Thursday, June 22, 2017

Pastel FAQ: How Do I Choose Underpainting Colors?


'Woodland Reverie'          8x10       pastel         ©Karen Margulis
available $195
The fun continues in KEMStudios. It is great to be home with nothing on the agenda other than paint for pure enjoyment. It is a perfect time for experimentation and new discoveries. Today's painting was done on the new Yi Cai sanded pastel paper and it is a good example for today's Pastel FAQ.

How do I choose the colors for an underpainting?  

That is a loaded question and an important one. Underpaintings or block-ins as I sometimes call them set the tone and mood for a painting. Of course the colors we choose for the underpainting will have an effect on the finished painting. Warm colors tend to give a sunny feeling while cool colors tend to promote a moody or cool feeling. That is just a general truth. There is a lot more that goes into choosing underpainting colors.

  • You can either choose colors that serve a purpose such as choosing local colors or choosing colors to promote depth or choosing simple value based underpainting colors.
  • You can choose colors that don't solve a potential problem but are just playful such as choosing bold colors or complementary colors....colors that are designed to promote visual excitement or just lead to wonderful happy accidents.
It is important that we experiment with many different underpainting choices rather than relying on the same color solutions for each painting. The more we do,  the more experiences we have... the sooner our color choices for underpaintings will become intuitive.

How did I decide what colors to use for the underpainting for this painting? I selected colors to serve a purpose rather than playful. I did cover up all of the underpainting because it was designed to serve only as my roadmap.



  • I used color to set up a value map. I chose dark blue for the dark areas of the woods and the shadows in the grass.
  • I used light values for the sky and tree trunks. (aspens) I used light pink for the lightest trunks and light blue for the trunks in shadow.
  • I used bright pink for the areas in the grass that will have flowers. This is to set up the massing of the little flowers.
Scroll down to see the development of the painting. I am using a beige  piece of Yi Cai sanded pastel paper. I used Nupastels and a wash with water. The paper bowed very slightly but flattened out as it dried. Note the interesting texture this paper has.









closeup detail
Note: I am loving the Yi Cai paper. I need to do more wet underpinnings on lighter paper. This one didn't really show up because the paper was a dark-mid value. I really enjoy how the pastels seem to go on like butter. I am able to get both nice thick textured marks as well as fine detail with harder pastels. The experiments will continue.

2 comments:

Laurel Daniel said...

Love seeing your process shots! Gorgeous painting!

Linda Kriegel said...

Beautiful!