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Wednesday, February 21, 2018

The Power of Neutrals in a Painting

'Island Mystique'           16x20         pastel        ©Karen Margulis
available $595
I was so excited to find an old painting yesterday. Not because it was a good painting but because it was on a good board! It was probably one of the first larger Pastelbord surfaces I had purchased several years ago. I knew the painting had to go but the board would be easy to reuse. Pastelbord is a sanded surface on a hard board. They are wonderful but a bit expensive for my daily painting habit!

Have a look at the painting below. I remember liking it at the time it was finished but there was much about it that I knew could be done better. I love seeing an older painting and finally knowing what it needs. It is nice to know we actually do eventually improve our painting skills and knowledge.

But what did this painting need? I liked the point of view of the high horizon. I enjoyed the idea of a meadow filled with wildflowers. But the flowers and grasses were all screaming for attention. Even the distant trees were too saturated. It was obvious that I had fun with color but the painting no longer worked for me because I had discovered the power of neutrals! Read on for more on this idea.

The original painting on Pastelbord. It needed help!
Back to the drawing board! I had a photo of a misty scene from a visit to Nantucket Island. It was perfect for a reimagined painting. I took a stiff brush and brushed off the thickest layers of pastel. Then I used some rubbing alcohol and another stiff brush to liquify the remaining pastel. I let this wet pastel drip and while it was still wet I worked some Derwent Inktense sticks into the wet pastel. The Pastelbord take all kinds of abuse!  I started to redefine the painting adding the suggestion of a house and some Queen Annes Lace. Below is the new underpainting.

Brushed off and washed with  brush and alcohol
I liked the painting better already! I continued layering pastel using the Richard McKinley selection of Terry Ludwig pastels. This set contains a wonderful collection of neutrals...beautiful grayed down color. It was the perfect set for capturing a foggy island morning.

Halfway finished.
I added the finishing marks with some Girault pastels and a few Nupastels. The final marks were the bright intense green grasses. As I added these marks it became clear to me what I had done differently with this new painting......I had embraced the power of neutrals! Both paintings were inspired by misty New England landscapes. But the original version was all bright greens and pinks. It was almost garish! There were no neutrals to give balance to the riot of color. I now know better.
That was fun! I can't wait to take the next pastelbord in the pile!


Ruth Palombo Weiss said...

Once again you hit the mark in both your explanation and demo. Thanks Karen for all you give us.

robertsloan2art said...

Great article, and I noticed that in the new version you've got a full spectrum of muted colors within your neutrals - it shimmers at the midpoint where gray-greens and blues and violets meet the reddest of the warm earths. The white flowers are a lot more dramatic than the pink ones were, the pinks and greens were almost the same value.

Sometimes I like working in all heavily saturated colors. That has its own beauty. But sometimes the neutrals draw me, a lot like the way monochromes do. Whether it's just the simplest, warm gray-browns and cool gray-blues together or I pull up everything in the neutrals slots, they are a lot of fun - and they encourage strong value contrasts and value play.