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Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Try an Unconventional Underpainting

'Light in the Woods'        9x12       pastel       ©Karen Margulis
available $155
 It's a powerful tool that we all should embrace. Thumbnail sketches done before painting is one of the easiest things we can do to improve our work. Thumbnails help us simplify our subject. They help us create a stronger design. They help us establish a framework of values. The details should come later. We need to frame up the house before we can put up the walls and decorate!

Usually I like doing simple four value thumbnails for my landscape paintings. The 4 value thumbnail is based on the idea that most landscapes can be simplified into four values ...light, dark and two middle values. (John Carlson... Carlson's Guide to Landscape Painting)

Notans are even more simplified. A Notan is a thumbnail or study containing only two values. Dark  and Light. Black and white. It is a simplified massing of shapes and value. To create a notan we have to decide whether the shapes in our scene are mostly dark or mostly light. The middle values are shifted to either black or white. Deborah Paris has written a wonderful article about Notan. Read it here. 

I decided to try doing some notans . A black Sharpie marker would be the perfect tool.  I chose the Magnum Sharpie which has a big chiseled tip to help me create big simple black shapes.

The Magnum Sharpie worked great for my little notan thumbnail. I used a 4x6 index card for the notan. I liked doing the notan. It made it easy to see the shapes. I could see if I had interesting shapes and arrangement of dark and light. It was also quick to do....no thumbnail excuses!

note: Sharpie markers are not archival so if you are concerned about using only archival materials use another method of creating a black underpainting.

I selected a piece of white Canson Mi-Teinte paper for my painting. The sharpie marker worked well on the paper and I was able to block in the dark shapes of the trees and the light shape of the sunlit tree and grass.
  I now had a nice value map to follow.

It was simple to reinforce the dark areas with pastels that were close in value to the black shapes. I could easily see if a pastel was too light when placed on top of the black marker shapes. It helped me keep my dark shapes strong which was important in order to create the feeling of strong sunlight on the tree and grass.

Sometimes it seems like we have too many choices when starting a painting. Using a notan and then actually recreating the same notan with marker as an underpainting is an unexpected but simple way to give a painting a strong start!

What's Happening on my Patreon Page
Today's painting is the subject for this week's step by step demo. You can follow along and see the painting from the notan stage to the finish.

1 comment:

robertsloan2art said...

That was something I had in mind for some time, inspired by the Art Spectrum Colourfix primer. I thought if I used heavy watercolor paper and painted out the notan in black Colourfix primer and white Colourfix primer, it'd be the perfect underpainting. I love painting on black anyway. Thanks for the tips and gorgeous example of the results! Also thanks for letting me know the Sharpie markers aren't archival. I was never sure about them because Sharpie markers do stand up to repeated laundering. But time and light aren't the same thing as laundry. It's really good to know.