Wednesday, March 17, 2010

thinking about underpaintings: watercolor vs. pastel

8x8 pastel on BFK This morning's sunrise.

 pastel on watercolor underpainting, Uart

This week Richard wrote about pastel as an underpainting (link here). And then, Sam, after reading it, had some questions in my comment section. I have been fortunate to work with Richard for many years. I consider him my mentor. He is a very gracious, generous teacher with a great sense of humor... not to mention all the amazing information he has stored in his head. (WOW) If you can, treat yourself with one of his workshops.
I learned watercolor underpainting from him. Watercolor makes a vibrant surface from which to work. When used loosely, slip and slosh (the Richard way), it makes a perfect underpainting from which a pastel can evolve, little by little as if solving a mystery. Oil works the same way and is great for studio works. The stain it leaves on the paper is even more intense. Drips and wonderful accidents are all part of the process. To underpaint with either watercolor or oil you need to use a sanded paper. Big paintings must be mounted and small ones can be taped done to a board (UArt paper works great for this.) I used that method to create the bottom painting. Pastelmat accepts watercolor and oil beautifully, although I find that the marks made are firmer and harder to blend.
 Rives BFK is my new favorite. Smooth, yet lightly porous it's a wonderful all purpose pastel paper. When using it I underpaint by rubbing in large shapes or bands of color with a paper towel. It creates a soft feeling (top painting.)
Other options are putting your pastel on a sanded surface and rubbing it in with a paper towel - some times paper towel bits also remain, which is a minor bummer. Pipe insulation is a great tool for blending pastels on sanded paper. It does the work so your wounded fingers are saved. (try that Sam)
Using alcohol or turpentine to move the pastel over the surface is another option. Once again you need sanded paper. I did try this method long ago. I couldn't get past the idea of making pastel do  paint's job...why not use paint? A bias of mine I guess.
Water is a method  for moving pastel which I don't like. I think it is clumpy and my bias is still there.
Everyone has his/her preferences and those are mine. If you have a new way to add please let us know.
Happy painting, whichever way you choose!


Donna T said...

Loriann, I'm going to try a method that Jimmy Wright (of the awesome sunflower paintings) explains in the Feb '10 issue of American Artist. He works on 300-lb watercolor paper and does his exploratory drawing and composition building with pastel. Then he applies Golden Acrylic Ground for pastels on top, letting the wetness blend and soften the pastel while providing a clear, toothy layer. He then goes on to finish the painting on top. Seems to make sense since there's no fighting with rubbing in layers or abrading fingers in the underpainting stage, although not very pracitcal for plein air. I'll let you know how it goes. Beautiful sunrise painting, by the way! I love your subtly blended layers.

Brian McGurgan said...

Both paintings are beautiful, Loriann - the one from this morning has a wonderful feel to it, and the one with the watercolor underpainting is beautifully luminescent.

Your notes here are interesting and helpful. I've never had an especially great experience with applying alcohol, turpentine, or water to pastel for underpainting. It forces all kinds of considerations about using surfaces I normally don't care to work with pastel on, such as abrasive supports or heavy-weight watercolor paper. The sludge that's created seems hard to keep consistent in density - in places it can build up slightly and when dry takes pastel differently than areas where the underpainting was thinner. I agree, too, that simply using paint for such underpaintings seems like a less messy and more intuitive approach. Still, I try to prevent myself from being too dogmatic about such things - who knows, a few months or a year from now I may be experimenting again happily with sanded surfaces and wet pastel underpaintings!

SamArtDog said...

Thanks for the info. I'm off to the hardware store for pipe insulation. I assume you mean polyethylene? Rubbing seems better than using a wash, which, I agree, is counter-intuitive.

Useful comments yesterday about fixative. I also use Spectrafix. Actually, I usually forget to until the painting is finished, i.e., the paper is totally loaded up/clogged with too much pastel to use more. By then, it's too late. I know; I should pay attention.

Casey Klahn said...

