View Full Version : Let's see your UNDERPAINTING steps...

02-02-2003, 09:56 PM
Hey folks...on the watercolor, landscape and plein air forums, we've had a good deal of discussion on achieving the most with the least. Economy. Watercolorists think of it as "looseness" or as I call it painterliness.

I had cited a quote of Charles Hawthorne....a well known founding member of the Cape Cod school...artist and instructor in the late 1800's....as follows-

"Do the essential thing and don't consider the rest--a sketch has the essential things and stops there; for that reson it is good, not because it is a sketch. A study carried further, still featuring the essentials, is more important."

The "sketch" here...is in essence referring to painterliness or a study.

When I stand outdoors and paint, as I did late yesterday afternoon 'till dark in the snow...I know I am severely limited by time. Time will prevent me from unnecessary detail. Time will keep me from refinements upon refinements, yet...an hour's time is yet long enough for me to capture the "essentials"...the hidden mystery of nature that speaks of beauty and realism. A labored painting that does not have such essentials might yet suggest great skill by the artist, but a poor work nonetheless. On the other hand, a quick work that captures the essentials might have less labored evidence of skill but move us more.

Since its an oil, I won't post it here...but if you are curious to see this effort here is a link-

At any rate...people have been really musing and trying to understand how one comes up with a work that is deceptively simple, yet states all that needs to be stated to make a good painting.

I was sharing with another on a different forum, that with pastel I found that creating a quick underpainting with acrylic (some use watercolors) I avoid overworking the work. I maintain a fresh final image. Each stroke of the pastel over the underpainting focuses on the direction of the stroke, the intensity of light and drama, and its place in serving to bring the work to a finish.

This one I did and shared here last year was relatively simple and quick to do; the colors I think quite fresh-

The underpainting is a quick method...ideal for plein airists strapped for time trying to capture a scene before the sun disappears. Though some pastelists might consider it not a pure manner of working, yet I see in the International Pastel magazine and the Pastel Journal, that many artists and submissions use such an underpainting. Evidently....it does not bring shame. If it works...it works. The final appearance of an image afterall, is what is of importance to me.

So....I thought it would be fun and instrumental for many if perhaps you might share some images of an underpainting you do and some steps to completion with some explanation. This was a WIP about a year ago...but to get this thing jump started, I'll go first...

Here is the blocking in of acrylic...creating the masses, a bit darker in value to what I anticipate and intend the final work to have...but similar in color to the pastels I anticipate using as well-

Here is the work with some pastel applied, about midstage-


and here the final piece....


The underpainting removes concerns of building up and allows total focus to be each stroke laid, a stroke stayed. It lends itself well to creating a spontaneous appearance, simple...yet having the "essentials" that Hawthorne spoke of. Deceptively simple.

A work "deceptively simple"...holds an amazing aesthetic interest over the viewer.

Now....anyone else??? We'd love to see it....


02-02-2003, 10:06 PM
are you doing an underpainting in the field when working plein air, and then using pastels in the field or later in the studio? I think I'm confused about when and on what an underpainting would work best.

I have done some underpainting in watercolor on Arches, then used pastels over that...but not plein air. This was studio work. I do however like the effect and when the weather warms a bit, I'm going to try it on location.

The Canson I work on won't take water...and I doubt it would take acrylics either...but Wallis paper or watercolor paper would work nicely for underpaintings.


02-02-2003, 10:21 PM
Hey Carly...good questions....

I'm gearing up to do more plein air with pastel...but since I've done the acrylic both instudio as an underpainting, and outdoors as the main medium of a plein air...I should think there would be little problems. The acrylics dry very fast...

Since I also have a bit of confidence in my color mixing...I believe with a very limited palette of acrylics...I'd be prepared to take on nearly any scene that would allow me likewise to carry and work with a more limited supply of pastels as well.

I don't like the idea myself of hauling 240 pastels into the field. Especially the 1-2 miles some of my hikes in country up and down forested paths and granite bluffs. A shoulder bag with less than a half-dozen acrylic paints...and two smaller portable sets of pastels I have...would make me quite portable and leave with a fresh spontaneous piece.

