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Wednesday, September 12, 2018

My Largest Pastel Paintings EVER! Tips for Painting LARGE

'Forest Dreams'      each 60 x 18       pastel          ©Karen Margulis

I was excited when I heard the commission request. I couldn't even imagine painting as large as the sizes requested but I couldn't wait to try!  The request was for five paintings that measured 60 inches wide /tall. Three would be a triptych and would need to flow together. Each of these would be 18 inches wide and 60 inches tall! The other two would be 36 inches tall by 60 inches wide.

I did some research and some math and decided on a roll of Uart sanded paper in the 500 grit. The roll would allow me to get those 60 inch pieces with some paper left over to spare. The request was for pastel on archival paper and they were to be unmounted and unframed. Fortunately I wouldn't need to frame them! I could concentrate on the fun of painting large.

The first thing I did after my small studies were approved was to prepare the paper. The Uart paper comes on a tight roll so I needed to cut my paper to size and let it relax and flatten or at least start to uncurl. I used a ruler, pencil and sharp scissors to cut the paper. I used books to keep the paper flat and spread out while I measured and cut.

Cutting Uart paper from a roll using books to flatten the curl
The next thing I did was to IMMEDIATELY tape the paper to prepared foamcore boards. I had ordered a box of large 32x40 foamcore boards and used packing tape to make boards slightly larger than each painting size.  I taped each piece of paper using white artist tape using the hinge method. I used a tape hinge every few inches so the paper was flat and secure to the foamcore. After all paper was attached I placed the boards in a pile under some very heavy art books. I left them this way for a week.

I am very happy to report that the paper stayed flat and never tried to curl away from the tape even once the books were removed and while I worked on the paintings.

Taping the paper to large pieces of foamcore using hinged artist tape

Once the commission was approved I ordered some new pastels for the project. I like to use Mount Vision pastels when I paint super large. They are great pastels....a generous size pastel that is soft yet firm. They go a long way. (after 5 60 inch paintings I didn't use up a single pastel!) I looked at what I had on hand and chose around 20 pastels open stock to fill in the gaps.  I set out my palette in a couple of butcher trays. I used the same palette give or take a few for all 5 paintings.

I did use some Nupastels for the initial underpainting and I pulled out some Terry Ludwig pastels for some of the finishing touches.

My pastel palette for all of the commissions.....mostly Mount Vision pastels
The next step was to figure out how I would arrange the boards for the painting process. Fortunately I have a large studio and several metal easels. The boards were too tall to work on the easels so I leaned them up against the easels. I taped a box to each easel mast to make the surface touching the painting board flush. I used a box under each board to catch the falling pastel dust and protect my floor. I clipped each study next to each painting so I could see my reference. I used the approved small pastel studies as my reference.

I was now finally ready to paint! I decided to do a dry wash underpainting to cover up the light tone of the paper. I used a variety of Nupastels to create a rough value underpainting. I used warm colors to give me a head start on the warm spring day and to give relief to the greens to come.  I rubbed in the first layer with pieces of pipe insulation foam. This gave me a good foundation on which to build the paintings with the softer pastels. I didn't want to do a wet underpainting because I didn't want to risk having the paper buckle or wave.

The underpainting stage....a dry wash with Nupastels and pipe insulation foam
The Layering process......
For the next step I decided to work on all three paintings at the same time. This way I could be sure to have them flow together. Using my limited preselected palette also helped. I put on some music LOUD music so I could get into the paintings. It was a very physical painting process with a lot of up and down....squats! For these paintings I played the soundtrack for the movie 'The Theory of Everything'.

I began by reinforcing the darks in the tree trunks with a variety of dark values. I painted all of the tree trunks before moving on. Next I wanted to paint all of the soft out of focus backgrounds. I started with the painting the left. I began at the bottom with the shadows and grass and worked my way up into the painting using a variety of similar value pastels.

Somehow I ended up finishing the whole tree. I wanted to see how it would all come together. Once I was satisfied I went on to paint the two remaining paintings working on them at the same time.

All three in the studio. I used boxes on the floor to catch the dust

Below are some close ups. You can se how I made large marks to represent the flowers and leaves. They are very much suggested and not detailed. I fond it very interesting to scale up and to retain the impressionistic feeling of my studies. One flower mark on the large painting was the same size as a tree in a smaller painting!

As I painted I constantly moved back to view the paintings from a distance. Luckily I have enough space in my studio! It was important to step back a lot to see how everything was coming together.

close up detail

close up of the bottom part of a painting
So What did I learn from working on these large paintings? 

  • UArt paper on a roll was better than the last time I tried it. It seemed more relaxed and I was able to get it to lay flat. I think cutting the paper and taping it down right away followed by heavy books really helped. 
  • Using a combination of harder pastels for the underpainting and Mount Vision pastels for the book of the layering was a cost effective way to paint large. I saved my softer Terry Ludwig pastels for some of the final layers and finishing touches.
  • Doing a dry underpainting helped give me a good foundation. I had to use less of the more expensive softer pastels. *if I was using mounted paper I would have done a wet wash*
  • Working from pastel painting studies helped me stay loose and painterly. I wasn't tempted to put in details of a photograph. 
  • Painting to loud music that was majestic and upbeat allowed me to feel the movement that I needed. I wanted to paint large and expressive marks. It was much like a dance! So much fun!

All three together

See Behind the Scenes videos on my Patreon page! I take you behind the scenes and discuss this project in a 2 part video series. This series is a new addition to my Patreon page. A few times each month I will take you behind the scenes in my studio! Give Patreon a try for just $4 a month


Jackie Spahr said...

Wonderful. Exciting. I can't find the Behind the Scenes of this one on the Patreon page. Can some help?

Karen said...

Thanks Jackie. The video can be found by going to my home page on Patreon. Click on posts and scroll down to Sept 6th video. The second part was posted on September 9th. The home page is