I'll just present my own random ideas.

I have used the turp and the water washes, and am currently re-using my La Carte throw aways by turp washing. I use a medium stiff paint brush to dust off the old painting, and then I may or may not do the wash.

Kitty Wallis teaches the use of Createx Pure Pigment (suspended pigment and water) as a way to avoid building up the surface. I use this occasionally, especially on her paper. Good luck finding this product now.

I like your toweling onto Rives BFK idea. I'll probably have to try that, now.

The sunrise is a sensitive image, and I thank you for bringing it. The bright one is stunning and joyous - very great!

Caroline said...

Gosh that watercolour one looks like a Monet! It is almost luminous with the watercolour paint shining through. Wonderful effect. Thanks for sharing.

loriann said...

Hi Donna, I would love to hear about your explorations. When you finish one please send me a jpeg and tell me all about it. Ok? I didn't see the article so I will search online to find out more about him. Thanks for the info.

loriann said...

Hi Brian,
Sometimes I feel the same way. I do still love working with the watercolor on sanded surface. I agree with you that paint is much more intuitive underpainting than the other choices.
Sludge. Hmmmmm, it's sort of like that...sludge. never say never, right?

loriann said...

Hi Sam, The pipe insulation is that black sort of spongey stuff with the hole in the middle. I think you will like it and it SAVES fingers! Try using a very light touch then your pastel won't build us so fast. If you enjoy putting on a lot of pastel,,, make your own surface with marble dust. It holds a lot.

Hi Casey,
It's so interesting to hear everyone's habits. The La Carte is a wonderful, very fragile paper. Could you explain what you mean turp washing on throw away La Carte? Do you mean since it a cast off you put turp on it, a substance La Carte usually won't take? Please tell me a little more about this.
Long ago I did try's so vibrant, even more than watercolor or oil. Can you still buy it? Watercolor works well and does not build up at all.
Thanks about the paintings.

Hi Caroline and thank you!

nJ ART 73 said...

Hi Loriann,
Spring is on its way!!! I like these two paintings very much. I found though that the second painting to be more interesting in terms of spatial organization. The size of he paper, amount of water to sky helps to create visual tension.I especially enjoyed the blue trees and reflection plus the "white" area- upper left corner. That area glows.
Loriann you have developed your own personal color language.

When I worked with pastels I did the usual-Rembrandt pastels on Canson. I enjoy reading your blog which gives me food for though not only regarding possibilities for my own art but
working with soft pastels.

BTW- Have you tried Pan Pastels??

Nika said...

I used to underpaint with gouache or watercolor. Today I tried rubbing alcohol with pastel underpainting on Reeves and liked the slightly gritty matte surface it left behind. It's different enough from watercolor so I'll keep experimenting with it.

You've posted some breathtaking images over the past week. I haven't had much time to comment but every time I looked at them I went Ahhhh!
Big Daddy is amazing. And your post on trees and Dwight Tryon was very inspirational. Today I watched a lot being cleared with bulldozers in my town and every time they felled a large tree my heart sank. It was traumatic to watch but at the same time the sight of those huge aggressive machines tearing up the landscape gave me an idea for a series of paintings. Sigh... I wish it didn't have to take that.
I've also been doing a bit of plein-air over the past few days because the rainy weather in Florida makes things look amazing, very saturated with color. I will post the results on my blog come the weekend.

Jala Pfaff said...

The top one is luminous and the bottom one, with the blue--Oh!
I've seen that one before, right?
Is it for sale? It is just stunning.

I agree about water mixing with pastels--I think it tends to create ugly muddy lumps. And I also agree about "why not just use paint"? Exactly! Other stuff I can't comment on, since I'm not an underpainter. (an underpanter?)

P.S. How is your little cat doing?

Jala Pfaff said...