More important though for the purposes of putting this thread together is the merits we might be able to discuss of working over an underpainting. Not everyone does of course....but, it would be good for others that are struggling with their methods presently that are looking for an alternative way of working to see some results and hear some thoughts on it.

I find the underpainting a very easy way to work with the pastel to bring the work to a finish with each stroke. That immediacy under the gun of course is what I strive to have some mastery of on location.


02-02-2003, 10:37 PM
of course....I'm not suggesting Carly, that an underpainting is an only way to preserve works to appear spontaneous and fresh.

So...of course any advice or insights that might help others picture how to simplify...how to maintain what appears to be painterly, yet controlled would be good. You certainly have works that describe that!

Yet some do not think of underpaintings in other mediums as the pure way of working with pastel. So...I thought perhaps it might break the ice to show that some do....

Our main interest though...is helping others develop work that appears fluid, spontaneous, painterly...yet does not get away from them. Stays controlled.....


02-02-2003, 10:37 PM
Originally posted by lseiler

I don't like the idea myself of hauling 240 pastels into the field. Especially the 1-2 miles some of my hikes in country up and down forested paths and granite bluffs. A shoulder bag with less than a half-dozen acrylic paints...and two smaller portable sets of pastels I have...would make me quite portable and leave with a fresh spontaneous piece.

on location.


LOL... You are right, you will find that you don't use 240 pastels ... you will quickly pick out your favorites according to the scape you see and want to do. All of us have them... even the novice me. I take mine along, but I do a scan of the area and then only take out of the car what I need. The rest stay safely packed in their little slots.

Underpainting... like Carly said, you have to have the right ground to do this with acrylics or watercolor, but I've seen demos where pastel artists did a complete underpainting using just charcoal or something like a terra rosa color nupastel just to get values down. As a matter of fact, one underpainting I saw looked good enough to frame as is. That was an eye opener for me.

Of course, you are probably talking about using other mediums other than pastel as underpainting, so this might not apply to this thread...but never the less... interesting to note for the novice. Using one color pastel or charcoal really does help with getting those darkest darks in quickly and I think helps with creating that fresh spontaneous feeling so typical of plein air work.


Mikki Petersen
02-03-2003, 12:13 AM
Oh I like this thread. Even the discussion back and forth of how to achieve an end is exciting. Larry, Carly and llis, you all have that bright spontaneous feel in your work. My next piece will be underpainted now that I see what we are talking about.

02-03-2003, 01:05 PM
shortcuts...I'm all about shortcuts Mikki! Just ask my wife. She'll tell you I am notorious and famous in our family for them. I avoid traffic, take scenic routes....feel I get where I'm going safe, rested and having enjoyed the view. So...well, okay took 30-45 minutes longer I suppose, but knuckles didn't turn white clenching the steering wheel....

An underpainting really is a short cut though. Believe me. No...really, trust me on this one!!!



02-03-2003, 01:31 PM
The first time I tried pastels last year...I underpainted a piece of Arches....all over with a watercolor wash because I think I had heard dj talking about that.


I have not tried this way, Larry....but now am DYING to do it!

Thanks, as always for a stimulating thread!


02-03-2003, 02:28 PM
the portrait looks controlled and effortless, Pam!

I was looking thru the Pastel Journal magazine last year. I saw a fellow wildlife artist and oil plein airist- Marc Hansen, of Minnesota with an entree that gained him second place and a feature. Having shown with Marc and been invited to paint outdoors with him...I was somewhat taken aback and surprised. Surprised in a pleasant way.

He explained his using the pastels over the top of acrylic as an underpainting and I said to myself, "well...if Marc can do that...then so can I!" hahaha...

Then...as I looked at more and more entrees and other pastel magazines, I saw that the underpainting (though not emphasized or spoken much about) was used by a great many artists. So, I think it might help some here to hear more about it...maybe learn from others.

thanks....good to see!!!


02-03-2003, 05:23 PM
Interesting thread Larry...I always do an underpainting when I work in oils...usually burnt umber.sometimes I lay a glaze of red over the underpainting...
The underpainting establishes everything for me..and its usually finished very quickly..an hour..2 at the most..

