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Saturday, January 06, 2018

Keeping Loose with a Watercolor Underpainting

'Summer by the Sea'          18x24        pastel         ©Karen Margulis
It was a big piece of paper. I was feeling a bit rusty after not painting for a couple of weeks. The paper stared at me daring me to start. I hesitated. Was I ready for a big piece of paper? Maybe I needed to warm up with some smaller studies. Nah. I had the answer to my fear of blank big paper.....watercolors!

I needed to go big and loose to get the creative juices going. It would be the best warm up possible. The easiest way to approach a big piece of paper is with a wet underpainting. You can't be wrong. You can 'ruin' anything. It is just liberating to let paint drip and watch the happy and not so happy accidents happen.

Pelikan Opaque watercolor set
I decided to take out my trusty Pelican watercolor set. I use the opaque set which means they are not as transparent so are quite vibrant. They are also surprisingly good for an inexpensive set. I let the grand kids paint with this set and it was fun to have a turn!

I had a lot of fun with the undepainting and before I was finished the fear of the blank paper had evaporated. I know had something fun to respond to without getting bogged down in the details of my reference photo. It was a great way to keep it loose!

a close up of the watercolor underpainting

My palette of pastels. I did add a few more to this starting palette

close up detail

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MaryB said...

Hey Karen--I bought both sets of Pelican paints on your recommendation. I have yet to use them for a real pastel underpainting. Don't know why I'm so resistant but I am.
I think I'll screw up the underpainting AND the pastel portion. Oh well. Anyway, what kind of paper are you using here? It helps me so much when you mention paper-type.
All of them accept wet underpainting differently. (Like I know so much about this...) Thanks so much for your blog. L&K, MaryB

Karen said...

Mary this is on Uart 400 sanded paper. Watercolor does best on light or white paper to show off the transparency. Cut some smaller pieces of paper and break out the paints.....just do underpaintings to get the feel of it. You can't ruin anything if you are playing!

Beth Glaude said...

This, as always, is awesome. I will have to try it. I have learned so, so much from your tutorials. I have only been working with pastel for a short time, your information has been valuable. I never had any formal art instruction, been kind of winging it as I go. I have always been able to draw, and I love using pastels. Thank you again. Keep it coming!

robertsloan2art said...

I had to smile when I saw your Pelikan opaque set! I love those. They're fantastic for themselves as a nice portable form of gouache and especially for underpainting pastels. The matte texture once they're down on paper is very similar to pastel, they don't have the glossy look that some transparent watercolors do from the various binders.

Gouache or opaque watercolor handles very similar to pastels. It's easy to use light over dark with them, so that's extra forgiving too. Nice big flat brush you used. For that size of painting it's a good idea to have a big brush and not get overdetailed in underpainting.

MaryB, if you're scared of experimenting, remember it's only paper. It's not a huge risk. You can even rinse off an underpainting and let the paper dry and try again. If you're really worried, do some value thumbnails for layout and plan the painting. I can see how with a huge piece like 18" x 24" that you might want some idea of how it'll turn out before experimenting - but that's what sketchbooks are for. Those Pelikan opaque watercolors are good for little color studies too in a mixed media or watercolor sketchbook or journal.

Work out where the main value areas are going to go. Underpaintings don't have to be in detail. Reduce it to three or four main values and slop the paint in more or less where they go, more or less the colors you want - for underneath the colors you lay down. Darks are particularly good with pastels over them, the pastels just glow over a dark underpainting. So work that out and if you need to, cut some Uart into smaller sizes like 6" x 8" or so on and do some small versions, then scale up.

It's still only a piece of paper. You can't ruin it. Sometimes paintings can look horrible right up to the last finishing detail that suddenly makes the rest of it snap into gorgeous. It can be really strange but that often happens. It's a reason to just flow with it and not worry about being insecure.

If you're worried about real people actually picking on you about it or making fun of you for trying, just imagine punching them out. Then drop them like a hot rock and never let them know you paint anything. No one should be allowed to laugh at artists for experimenting or beginner artists for learning. Anyone who tells you to "give up" is not giving critique but personal vicious criticism of the worst sort, usually motivated by jealousy or something.

So relax and sacrifice the paper. You'll have a cool painting!