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Why Under Paint?

An underpainting wash is a way to dissolve layers of color into the tooth of a paper to lay down a base coating and free up the paper tooth to accept more layers of pastel. Under painting works especially well on sanded surfaces like Ampersand Pastelbord, or UArt, that can support wet media. Some heavier papers like PastelMat, Canson Touch, or even Strathmore can take it if you tape the edges down first.

"The Male Gaze" Pastel 24x18 Violet pastel/alcohol underpainting

Artists would do this for a variety of reasons:

1. To add a jolt of color (priming with orange or red underneath a landscape scene that is primarily green and blue)

2. To establish a strong underpainting of darks and push them deep into the tooth for layering. Artist Nancy Nowack demonstrated this recently at a workshop at DFAC where she under painted her shadows in watercolor, and painted the light in pastel.

3. To open the tooth of the surface to receive more pastel layers

4. To establish the complements underneath large shapes to make them pop (see Jill Stefani-Wagner)

"Beanie's Swing" Pastel 18x24 Yellow pastel/water underpainting

There are a variety of ways to under paint and a variety of materials.

Here are just a few that I’ve used:

1. Watercolor Wash Using a small watercolor set and a large mop watercolor brush, paint with watercolor on the blank sanded paper to achieve your desired effect. Then work over the wash with dry pastel.

2. Alcohol Wash Use denatured alcohol or isopropyl alcohol and a flat watercolor brush to wash over dry pastel pigment, which will dissolve and stain the color into the paper. This method dries very quickly so you can get back to layering dry pastel on top of it. (The higher the proof the quicker it dries)

3. Mineral Spirit Wash This works in much the same way as an alcohol wash but takes a little longer to dry. Make sure its totally dry before adding new layers.

4. Pushing in layers of dry pastel into the tooth of the surface with your hand and blending. Then paint with pastel as usual. I have a jar of pastel pigment that has no binder in it. The color is a deep cobalt blue. Remember, high quality pastels are the same basic pigments as watercolor paint and oil paint the main difference is binders!

Abstract shapes of dry pastel as underpainting


"Sandpiper's Sunset" Pastel 24x36 Private Collection You can see how the under painting informs the finished piece

Tips: Use a big brush

· Don’t be perfectionistic

· Consider using the complements

· Have fun with it!

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