With pastel..the underpainting is done in pastel...and is the longest process of the pastel....for me....its usually all the darks..ultimately it is a shortcut...because the finish is a breeze....

LOL..always knew I was a little backwards..

02-03-2003, 06:53 PM
Hi Larry, I have worked with underpainting, but using watercolour paints, I've yet to try acrylics probably because I thought that they would be too plasticky, in what consistency do you apply the acrylics?

I unfortunately don't have a WIP at the moment, these two paintings shown here were painted with a watercolour underpainting on a really heavy watercolour paper, the two lions was the first attempt at this and I was so happy with the results, I went ahead with this technique with more paintings. What I did was apply the colours that I thought would enrich the painting especially the darks, once pastel was applied over the top.

Now I have only ever applied this technique to water colour paper, how does it compare to pastel paper?




02-03-2003, 07:40 PM
great work MO...love it! As a wildlife artist for the past 20 some years...I really enjoy your style here.

Watercolor would be good, yes...and your work is proof of it.

If you add enough water...the acrylic is absorbed into the paper yet I don't paint the paint so thick that a plastic film is really detectable. The texture and feel of the paper is yet pretty predominant. I use Strathmore and Tientes paper...but, I'd like to experiment with masonite and gesso with pumice, or mix up my own mixture of pumice. Something more rigid.


Big Jack
02-03-2003, 08:22 PM
Seems to me that underpainting is just a customized tinted paper and almost all pastels are done on tinted paper.


02-03-2003, 09:28 PM
When I tone the paper a specific color to use under my pastels, I don't think of that as an underpainting. Usually I just use a paper the color that I want because it gives the overall painting a color element that helps to create harmony within the painting itself.

An underpainting with another medium, to me, is a painting which establishes the general areas of the composition, the basic hues of those areas, and the values. Then the pastels are used to further define and paint the areas. (the demo by Larry above is the way I think of doing an underpainting).

When I took Alan Flattmann's workshop with pastels, he had us do a complete value drawing before we applied our pastels to the painting. This was like an underpainting because it established the composition, the values...especially the lightest lights and darkest darks, and the mid-tones. After doing the underpainting, laying on the pastel colors went a lot faster! All the decisions about focal area, values and pleasing composition were already established. I'm planning on doing this more with my work from photos...it really made a difference!

For me, the importance of an underpainting comes into play more on location, especially if it can speed my progress in the painting along. The greatest challenge when painting sunlight is getting down the most important elements of the composition, with the values well defined...before the light changes!

Hope this clarifies more the difference in just having a color toned surface to work on and a generally defined underpainting with color and composition established.

....or Larry, am I off-track here! LOL I never really know for sure!!

02-03-2003, 10:46 PM
Originally posted by CHClements
For me, the importance of an underpainting comes into play more on location, especially if it can speed my progress in the painting along. The greatest challenge when painting sunlight is getting down the most important elements of the composition, with the values well defined...before the light changes!

....or Larry, am I off-track here! LOL I never really know for sure!!

this is it...! To me...the artist has to possess and control the gift, and not the gift possessing and controlling the artist.

This was not so obvious to laboring endlessly instudio, but as I went outdoors...nature was not at all going to work with me. Instead...nature was intent to keep its secrets hidden from me, to be shy and elusive.

I have found even in a spiritual sense...that apparent silence in the seeking might be designed to discourage and send away the one not fully intent in one's heart to pursue. On the other hand, to the pursuer who holds onto the garment's hem and will not let go...the devotion being seen and acknowledged opens the reluctant will. Secrets begin to be discovered. A romance ensues.

While fiddlin' with wanting the media to handle "my way"... I risk to lose out on the moment. I love the various looks of many media....and work freely and I believe with the control I need as concerns pastels, watercolor, acrylic and oil. I think...because a master to be a master first must take control of the medium, and I have understood that.

Carly would well know....and others. I'm not suggesting instudio works are not good or valid, just that nature can be both beautiful and ruthless at the same time. Nature'smood will leave you suddenly, and you are standing there asking yourself before a strange scene wondering what it was that every had caught your attention in the first place?