P.S. I am new to blending in pastels, and so far have only tried it on PastelMat. I love the effects, and it's smooth as silk on the fingers. I love playing with it with my fingers so much, that I think I could never deal with using a type of surface where I'd have to use something besides my fingers to blend. But...never say never. I never thought I'd blend either.
Casey - how can you put anything wet onto LaCarte??

loriann said...

Hi NJ!
Happy Spring, it's it lovely today? Thanks about my paintings and your comment about developing my own color language. It sounds good cuz that's just where I would like to be. It's funny I didn't try to do that, but it feels good that it is happening.
Please do try different ways. Rembrandts are very firm pastels, giving a whole different effect. You might enjoy trying girault which is firm but can also be soft.
As for Pan Pastels, I haven't tried them-yet. Maybe soon, it's another investment.

Hi Nika!
Experimenting is fun. I would like to try gouache mixed with watercolor, transparent and opague.Many other artists have done that. I do use Chinese White with my watercolors. It's opague.
Interesting what you say about rubbing alcohol on reeves and it's slightly gritty residue. Have you posted your results. I would love to hear more about your new idea of a series, albeit a sad one. I'll go check out your blog. Cheers!
Thanks so much about the images!:-D

loriann said...

Nika, Where do you live in Florida? I am heading down there next week.

loriann said...

Hi Jala, the top one is new and the bottom one is an older one, since I haven't been working with watercolor. I have a new idea that i will try watercolor in the way i use pastel as underpaint. Back and forth one hand feeds the other.
Thanks for asking about my little kitty. I am happy to say he is as good as new and up to all his old tricks chasing the girls. Last night he slept by my side his motor roaring LOUDLY! Gotta love our little furballs.
I guess I will have to give Pastel Mat another try.
PS AN underpanter?;-)

Nika said...

I'm North Cental Florida, near Gainesville. If you're passing our way, I would love to see you for a cup of cofee or tea. Fell free to email me: pigmentpig at gmail dot com.

Katherine van Schoonhoven said...

What a great post!

Both paintings are beautiful and subtle, as is your style. Soft and lovely.

I've been using Bristol paper and some smooth watercolor papers lately. Some with watercolor under paintings and others with pastel rubbed in as you describe with the BFK.

My favorite method is using pigment in water dispersion as Casey described above (I get it from Guerra Paints on line) for the under painting on Kitty Wallis paper. Since I like a really WET application, I find that the Museum paper is best since it warps less.

It's all great and all of the comments have given me plenty of new things to try. Thanks!

Casey Klahn said...

Hey, everyone. La Carte hates water, but turpenoid I use just fine.
Let me do some research and get an independent view, but I do it and you may try it with a over worked sheet that you have put away. I'll get back to you - gotta go pick up the kidlings.

Anita Stoll said...

Smoothe peanuts or popcorn used in shipping is also very nice to bland on sanded paper. Enjoyed your blog today. May try some new things out. Loved the paintings.

loriann said...

Hi Nika! pigment pig...I like that!I'll be in touch.

loriann said...

Thanks for your ideas Katherine. I have never used Bristol paper. I'll have to check it out. Till later....

Casey...I knew and experienced La Carte's dislike of water. I thought that also applied to turp. Live and learn. Thanks for your idea.

Hi Anita, That's right I forgot about peanuts. Thanks for bringing it up. Thanks about my blog and paintings.

Casey Klahn said...

Hey, art lovers. I looked it up, and have no less than the dealer rep from Saviore Faire (who distribute Sennelier) doing just this. Read the lower right hand corner of the following:

- Casey

Marie River said...

You keep saying that you have to use sanded paper if you are going to do an under-painting, but you haven't stated why. Could you explain the reason for your statement and clarify what papers you should not use? Thank you.

loriann signori said...

Hi Marie River,
Sorry for the confusion. Richard always uses sanded paper mounted for a watercolor underpainting. It holds it well and sometimes, depending on the brand benefits from mounting it. I also use 300 lb watercolor paper. I love both for different reasons. Certain papers will not take any water like Sennelier's beautiful La Carte. happy painting!