UART Tip #09: Having Fun With the Underpainting with Susan Kuznitsky

There are many ways and many benefits of using an underpainting on sanded paper to create a strong foundation upon which to add many glorious layers of pastels. The type of underpainting depends on the subject and desired end effect. This demo piece was done on UArt 400 grit sanded paper at my workshop for the Pastel Painters of Hawaii. I decided to use fluid acrylics for the underpainting. I like the Golden High Flow Acrylic 10-Color Transparent set and an additional bottle of High Flow Titanium White. These will give you an adequate amount of colors for any underpainting. They are strong, vibrant colors but do not fill up the tooth of the paper. I use inexpensive brushes and a minimal amount of water.  These paints allow me to quickly get a base color leaving lots of room to build up many layers of color with my pastels. It is also economical as far as saving pastels. It is one of the techniques I use for a studio piece. When I do pastel plein air pieces, I either use Gamsol or rubbing alcohol brushed over the pastels or I might forego an underpainting altogether. Again, it depends on the subject matter and situation. You can use acrylics from the tube, watercolors or even oils. A word of caution – with tube paints dilute them enough to not build up texture in the underpainting phase.

I began this demo with a detailed drawing of these charming ceramic statues and then applied the fluid acrylics in large colorful shapes initially ignoring the small detail. I kept the background very neutral and plain. I mixed colors that were true or even darker than what I had in the photo, going for the overall color of the various shapes of the ladies’ clothes and faces.

Gift Store Shelf, pastel 11 x 14

The advantage of the fluid acrylics is that they dry quickly and allow me to come back in and begin adding the patterns in the clothes and the features of the faces. I had to make some decisions about the background because the photo I took had a very busy background. I opted to leave out the other objects and go for a dreamy blended effect so I could showcase the ladies. I used a combination of hard and soft pastels to create the layers with the pastel pencils as my blending tool. The underpainting created hard edges between colors, which I softened as I worked using pastel pencils again.  After I painted the local color of the garments, I then came back in with the soft and hard pastels to add lighter and darker values to further create their forms. The most fun was adding the many highlights to create the shine of the porcelain. If I get to a place where I saturate the paper with pastels I have two choices – brush down the color with a stiff brush or use spray fixative to create an additional layer to work upon. The underpainting won’t be disturbed and I can then continue working. The finishing layers and detail work was done back in my studio.

Susan Kuznitsky

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