So...you have described it well Carly. The underpainting solves many problems. Problems that I feel at least for me, make achieving that fresh spontaneous painterly yet controlled pastel work difficult. It can happen faster...and as soon as I touch the pastel stick it is with every intent to finish the thing. I like that feeling. Its one of empowerment and confidence. The hand and pastel tie most directly to exactly what the eye is seeing.


02-04-2003, 01:40 AM
I have never tried but certainly I am interesting. I never do plein air but I think it might be useful using watercolor/acrylic underpainting as the paper could only take several layers of pastel. Also I found some colors (pigments) are difficult to apply well on the paper. Thanks Larry.

02-04-2003, 07:34 AM
Carly...you explained that so well..
Larry you words in this thread and in the lanscape froum capture the whole essence and feeling of painting to me..my husband was an art teacher for 30 years..and pushed me harder than I ever knew I could go...whenever I tryed to loosen up..to let the romance of the painting...as you say...to work freer..he would always tell me I wasn't ready yet..

He made me do still life paintings..in a controlled environment, light ..etc...capture as much detail as possible..study the subject as closely as possible...when I was ready the ephiphany would happen...he was forcing me to understand my mediums, color, value, texture, composition..etc...by having that knowledge so deeply engrained in my mind...that eventually all that fiddlin' would bring the freedom...

I haven't yet reached that place...I agree with him the the knowledge and discipline leads you to that place...

You have definitly come to that place..between your words and your work. Not saying that struggling will go away once you are there...but the magic of expressing yourself in a few strokes..less is more...understanding it so well that you are empowered and have the confidence must be a spiritual place. I am thrilled for you and relish in the outpouring of emotion you have for it.

I'm happily going to continue to struggle on...with that attainment within my grasp.. It's more the essence of what keeps me painting..more than the finished painting itself...

thanks for the inspiration:)

02-04-2003, 08:22 AM
Originally posted by lseiler
... I use Strathmore and Tientes paper...but, I'd like to experiment with masonite and gesso with pumice, or mix up my own mixture of pumice. Something more rigid.


Ampersand Pastelbord is exactly that and I've been using it for several years. I was going to recommend this to you when I saw this thread yesterday but didn't take the time to post. Daniel Greene describes how to make it in his old Pastel book too. Also, the ready mixed coating is made by Art Spectrum in several colors as well as clear. Albert Handell also discusses using this type of support in his landscape book and does an underpainting in pastel, a block in of colors, then washes with alcohol, which dries faster than turpenoid(which can also be used to wash in the underpainting). I've tried both and the alcohol works really well and fixes the colors without any buildup.

02-04-2003, 11:16 AM
Okay... I'm working on another barn painting. I'm using a barn reference just to get the barn features correct, but taking lots of liberties with perspective lay of land.

I've decided to try acrylic underpainting of ultramarine blue and some black. Don't know how far I'll take the underpainting, and I've already put some blue pastel over a couple of spots to give me a reference for the lightest lights. I'm thinking that I might plop in a bit of green underpaint, but I really don't think I'll need it.

Larry, others... how far should you take an underpainting if you do one?


02-04-2003, 12:17 PM
Decided to take the underpainting further..... just using primary acrylic colors.


02-04-2003, 01:24 PM
I have no problems whatsoever with the idea of an underpainting, as it is a technique I sometimes use, with gouache, or watercolour, or even felt-tip pens ........but can I just do my usual voice-of-doom thing, and mention some concerns I have about the use of acrylics under chalk pastels?

When working with chalk pastels, onto paper, the pigment "binds" with the paper, either staining the paper itself, or somehow it is slightly absorbed by the fibres of the paper, which is, after all, either paper pulp, or sometimes rag.

Putting acrylic paints onto paper, or card, gives thqt piece of paper a plastic surface...........and just imagine what would happen if you worked with pastels onto a piece of plastic.
This is, of course, an exaggeration, but I am not convinced that acrylics are absorbed by the paper - I believe they lie on the surface of the paper, and make it impregnable. That is why you can put acrylic onto acrylic without disturbing the previous layers - they are waterproof!
When you work with gouache, or watercolours, you are not changing the surface of the paper. All you are doing is adding pigment, which is suspended in water, and not in any kind of plastic component. In fact, gouache contains chalk, and that is why it is an IDEAL medium for a chalk pastel underpainting.

