drip and bloom and can't be totally controlled and predictable. The mystery begins as soon as the paint is applied!

3 comments:

robertsloan2art said...

One result of your love for watercolor underpainting is that you are a very skilled watercolorist now. This isn't the first time I've seen one of your underpaintings that could stand on its own as a loose, powerful watercolor painting.

Controlling drips and using them deliberately isn't an easy technique, especially to anyone who learned drawing before painting! It's one of the scariest techniques to an artist that began in tight realistic drawing. Yet your underpaintings flow!

But when it's an underpainting, if it didn't come out well, Big Deal! It isn't done and any mistake or ugly passage is going to get opaque pastel over it! So underpainting is actually a safe way to explore watercolor techniques that might backfire! Perfectionists can learn looser wet painting without feeling like they're wasting yards of good archival paper.

Great article and wonderful painting. I love those bees and bet you added them last, flying into the painting lazily on fat impasto strokes!

Debbie said...

Karen, you are such an inspiration to all of us artist's! You have a way of expressing your process that is clear without too much explanation. Of course the photos of your beautiful work are a big part of it all! Thank you for sharing so many tips and lessons in your blog. I have learned so much following it.

Sunny Avocado said...

I LOVE it!!! I try to do the same things and my best are always when the end result often doesn't resemble my beginning of it. ;)