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Tuesday, February 07, 2012

An Easy Underpainting Technique...Alcohol & Pastels

'Upon the Tallgrass Prairie' 18x24 pastel ©Karen Margulis

Did you know that alcohol goes great with pastels? I'm not talking about a cocktail or glass of wine although my Sunday workshop students might disagree! I mean regular 70% isopropyl rubbing alcohol. If you are looking for a quick no mess underpainting technique then you will want to give this method a try. I love doing an underpainting for my pastels since it gives me a head start. I don't have the fear of starting on a big piece of empty paper. Below is my finished underpainting. I already have a good start and I haven't added any pastel! One of the questions I am often asked is how do you decide what colors to use in the underpainting. I will address this question in another post and if you live in the Atlanta area you may wish to join my 'Underpainting Boot Camp Workshop' on February 19th.

alcohol wash underpainting

  • For this technique you need some hard pastels. I use a mix of NuPastels and Polychromos. If the pastel is too soft it will get gummy when you wet it and fill the tooth of the paper more readily than harder pastel.
  • You need a cheap stiff bristle brush.
  • You need some rubbing alcohol and a container. You only need a small amount.
  • You can use turpenoid (smelly but you get cool drips) or water (drips not as interesting)
  • Cover paper with a layer of hard pastels...color choice it up to you, brush in the pastel with the alcohol. Let it dry. Add pastel. Easy!

Mini Demo of an alcohol Wash Underpainting
  1. (from top left) Block in first layer with Nupastels. This layer doesn't have to be thick.
  2. Wet down the pastel with rubbing alcohol....paint it on and move the wet pastel around. Don't worry about drips.
  3. This is my own Terry Ludwig Wildflower Set (I put it together at the IAPS convention at the 'candy store'. Terry has all of his pastels on display and I picked out my own set for wildflowers.
  4. Adding the pastels. Starting with darks, then the sky and clouds.
  5. Blocking in the flowers. Refining the flowers and the grasses
  6. 'Upon the Tallgrass Prairie' finished.

If you are interested in underpaintings you may wish to read my posts on watercolor underpaintings and oil paint underpaintings for pastel.


Mariela said...

Hello Karen,
beautiful painting as always!
Spring just n the beginning of February...

I need your advice. I always have problems about fixing my pastels.
They loose their luminosity.
If I don't fix the last layer, when I frame them, dust falls in the mat. Any suggestions??

Thank you

nigelfletcher said...

Hi Karen

I've been looking at your work for a while now and always look forward to receiving your latest posts in my inbox. I am going to have a go at pastels soon and want to ask your advice about how to get started, and what would be an all round soft pastel to buy, my work is usually quite 'loose' not to hard and detailed.

Karen said...

Hi Nigel,
Thank you very much for following my blog. I'm glad you enjoy it. You have a great question. Everyone had their favorite pastels so I always encourage students to try several. Dakota Art Pastels offers a sampler set which is a good way to try out the major brands. If you are looking for a pastel that is in the middle as far as hardness, Mount Vision pastels are a great value. They are large and the colors are wonderful. My personal favorites are Terry Ludwig,Great American and Diane Townsend. I would recommend purchasing an artist grade pastel that isn't too hard such as the above suggestions. Good Luck!!

Nick Miliokas said...

I'm not an artist myself, but I know several, and they tell me you can't go wrong with Karl Kelly (Mount Vision) pastels.

artbyfrancois said...

I have also used cheap gin for this technique- no kidding- just don't drink it!
The rubbing alcohol has a distinct and noxious fume in my somewhat crowded indoor studio here in Maine. Winter!