If you want your paintings to have real lasting qualities, it is always best to use good materials, and to consider carefully what you are doing with your materials too. That is why I have stopped using sandpapers, or glasspapers - sandpaper is only bits of glass STUCK onto a surface with a form of glue - and we all know how long glue lasts these days, on the surface of brown tape, or envelopes.

Good quality pastel paper, stretched onto a board, is fine for a water-based underpainting. But I personally recommend, if you want your painting to last, use gouache or watercolours for the underpainting rather than acrylics.


02-04-2003, 01:38 PM
Started this morning..2 hours..1/2 finished with my underpainting...which is done with pastels....I consider this my underpainting because it will establish all of my shadows and lights. Some areas I will spray..some I won't because I want them to blend with the finishing layers.

Trying to work mainly in complimants..blue, orange...reddish orange..and blue green...chose the paper color..sky blue...keeping with the color scheme..some of which serves as my underpainting and will show thru on the finished piece.


02-04-2003, 02:32 PM
This pastel I started a few days ago...using a different approach to my underpainting...all pastel...but I took a soft brush a blended all the background colors together...this underpainting is finished ..i will spray all of this..because I don't want the colors to blend with my finish strokes...

Full sheet of canson...ivy green...may crop finish piece..haven't decided yet.


reference photo:


02-04-2003, 02:42 PM
Originally posted by jackiesimmonds
...but can I just do my usual voice-of-doom thing, and mention some concerns I have about the use of acrylics under chalk pastels?.....

Putting acrylic paints onto paper, or card, gives thqt piece of paper a plastic surface...........and just imagine what would happen if you worked with pastels onto a piece of plastic.
This is, of course, an exaggeration, but I am not convinced that acrylics are absorbed by the paper - I believe they lie on the surface of the paper, and make it impregnable. That is why you can put acrylic onto acrylic without disturbing the previous layers - they are waterproof!

Yippes.... foiled again. :)

Wanted to add that the acrylic underpainting above is done like a wash. I don't see any plastic like surface when I look at the underpainting.... but that doesn't mean it isn't there. I agree, Jackie, it probably would be better not to use acrylics as an underpainting.... but what about the information about making your own pastel surface using pumice with acrylic medium gel added? Would not this be the same thing...or is the word acrylic just throwing me? Having you here as a resource is a real treasure and I love your detailed answers.

Mikki Petersen
02-04-2003, 02:45 PM
Hey Sunny, I like the beginning on the horse piece. Cannot wait to see how you work over the underpainting. Your other image, unfortunately, is one of those little white x boxes on my screen.

02-04-2003, 02:50 PM

This is the painting so far.... you can see some of the acrylic underpainting still showing. Didn't have any trouble at all with the pastel sticking over the acrylic, but then again I am using Wallis paper and it does have lots of tooth. If I had used more than just a wash of acrylic paint, I think the tooth would have been covered. Still have concerns thou.

02-04-2003, 03:12 PM
it looks great Ilis..i don't have any knowledge of the acrylic so I can't help you with that...love the painting!

Mikki Petersen
02-04-2003, 03:33 PM
Sunny, that second painting is just stunning. I can see how the underpainting really made the colors pop in the final form.

llis, your painting looks like a finished piece to me. It's quite lovely.

02-04-2003, 04:59 PM
Good, Bad or Ugly, I'm done.... lol


02-04-2003, 05:52 PM
Originally posted by jackiesimmonds
If you want your paintings to have real lasting qualities, it is always best to use good materials, and to consider carefully what you are doing with your materials too. That is why I have stopped using sandpapers, or glasspapers - sandpaper is only bits of glass STUCK onto a surface with a form of glue - and we all know how long glue lasts these days, on the surface of brown tape, or envelopes.


Agree to a certain extent about the glue, but then once a pastel painting is finished and framed behind glass, the sandpaper/glass paper is protected from the weather, so should be okay, unlike glue on envelopes and such which are exposed to all sorts of atmospheric conditions.


02-04-2003, 05:54 PM
Sunny those underpaintings are fascinating me, little did I realise, that with your second one where you have rubbed all the colours together, that I have used this technique before, not realising I was doing an underpainting. :D Love how they are progressing.


