UART Tip #32: “Underpainting Methods” with Lee McVey

Underpainting or toning my paper have become the foundation of my pastel painting. My underpainting methods have evolved over the years until I found my current favorite methods of underpainting in preparation for pastel painting on UART sanded paper.

I started underpainting with pastel and Turpenoid on Ersta sandpaper before Ersta paper evolved into UART. Even though I was using odorless Turpenoid, the fumes bothered me, so I abandoned that method.

Next, I used pastel with alcohol or Spectrafix, a casein based fixative. I did like these methods because of their quick dry time and bleed or bloom effect. Now, I have settled on using either watercolors or Art Graf blocks, or both, for my underpaintings. Art Graf blocks were inspired by tailor’s chalk. Even a light amount applied to UART paper will create rich color when water is brushed over it.

About brushes: Sanded paper can be brutal on brushes. The photo below shows a brush after many uses on sanded paper. For this reason, I use inexpensive Richeson bristle brushes. Even in this condition, I can still use the brush to wipe away unwanted areas of pastel on my painting.

The final result of a pastel painting will be affected by the underpainting colors. Using a warm underpainting will cause the painting to be on the warm side because pastel applied on top will appear cool. We automatically will look for a warm color instead of a pastel which looks too cool, thereby ending with a warm painting.

The above demo studies for my classes show how a black underpainting and a red underpainting affect the tone of the resulting paintings. Although some color choices are different, I used mostly the same colors in each study. For variety, I chose a vertical and a horizontal format.

I enjoy using red for an underpainting when painting cloudscapes. If I am using 400 grit UART, I can finger blend my pastels on the cloud areas and achieve a nice warm effect. (this doesn’t hurt my fingers if there is enough pastel on the painting, but this method can hurt on 320 grit UART)

I used the study above to show my students how a red underpainting can create warm pink notes in the clouds when the pastel is blended.

Above, the underpainting for my painting Sedona Summer Clouds with red, yellow, blue and black Art Graf blocks after water was brushed on.

Above: The first steps of my block in with pastels for Sedona Summer Clouds.

Sedona Summer Clouds on 400 grit UART, finished. You can still see small spots of the underpainting showing through the painting.

I recommend trying different underpainting methods and try different colors for the underpaintings. This is the only way to decide which method you prefer.

Lee McVey, IAPS-Master, PAPNM-Master, and signature member of PSA, PAAC, and distinguished pastelist of PSNM.

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