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Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Large Pastels Paintings...Your Questions Answered

'Study for a Beautiful Day'         6x8      pastel       ©Karen Margulis
available $125
I had a workout yesterday. I didn't intend to finish four huge paintings in one day but once I got going they just seemed to flow. I had all day so I decided it was better to keep going while the muse was with me rather than stopping the flow. Since the paintings were related in color and style and subject it also made it easier to step into the zone and feel of the paintings. It would be different if they were unrelated.

I have been getting many emails asking questions about painting large pastels so I thought is would be helpful to answer them on the blog so everyone can read the answers.

DISCLAIMER: My technique and methods are what work best for me. There are many valid ways to work large. In the end you need to do what works for you and fits your working space and techniques. 

color palette for the paintings
Question 1.  Why paint so large? How did you decide on subject and color palette?
These paintings are a commission for a hospital. There were specific instructions as to subject and colors. They needed to be bright, light and happy. I was asked to submit preliminary sketches and color palette swatch. After a few suggested adjustments I was ready to start. The request was for 4 30x40 pastels on paper.

6x8 pastel studies

Question 2. What kind of surface are you using and is it mounted? How do you mount paper?
I am using Uart sanded paper 500 grit. I cut the pieces from a roll. The paper did come off the roll with a curl but much less than when I got the roll last year. My theory is the roll was stored upright and was allowed to relax in the box...in other words it was not tightly rolled. I think the paper was much more relaxed than when it was 'fresh'.  All I had to do was place the cut pieces under gatorboard and heavy books for several days and it was nice and flat. There was a very light curl that was easy to flatten when I taped the paper to my board.

Mounting: I never mount my paper. It began because I painted so much I wanted to save time and money on mounting paper. I still don't mount for the same reasons. I know there are ways to mount paper yourself. You can google it for examples. I choose not to. The framers I am working with will back the painting with archival boards and  framing tape. They do not require mounted paper. This might raise an eyebrow but it saves me time and money and I work just as well on unmounted paper.I also find that Uart doesn't buckle when I do wet underpaintings even unmounted.

To paint I tape the paper to a piece of thin gatorfoam board. I use hinges with white artist tape on all four corners and several spots in between. I want to be sure the paper is securely attached to the board.

Mount Vision Pastels.....Great for Big Pastel Paintings
Question 3. What kind of lighting are you using? 
Good question! As you can see in the photos of my studio I am painting all 4 at once and I have them side by side on Blick folding easels. In my studio I have fluorescent shop lights with alternating warm and cool bulbs. The light is actually quite good. I don't use spot lights or any intense light. The reason: Most art is viewed in homes or places with less than ideal lighting. Unless the painting has a spot light on it it will be viewed in low light. If I paint under bright intense light I may use darker values.....the result will be a dark painting that won't look as good in regular lighting.

Question 4. How do I choose the underpainting colors? 
Ah, this is the million dollar question and I have a very good answer (but I am saving it for my workshops and upcoming booklet on underpainting) The quick answer is that I am using a value based underpainting in warm colors. I chose red/ red-oranges to provide visual interest with all of the green I knew I would be adding.

I decided to do a DRY underpainting because I didn't want to risk any buckling. I rarely have a problem with Uart but I don't want this to be an exception!  More about my pastels in the next answer.

Question 5. What kind of pastels did you use and did they get used up?
I used Mount Vision Pastels almost exclusively. Mount Vision pastels are perfect for large paintings. They are big and do not crumble. The are hard but go on soft.....a wonderful combination. I used them for the underpainting block in and the remaining layers. I used the limited number of pastels as seen in the photo.  I did use up one blue and one dark green and had to substitute. I used Great Americans as a substitute. Why not Terry Ludwigs? They are too precious! Also the are not as large as the Mount Visions so I knew that 4 large paintings would make a dent in my TL stash!

Pastel dust: There was surprisingly little dust generated but what dust there was I collected in foamcore 'gutters'

Question 5. Was your process the same as for small paintings?
Yes. I did smaller studies and worked from the studies and NOT photos. I used the same working method by blocking in the dark first. It was important to finish the sky early so the sky dust wouldn't lighten the foreground.  Perspective and drawing and creating aerial perspective all worked the same way. The only thing that was different was I made bigger marks! I followed the same steps for each painting:
1. drawing 2. dry underpainting with pastel rubbed in with pipe foam 3. block in darks 4. paint the sky 5. paint the trees. 6. Paint the water   7. finish by painting the distant landscape and gradually move into the foreground   8. fishing touches such as grasses and flowers.

TIP: Make sure there is plenty of room to move and step back. I stepped back frequently. Play music! I used spotify and listened to movie soundtracks from Star Wars, Hunger Games and the like. Epic music made me move and get into the mood of epic size paintings!

Question 6. How will you frame these? How will you ship them?
Fortunately I just have to ship them to the framer. They will use plexiglass. I will hopefully get photos. I did 2 30x40 pastels last year for a commission and they were beautifully framed with a thin wood frame and linen liner. Since I do not frame my work I don't have all of the framing answers. I apologize to all of you who asked about framing!
I will share the shipping process in a later post. I will also share all of the finished paintings.


robertsloan2art said...

Thanks for your answers! Great article. I'll try foam board and books once I get a little more settled.

Alecia Schmitz said...

Very nice information on painting large - Thanks for sharing!

Teresa McGuire said...

Thank you for sharing. I am new to working in pastels and obviously, there is a great deal I need to learn!

Betty Smith said...

As always, BEAUTIFUL!!!! I started working large and I'm now trying to scale back my drawings. Sounds sort of backwards, but I guess it comes from teaching myself to pastel. Now, I realize that some of the best pastels I've ever seen are smaller. When I understood that impressionism doesn't require a great deal of detail, smaller makes more sense. But if you really want the detail, there's still room on a large canvas.