02-04-2003, 05:58 PM
Originally posted by llis
[BThis is the painting so far.... you can see some of the acrylic underpainting still showing. Didn't have any trouble at all with the pastel sticking over the acrylic, but then again I am using Wallis paper and it does have lots of tooth. If I had used more than just a wash of acrylic paint, I think the tooth would have been covered. Still have concerns thou. [/B]

Your painting has turned out fabulous llis, must admit though like you I'm a bit wary of using acrylics for an underpainting, I know water colour works well. this Wallis paper, is it available in the U.K. do you or anyone know?


02-04-2003, 07:42 PM
Thanks Mikki, Sunny and Mo. I still have miles to go before I'm half as good as y'all.

Mo: Don't know if Wallis paper is available in the U.K., but you can order from Dick Blick or most major art supply places on the internet. Whatever it cost to ship, it is worth it.

02-05-2003, 02:34 AM
Re sandpaper and glue under glass......well, all I can say is that occasionally I have to re-frame a piece of work for a client, because my picture framer has unwittingly used a roll of slightly dodgy masking tape to hold the picture in place, and the masking tape's glue has dried out, despite being right INSIDE the frame and fully protected. I am not an expert on these matters - I just go by experience, and by logic!!

And logic is what I am using regarding the use of acrylics under pastels. In the spirit of experimentation, try everything by all means ... but just do beware. David Hockney, for instance, is finding that some of his works, where he has used household materials instead of fine art, archival materials, are deteriorating really badly.

I imagine that it probably is OK to use acrylics as a wash, provided there is plenty of tooth left on the surface to act as an anchor for the pastel. And your picture will probably outlast you! I just feel that since there are other materials which are safER to use, why not use those? Why not try gouache, for instance? The tubes are small and light to carry around, and it dries pretty quickly.

Ilis - lovely picture. Don't worry too much about the use of the acrylics.......I think my warning is more for people who slap on the acrylic and build up a plastic surface, rather than for those who use a light wash.

As for acrylic gesso and pumice, I would imagine that this mixture MIGHT be all right long term, because of the pumice. I have used acryli gesso and marble dust. Certainly I prefer this to sandpaper, since the gesso and the marble dust are well combined, whereas with sandpaper, the miniscule glass beads are stuck with glue. But who knows for sure........we could all find our pictures deteriorating in years to come. I just hope I wont be around, so that the client cannot bring it back!

02-05-2003, 01:23 PM
Originally posted by llis

Larry, others... how far should you take an underpainting if you do one?

One will need to experiment. If one is prone to tonal darks and subtle neutrals...you won't need to set yourself up for a final sparkling intense color work.

Some like working their dominant color over a complementary toned paper or underpainting...and allow bits to show thru to weave the work together.

Myself...I look to set down the darkest values of each mass, and a bit of the hue to build up upon. As my first image shows of the surf and rocks show... the entire surface was not painted in. The color of the paper I determine was fine for the remainder of what needed to be done.


02-05-2003, 04:39 PM
I've been experimenting with underpainting lately and a lot of my recent posts have involved some sort of underpainting.
My observations so far:
Acrylic wash: no problem The watercolor paper had a medium tooth.
Neocolor wash/direct application: These are watercolor crayons. Only the softest pastels went over this.
Soft pastel over oil-pastel-and-turps wash: Again, only the softest pastels went on.
Oil pastel over oil pastel-and-turps: Good, but the layers weren't as opaque as without the underpainting.
Pastel dissolved with water: Works fine, although I can't seem to stretch it well enough to keep it from buckling slightly.
Here's the one I'm working on now. The underpainting is pastel dissolved with a wet brush. First, the underpainting:

02-05-2003, 04:41 PM
Here it is now, at the "should I quit now or what?" stage.

Mikki Petersen
02-05-2003, 05:55 PM
Oh my gosh, look at the depth you've achieved here. Those apples look as though they will just tumble forth. I think you are done. Did you find the wet wash made the painting go faster?

