'Summer Loving' 5x7 pastel ©Karen Margulis
Why bother with a watercolor underpainting? I am often asked why I would choose a watercolor underpainting for a pastel painting. For me it is the unpredictability of the watercolor. It is exciting to apply the paint and watch what it does. It drips and blooms and creates washes and new colors. All of these things create a more exciting base for my pastels. I can now respond to this underpainting and create a painting that has more of my input than if I just copied my reference photo. This wet, drippy underpainting frees me from the photo and allows me to truly interpret my subject. In yesterday's post I wrote about the supplies you will need. Now I would like to share some tips for a successful watercolor underpainting.
step by step demo of a watercolor underpainting
- (top left) After a loose pencil sketch, I begin by putting in my dark value watercolors. I use a mix of dark blues, reds ,greens and oranges. This is opposite of usual watercolor technique but I want to be sure I get nice strong darks. (I have the painting upright on an easel)
- (top right) Wait a few minutes for the darks to start drying. The paint doesn't have to be bone dry but you want it to loose the sheen. PATIENCE is the key. If you add more watercolor too soon it will drip onto your darks and wash them out. Now I add more color above the darks....I want some of this to drip.
- Close-up of the two layers of watercolor. You can see the top layer beginning to drip onto the first layer. What will happen? This is the exciting part!
- I need to wait and let this next layer lose it's sheen and start drying so I add some greens for the flowers. By chance a bead of paint formed at the base of each flower so I let these drip to become the stems. Fun!
- I add some red flowers and let them drip.
- Now the first layers that I applied are slightly wet so I draw into it with some green paint, I get some paint lifted and some stems. If it is too wet, this won't work. You can use a dry brush for texture of a spritz bottle for drops of water. I don't want to overdo the texture at this point.
- Close-up of the flower heads. Now I patiently wait for everything to dry further. Again it doesn't have to be bone dry you want it almost dry so that when we wash in the sky, it won't erase the flowers. I add a pink wash for the sky.
- Finished underpainting.
watercolor underpainting for an 18x24 pastel
Here is the finished underpainting. It is a large one for me 18x24. I will be working on the pastel application this week and I hope you will check back to see my progress. If I could give you only one tip for doing these w/c underpaintings it would be to have patience. I used to get very wimpy underpaintings because I was always in a rush to finish and so each wash of watercolor would erase the previous wash as it slid down the paper. Once I learned to let things get dry I have had better results!