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Saturday, January 28, 2012

Tips for Successful Watercolor Underpaintings ...Part I

'Wishful Thinking' 5x7 pastel with watercolor underpainting

I love doing watercolor underpaintings for my pastels. But I struggled with them. I still struggle but a workshop with Richard McKinley last year has given me hope. As Richard told us it is just a matter of practice. Do more underpaintings...just underpaintings...never mind the pastel...just practice! So I have been working at it and I love the possibilities of the watercolor. In today's post I will pass on some tips on getting started with watercolor underpaintings. In my next post I will show you a step by step demo and discuss why you might want to consider watercolor under your pastels.

My watercolors from top left: Daniel Smith Color Map set, Pelikan Opaque pan, Schminke Hordam tubes, Schminke travel pan set.

Sample watercolor underpaintings from top left: Schminke pans (today's dandelion painting), Daniel Smith, Old Holland pans, Pelikan pan set
  • Surface Choice: You need to use a pastel surface than can accept a wet underpainting. Certain papers such as LaCarte can't get wet. Some surfaces perform better than others. Rigid surfaces such as Pastelbord don't warp or buckle. Some papers buckle more than others and do better when wet and stretched or mounted. I have had success with unmounted Uart paper with little to no waving. Canson MT Touch also performed well. I have had unmounted Wallis buckle but just got a tip to dampen it and stretch it first so I have to try that!
  • Surface Color: White surfaces are best for the most vibrant results. Dark and grey papers tend to make the watercolors look dull. I prefer very light colors with white being my favorite.
  • Watercolor Choice: There is a variety of opinions on the best watercolors to use. I have always heard that artist grade watercolors are best with the richest pigment and vibrant results. I have had success though with an inexpensive Pelikan pan set. My favorite set is my travel Schminke pan set but this little set was expensive...$100! I just got some Schminke tubes that were on clearance so I look forward to trying those.
  • Brushes: You want to use inexpensive bristle brushes and not the expensive watercolor brushes. The sanded papers will tear up the brushes. I also like the stiff brushes to scrub the colors in and make texture.
  • Most important consideration: Don't be Skimpy...Skimpy =Wimpy! This is the most important thing I have learned. The little travel sets are nice but you just don't get enough paint moving around. You don't want it thick but if your little pans are tiny you will end up being too skimpy with your paint.

If you haven't tried a watercolor underpainting or want to improve yours...get your paints out and come back for tomorrow's post for a step by step demo.

For more information see Robert Sloan's review of the Daniel Smith Color Map set


Gaye Sekula: Impressions said...

What a beautiful painting!!!

Anonymous said...

Karen, I am loving your blog at the moment…it has an added dimension and something exciting is happening in your posts! I don’t often comment, but thought it was time to. Love this painting…. the little flakes of pastel creating the sparkle (I presume they are little flakes of shaven pastel or pastel pencil) are rather like the techniques I use and teach in my classes called watercolour pencil shaving techniques. As a last thing over a wet wash I shave watercolour pencils with sandpaper over certain areas…it creates a unique effect. It’s not my idea, I saw it being used by another watercolourist, and it’s one of those cute techniques, which is really different on the right kind of painting. Have you tried mixing Colourfix primer with absorbent ground? I have not tried this, but it might be the best of both worlds for an absorbent toothy finish when painted onto a hard substrate. Happy pastel painting…

Karen said...

Thank you Gaye! I appreciate it!

Karen said...

Hi Maggie,
Thank you for commenting. I'm glad you are enjoying my expanded blog posts. I am enjoying writing about the 'behind the scenes' of my daily paintings and it is nice to know that others are enjoying it too. I also appreciate the tips about the pencil shaving techniques. I did shave pastel onto my painting.It is so much fun!
I haven't tried coloufix primer yet but it probably would be a good alternative. I'll have to add it to my list!

Albert C Francis said...

Good painting. If you're on a tight budget, I suggest you use watercolor tubes rather than pans. Tubes usually hold two or three times as much paint as pans, so, cost per paint would be much less (may be you can also fill out your pans with tube paints -- that works well in case of 'moist watercolors'). M Graham I think, is the best brand. I heard Da Vinci and Maimeri also offer top quality paints (comparable to MG, WN or DS) at a lower price -- might be the best value for money. Or, may try some used stuff from ebay.