Mikki Petersen
02-05-2003, 05:57 PM
Also Sundiver, have you tried using an alcohol wash over the pastel. I've seen that mentioned in several threads and in books. I'm wondering if there would be less tendency for the paper to buckle since alcohol dries so fast it could not saturate the paper...I haven't done any of these techniques but I'm very interested.

02-06-2003, 12:16 PM
Hi Larry and all participating in this thread,

Here is a thread where I show one of the many possible ways of underpainting a pastel:

[url]http://www.wetcanvas.com/forums/showthread.php?s=&threadid=50641 (http://www.wetcanvas.com/forums/showthread.php?s=&threadid=50641)


02-06-2003, 06:16 PM
gives a nice velour affect Sundiver! soft....controlled, very cool!

...and, checked out your thread Dick....yes, the mixed medium looks very cool....

India ink, gouache and then finally pastel. Like it...


02-07-2003, 07:13 AM
This is really interesting! I haven't been around much lately (been sick) so almost missed it. I have a thread with a painting I am working on. It also has an acrylic underpainting, although all I did was lay down a thin wash. It is a simple painting so I did no detail at all...just bands of bright complementary color. Sorry I can't show you the underneath since it is all covered now! :D
Anyhow, here is the link to my thread:

I am enjoying seeing how everyone else is doing theirs. It really does add depth to the paintings.
It's fun to experiment!



02-07-2003, 08:36 AM
Hi all,
Though you'd like to know about my underpainting tale...
(sorry don't have a scanner to let you see this one - will get it ready asap)
Stretched W/C paper - threw watercolour all over.
Ducks taking off (in pastel) on top.
Cut it off board. Didn't like it.

Threw more watercolour over it mixing it in with pastel, sponging down to w/c underpainting in places... and off course it buckled dry...laid it face down on board, soaked it with water and re-taped...dried flat.

Back over with pastel, lots of splattered gouache, more conservative w/c with some of the poor battered underpainting still hanging on for dear pigment...final pastel touch up.

(Came back from the framer yesterday with three offers (need to keep it for a show).)

I doubt my Canson would have held up but I'm dying to give it a try....with care. Has anyone ever stretched Canson????

02-08-2003, 01:01 AM
Yes Zilloot - it stretches fine


02-08-2003, 10:34 AM
Hey Sandy...checked out your marsh grasses painting...and I think the piece confirms well how an underpainting establishes and allows for a natural progression of layered depth to be done perhaps a bit more effortlessly! Thanks for sharing that link!

I like the fresh spontaneous, the sparkle that you achieved...


02-08-2003, 10:36 AM
Zilloot...good for you on those offers. Should have maybe sold it on condition of showing it at the show with a card showing that the piece is a "courtesy of..." and then their names. You probably thought of that ....but some might want to consider that.


02-08-2003, 10:49 AM
Thanks Larry! I was surprised at how quickly it went together with the underpainting. And of course that means it will be a little fresher looking.
Again, this thread has been really interesting. I am still mulling over Jackie's comments about the sand paper and the acrylics. Not that most of my stuff will be around so long that it matters...or that anyone will care. But hopefully I will get to that point.
ANd I have been thinking about portrait/figure painting with underpainting as well. I went back and looked at this thread by djstar:

IT is also helpful and interesting.
Thanks for starting this Larry!


02-08-2003, 03:31 PM
This sure is an interesting thread. Should go in the hall of fame, maybe? I'm going to give it five strars it right now, how about you?

Here's another by djstar:


02-09-2003, 10:40 AM
Jackie - I wondered about using acrylic under pastel and decided against in favour of watercolour. Real food for thought on the durability.

What I found fun about underpainting was the way a loose watercolour, then a loose pastel could be hugely suggestive of colour and value detail leaving the pictorial detail to pastel (pencil)which allowed me a fine control of focus.

This does more than a tinted paper because often the underpainting speaks for itself....it has only caused a textural concern when I leave revealed early underpainting under impasto oil...but then that can be used creatively too....

oh and Larry, I didn't sell it because there is something about it making me think...a niggle...something not quite right maybe...or something I want to remember in the future...can't place it! Also I'm so slow that I'm going to be showing bare walls at this rate....lol

Mikki Petersen
02-11-2003, 09:19 PM
My son and his wife just returned from a vacation in Cancun and Cozumel. They brought back some incredible pictures and I had to paint this one. Since all the talk about underpainting, I decided to give it a whirl.

