UART Tip #36: “Texture Through the Use of Simple, Toned Underpaintings” with Lyn Asselta

We identify objects by their shape and their form, but we also identify them by their textures.  Soft, rough, pebbly, smooth, spikey…we can easily imagine the way an object would feel if we ran our hand over it.  But, how do you paint it? I like to think of texture as surface quality.  The rougher the texture, the deeper the indentations and raised areas on its surface.  Smoother textures obviously have fewer, if any, indentations.  Tree bark differs from rock differs from marsh grass.  But a common thread is the notion that the “indentations”, the hollows, the cuts in a surface, the areas between grasses, recede into shadow.  The surfaces and outcroppings catch the light.

I like to handle these textures by using simple underpaintings.  A surface toned by hand mimics the way light illuminates even the dark shadows between things.  I personally prefer a surface toned by hand to a pre-purchased, colored surface. Although, those surfaces can be an enormous help, especially when painting en plein air if there is not a lot of time to spend toning your paper before the light situation changes.

On a hand-toned surface, there are slight, natural variations to the overall values of the color you choose. I often will choose a very dark version of one of the colors in my palette when toning my paper.  Since our eye picks up even nuances that we often don’t register, these subtle variations in value play an important part in convincing the eye that it is seeing the “texture” of an object in a natural way.

In these examples, I’m using UART 400 paper, toned with a dark blue-violet hard pastel, washed in with alcohol.  I’m also using mostly hard pastels, with a few soft pastels thrown in for areas like the sky.

Much of this comes down to layering and the pressure applied to your pastel. With even one pass of a hard pastel on its side, it’s evident that the combination of underpainting and pastel are quickly beginning to resemble texture.  I like to “pull” the side of the pastel stick over the surface of the object in a way similar to that which your hand would use to feel the object.

It’s also important to remember to think about where light would be hitting this object and push a bit harder on your pastel stick in those areas.

In areas where there would be more shadow, let up on the pressure you’re using to apply the color and allow the underpainting to do its magic.

The natural ability of the UART Sanded Paper to grab pastel and to leave the underpainting showing between the grains of grit, allows you to create surface texture by using the properties of light and shadow.  By actually using the surface of the paper and the underpainting showing through, you create the illusion of objects that appear closer to you and the spaces between those objects where you would be seeing deeper, darker shadows.

Think of the underpainting as your shadows between objects or indentations on the surface of an object, and think of your pastel stick as if it were grazing over the areas where light would illuminate an object.

Lyn Asselta

Visit Lyn’s website: