View Full Version : Underpainting question

06-08-2012, 04:43 PM
Hello to you all.

This is my first post here and I read somewhere in a thread about using
alcohol in the underpainting, I believe it was Paula Ford showing
a demo. I donīt find the post so I put the question here.

I would like to ask you who have used alcohol. What difference does
it make? How does it help you do you think? Do you believe that you could
get the same effect if using for instance watercolour instead?

I am amazed at how helpful people are here, you really give a lot of info
to other people, very nice!! :wave:

06-08-2012, 05:42 PM
You can underpaint in many different ways. Rather than using alcohol, you can use water - brushing water over the pastel on your paper. There's very little difference between the two methods, as far as I can tell. You could also do a watercolor underpainting - using watercolor paints rather than pastel for the underpainting.

We recently did a Spotlight on Underpainting which might be of interest:


A couple years ago, Paula hosted a Spotlight on underpainting which can be found here:


It is recommended that if you use rubbing alcohol, then use the 70% rather than the 91%. The higher percentage is a stronger solvent and may damage some papers.

Here's a thread where some tests were made:


Hope this helps.


06-08-2012, 06:24 PM
I prefer to use alcohol for three reasons. #1 it really sets the pastel into the paper. Even using mineral spirits the pastel seems to come off pretty easily, and much worse with water. #2 Convenience, you've already got the pastels there, why break out another medium? #3 Getting the colors saturated enough has always been difficult for me with watercolor. It's very easy to get a bright, solid underpainting with alcohol.


06-08-2012, 07:32 PM
david, I second your post! add to it, that alcohol is super cheap and found most anywhere. dries very fast too, so no waiting or using a hair dryer. (hate noise like that). and I don't have to fret over what % my work is, if turned into a contest. its all pastel.

06-08-2012, 08:34 PM
David, that is a huge point in favor of alcohol underpaintings. I've tried water and I usually do watercolor, sometimes watercolor and then prime over it with clear Colourfix primer. But if the paper's already sanded, pastel and wash is a better underpainting than watercolor. It does get more saturated much more easily with the wash.

I got my 70% alcohol at Walgreens. Any drugstore has it. Also it does dry much faster than alcohol.

If it gets really hot in your working area during the summer and you don't have air conditioning, you can also put a little of it on a towel and splash it on your neck and the inside of your elbows and wrists. That cools me off when it's hot like nothing else. Come to think of it, that'd work outdoors too if I'm doing plein air on a hot day. Good to put the alcohol bottle in the basket with my pastels and paper and stuff.

Incidentally, for plein air. Normal pill bottles that you get with any prescription are waterproof when sealed properly. I use them for water or thinners or alcohol if I don't want to bring a really big bottle with me or have a big bottle in my immediate working area. I get so many of those free that I'd rather find uses for them than just add to the trash.

They are also good for collecting pastel dust by color group if you want to reconstitute it to make your own pastels.

Donna T
06-08-2012, 09:07 PM
I'll just add that I use 70% alcohol too but I like to rub the pastel into the paper with a Viva paper towel and then mist it with alcohol from a spray bottle. It works well on most papers and even some of the more finely sanded papers. I like it for underpainting because I don't get any hard edges which must later be covered. It's a lot of fun to experiment with!

06-08-2012, 09:09 PM
Welcome AnnaLisa.

I like using alcohol for same reasons stated already. Mainly: dries fast, no need to change mediums, and can get watercolor feel.

Over in soft pastel studio forum, I recently posted a painting "last barrel", where I used alcohol to create background and much of foreground as well. I even dipped brush (old hog bristle oil painting brush) into alcohol, then quickly rubbed brush on pastel stick to pick up pigment, then splattered the color on painting. Lots of fun.

06-08-2012, 11:14 PM
I even dipped brush (old hog bristle oil painting brush) into alcohol, then quickly rubbed brush on pastel stick to pick up pigment, then splattered the color on painting. Lots of fun.

Now that's cool! I have to remember that one the next time I need texture, great idea.

Welcome to the Pastel Forum AnnaLisa! I use alcohol for all the reasons stated, especially the fast drying time. I use it over pan pastels as an underpainting, and I use it in a spray bottle rather than with a brush. I like the soft effect the spray bottle gives, and it seems to keep the colors very saturated. Whenever I use a brush I end up muddying the colors because I'm too impatient and I sometimes forget to rinse the brush after each color. I should try it again with a brush and be more diligent about it, I think it would give yet a different 'look'.

06-09-2012, 01:49 AM
Don/Dak723 uses the phrase " rubbing alcohol " which is correct .
> also labeled ' isopropyl alcohol ' at pharmacies .
>> for external use only !

as to your question ;
I would like to ask you who have used alcohol. What difference does
it make? How does it help you do you think?


Ed :}

06-09-2012, 06:59 AM
Welcome, AnnaLisa!

I usually do a dry underpainting, in very vivid pigments. I take one of those foam wipes for babies (a foam brush would be as good or better) and lay the painting flat and use the foam to brush in the pastel pigment. Quick, easy, no extra stuff to carry, nothing that can spill.

Hm, might be that different papers take this stuff differently. I have one experience where water was the best to brush out the pastel, and it really fused with the paper (Fisher 400), while alcohol (isopropyl) granulated the pigment and it came off much more easily when dry.

06-09-2012, 09:55 AM
Thank you all for your answers and welcome. I am totally new to
wetcanvas and I started in the soft pastel forum because I just
Loooove soft pastels.

I live in the same country as Charlie so I use the paper Fisher400.
Before I used Starcke Ersta that was soo wonderful and I believe that
Uart is the most similar, I have bought a couple of them, but didnt use
them yet. Ersta was not acid free. I aso like Pastelmat.

So when using alcohol I believe that you have to think of what paper you
use. So if you prefer alcohol, what kind of paper do you use?
Maybee you have written that in the links that Don provided.
And it is good that you told us what alcohol to buy and where, it is not
the alcohol people drink, it is the alcohol for external use.

Thank you Don for the links, I will go to the pages and read!!

Thank you David for the info. So if you have problems to get the colors
saturated with watercolor, can it depend on the paper you use?

Thank you Robert for your input. I also use small things looking like those
things you got in school when you had to rinse your mouth with fluoride haha
I donīt know if you had to do it. They are very good to put the left over pastels in, to make new ones. The small small bottles seal very good.
But the bottles for pills are also good as you mentioned.

Thank you Donna for your answer. You said that you rub the pastel into the
paper, what kind of paper do you use?

Thank you Ron for your info, I will look for your painting. When you dip the
brush into the alcohol and then put it on your stick, doesnīt it harm the
pastel stick or change it? Probably no, because otherwise you shouldnt do it I suppose.

Thank you allydoodle for your info. Since panpastels are pretty soft you have
to use sanded paper to not fill up the tooth too quickly? Or maybee you use
a little more alcohol, spraying more?

Hej (hello) Charlie
Thank you for your answer. Since you use Fisher400 you can use the
dry underpainting since it is so gritty I suppose, or you maybee use hard pastels as an underpainting. I have to figure out what foam wipes are haha.

Looking forward to spend time here on wetcanvas.


06-09-2012, 09:59 AM
Haha Ed, when I read the question now, you can interpret it in another
way. I have to practice english/american more.

Donna T
06-09-2012, 12:33 PM
Thank you Donna for your answer. You said that you rub the pastel into the
paper, what kind of paper do you use?

Hi AnnaLisa - I've rubbed pastel into UArt 600 and 800 grits - they're not too abrasive but sometimes the paper towel makes a little fuzz. Wallis paper will only destroy the paper towel so I wouldn't recommend trying that! Printmaking papers such as Rives BFK and Fabriano Rosapina work very well for this technique. They don't buckle with light applications of spray and you can always repeat the process once the paper dries until you get the look you want. These aren't sanded papers but I find that with a good underpainting I don't always need so many layers of pastel on top.

06-09-2012, 01:11 PM
Hej AnnaLisa, lovely to meet another person painting with pastel in Sweden! The foam-wipes I mentioned are called "tvättlappar" in Swedish, and I normally find them with the baby stuff in any ordinary grocery store. They're so cheap I simply throw them away after using them.

Alcohol (isopropyl, which I finally found at Järnia) tends to make the sand of the Fisher 400 sink a bit into the glue. Not much, and the glue does dry again, but I felt a bit wary about using it in case some unseen damage is done.

Good luck with your experiments!

06-09-2012, 03:03 PM
Pan Pastels are excellent for underpainting.
Acrylic wash is good as well.

You can do a slightly thicker underpainting with acrylic, let dry and then coat with a clear-medium pumice mixture like Liquitex clear medium which gives an excellent tooth when dry.
Gouache makes a nice flat underpainting.

The grisaille method works well with charcoal or gray washes. When using charcoal you need to "fix" the results before you color.

Good luck AnnaLisa, derek

06-09-2012, 04:49 PM
Don't use any wet on the Ersta!

06-09-2012, 05:41 PM
Hello Derek and Drusilla.

Derek that was something that I have not been thinking of, to use grisaille
method under a pastelpainting! I must test that some time.

Drusilla thats right, I dont use any wash on that paper, just painting dry.
Good that you mentioned it though.

Some people here use panpastel as an underpainting, I thought that the
pastel would be too soft and then after drying you could not paint with
the harder pastel sticks, but I have to test that too.

Is it more difficult to use harder pastels with alcohol for an underpainting?
Sorry for all the questions but I have never used alcohol, only watercolour
a couple of times.

I will have to go to the links provided earlier.

Have you guys posted pictures of your paintings using alcohol, here on the forum? I will have a look at rugmans painting as soon as I can.

I got inspired to test painting with alcohol after hearing what you all said about it:)

And Charlie I will have to buy those tvättlappar and try that too.

Derek, what kind of paper do you use when underpainting with acrylic and then prime it with pumice mixture?
What difference do you see in the painting when painting a little thicker with
the acrylic as an underpainting, what effect does it give?

06-09-2012, 05:54 PM
Don't use any wet on the Ersta!

Isn't Uart the new name for Ersta? (change of ownership or something like that.) If so wet is fine, Uart is my paper of choice and I use wet underpaintings all the time.


06-10-2012, 07:49 AM
here is another link that might be useful ;

thank you for enjoying my little joke :)
it was not your way of phrasing , but my way of misreading :D

Ed :}

06-10-2012, 01:07 PM
Thank you allydoodle for your info. Since panpastels are pretty soft you have
to use sanded paper to not fill up the tooth too quickly? Or maybee you use
a little more alcohol, spraying more?

Hi AnnaLisa,

I like pan pastels for underpainting because they are a bit transparent. I'm also able to get a nice soft look, and spraying them with the alcohol keeps the colors just where I put them, they don't move. I also don't like the pan pastels for the complete painting, so I found a use for them :D . I don't find pan pastels to be that soft, they're not nearly as soft as Schmincke, Ludwig or Sennelier. They go on pretty lightly and I don't find that they fill up the tooth of the paper much at all.

I also use watercolor or gouache for underpaintings, depending on my intent. It's fun to experiment with different approaches, and watercolor is transparent, which is nice when I have a sketch down and I want to "set" it. The watercolor seems to do just that, I can see my sketch and still have some color down as an underpainting. Gouache is not transparent, so I don't use it when I want to save a sketch, but the colors can be intense, which is another fun way to underpaint. When I use these two underpainting approaches I use water not alcohol.

Happy painting!

06-11-2012, 04:50 PM
David, the Ersta paper was produced in Germany by Starcke.
I forgot...I have used wet paint on it and it was okey, it takes water.

It was a pitty that the paper was not acid free and that they didnīt continue
to produce it. I have bought a couple of sheets of Uart but I have not tested it yet. I believe that Uart is the most similar paper to Ersta.

I donīt know if they bought it from Starcke.

Charlie, Yes its fun to meet a person from the same country painting in pastel!!! I believe that there arenīt many here in Sweden.
I went to USA and went for a workshop, twice, and I just loved it. I also
like USA very much, the people are very nice.

Allydoodle, yes its fun to test different methods. I saw a woman on youtube
using watercolor as an underpainting and then she started to paint with soft pastels over that. The colours just popped out or up (hehe donīt remember how you say it)

06-11-2012, 05:23 PM
Thank you Don and Ron for the links and the painting last barrel.
Very nice painting, lot of action showing in the composition.

There are a lot of info on underpainting in the links, nice to read.

Ed that was great info on underpainting with alcohol, now I see how
soft the edges are. If you want to paint mood in a certain way this is
excellent way to do it.

Charlie, I forgot to ask you how do you keep the Fisher400 paper
flat?? I started with one paper -tejp..and then I bought another
stronger one masking-tejp, I forgot the english word for it.
But still the paper is coming out of the tejp, it is very strange.

06-11-2012, 05:57 PM
AnnaLisa, I too went to the US to learn. I think there are about 10 people in Sweden who paint in pastels more or less regularly... However, clients respond very well to pastels, so that's fine!

I use bulldog clamps to secure the Fisher 400 to a board. Sometimes, the paper is rather bowed, and in another thread, we discovered that it is not supposed to be like that. Those who make the paper do roll it the other way (gently), to make them flat. What you can do if you want to tape the paper is to tape on the backside: put bits of tape so it sticks out (and the sticky side will be 'up'). Then you can tape the bits to the board by putting tape over the tape, crosswise, like a T.

I'm in the Stockholm area. Where are you, if you don't mind telling?

06-12-2012, 01:06 AM
AnnaLisa - I just wanted to say welcome, and to also say that I love to do watercolor paintings as underpaintings. I get very vivid colors because I mix clean, transparent watercolors with a high tinting strength. Colors like Thalo Greens and Blues, Quinacradone colors are also high in tinting strength and very transparent. Dioxazine Violet is also great with Cadmium Yellows. I prefer this method because, 1) I love to paint in watercolors as well, 2) I love to get my pastel painting started with the freedom and spontaneity of the watercolors - Richard McKinley calls that part the "serendipity" - and loves to see what will happen with the pigment. 3) I admit this works more easily in the studio than plein air, but is worth the effort outside as well. 4) It doesn't dry quite as fast as alcohol, but it does dry fairly quickly outside, and inside you can use a hair dryer :-)


06-12-2012, 09:27 AM
Thank you Charlie for your info, I will try that:clap:
I am in the Uppsala region. Since the pastels are rather uncommon
here I didnīt know how the client would respond, but itīs nice
that they are responding well.

You can see it in diffeent ways, if there arenīt too many pastelists here
then you can sell easier because not many people live here.
But if you see it like if there were many pastelists then people would
get a more awareness about it and it would probably help.

Can I ask you where in USA did you go to learn? I went to Virginia City
in Nevada and the second time to Bend in Oregon.
The teacher was Ben Konis, and I am sorry that he doesnīt live now, he
was just wonderful as a person and as a teacher!!!

Hi Lynn and thank you for posting your info and welcome:wave:
I have seen Richard M showing underpainting with watercolour. I have just
started one painting of a flamingo and used watercolour first and it dried almost at once, maybee because we have summer now, (but its cold inside) and because of the paper which is very gritty.

It would be nice if those brushes would be larger, the ones that you can put
water inside, then you would not have to think about the water when you paint plein air.

06-12-2012, 12:10 PM
Serendipitously, Richard McKinley is showing just how to tape and how to underpaint in his blog (http://www.artistsnetwork.com/articles/art-demos-techniques/keeping-the-pastel-surface-flat-techniques-for-stretching-and-mounting-paper?lid=passs061212&et_mid=561522&rid=2879481).

06-12-2012, 04:42 PM
Nice, that was the way to tape you mentioned earlier.

He also has mentioned the possibility to make an underpaining with
a lot of thinned oil paint. If painting plein air I believe its too much
stuff to take out, both oilpaint and something to mix it with, but it
can make an interesting look. So then I wonder what can make the
most interesting underpaint, thinned oilpaint or pan pastel with alcohol?

Hmm one way to know is to try, now I have to find a Järnia haha.
I have already 60 pan pastels.

06-13-2012, 01:48 AM
welcome to WC AnnaLisa, I joined WC about a month ago and I only have good things to say about the site. I love soft pastels too... my method of underdrawing is very simple, I sketch with an HB charcoal pencil, I fix it with alcohol base fixative or darmar varnish then I use soft pastels over hard pastels.
I'm looking forward to see your work!

06-13-2012, 04:18 PM
Thank you Marco for your welcome:wave:

Good to know that there are other new people here. Yes this is a nice
place to be at, lot of good info and people. I have to be careful not to
spend toooo much time here, and not have time to paint haha.

So you use charcoal, that is also a good way to do it. Do you make a colored underpainting first or do you just use the colour the paper has? You have not tried to sketch with a dark pastel pencil then you donīt have to fix the sketch?

When I went to the States they showed me that I can use stain,
(I hope it is the right name) you know the one you can use for wood.
I bought one that I can dillute with water and put it down on paper with a
big brush, just to get another colour on the paper. I did this on gritty paper.
Now I use watercolour because I can use different colours. When using stain
the whole paper get the same colour.

Have you post a painting of yours yet? I have to figure out how to
do it. I have found out that the camera change the colors a bit, so we will
see when I can post a picture.

See ya