Step #1 - Using Aliz Crimson and Payne's Gray watercolors, I did an underpainting on grey Pastelboard. thought the red would be a nice compliment to all that green...

Step #2 - Blocked in the colors and value range to establish color pattern.

Step #3 - Added detail and I think I'm done unless you all see something glaring bad.

"Jungle Goddess"
Pastel on Pastelbord

Thoughts: I think the underpainting helped me work out the values and confirm the composition. I do not think I did the colors deep enough to affect the final painting however. I probably would not do this again in watercolor because it took forever for the layers to dry and I just do not have that kind of patience. I can see the potential for acrylics thinned with an extender or for doing an underpainting in pastel and fixing it well with workable fixative and doing a finish over the top which is kind of how I've been working all along. Your thoughts?

02-12-2003, 01:46 AM
Oooooh Mikki - I love the underpainting in it's own right - lreminds me of a silk painting - gorgeous colours - shame to cover it up!! :D
The finished paintings great too - my only suggestion would be a some darker darks - eg the ground behind the figure. The foliage is really great - and the figure looks really "stoney"

Interesting to hear your views about drying time etc. Am getting intrigued by this underpainting stuff.


Mikki Petersen
02-12-2003, 02:22 AM
Thanks Minky for your comments. Yeah, I was getting really jazzed about the underpainting too. In fact, I had a good laugh at myself because I was wanting to fine tune the underpainting into a painting in its own right

The original painting has some pretty dark darks. They did not come across in the posted image. What I had problems with was getting "shiny" highlights on the leaves. When I brightened the shine very much they started looking really phony. Am going to need to practice shiny leaves out in my garden to get a feel for the real thing.

The whole underpainting concept is really interesting to me and I know I will find a way to make it work for me. I just didn't hit on the right idea this time. Try it! Presents a whole new way of evaluating your subject.

02-12-2003, 05:12 AM
I love this thread, many thanks to Larry for starting it I'm ging to give it 5 stars.
Mikki, your painting is wonderful, I also think the underpainting is a painting in it's own right, I really like the loose style you have used for the finish, and the subject you have chosen is great.
You could be right about using slightly darker colours in places for the undertone, but on whe whole it has worked marvellously. This is magic.
A little tip for drying the watercolours, Do you have a hairdryer? That's what I use. :)

Cheers, Mo.

02-12-2003, 08:11 AM
Good going Mikki!

Seeing your efforts (and a fine one at that) here, reminds me of the recent article written by Michael Georges on Verdaccio and grissalle underpainting. Pastel having a version of its own if artists wish to use it.

The oil painters use of it is to work out the values...but he mentions the various reasons artists use underpaintings.

For myself...I already have just cause and ability to opt to use oils, or acrylics...watercolors, or pastels. Meaning I particular like "a look" which I think will aesthetically pull something out of me as to how I am feeling about a subject.

I'm not interesting in making a pastel real smooth and blended, that is... I have an idea what a finished picture should look like, and if I wanted soft and blended...I could use charcoal as Michael prescribes...with a verdaccio...and oils that dry slowly allowing for meticulous blending and touch up.

To me...pastel's potential to have that look of spontaneity fits its nature of immediacy...and an overworked pastel comes off lack luster. It looks more deadened and flat. The underpainting allows the pastelist to work things out such as values and a sense of assigning areas color...so that when finished their mindset totally turns attention to achieving the look of freshness. As soon as the underpainting is done...you find this sense of liberation as you turn your attention to the finishing last phase. You get to apply marks, and then leave them alone to do their magic! The underpainting will come thru the marks in various places to naturally pull the work together and give life to the marks.

An underpainting nearly almost assures the work won't have that overworked..fussed, muddied look when done.

We have a saying in painting, "it takes two people to paint a masterful work. One, the artist to do the work...and two, another to kill the artist before he wrecks it!"

Having that underpainting done...you get a sense now of what your job as a pastelist is in finishing, and you are less likely to need someone to knock you on the head when you should stop and allow the work to live...to breath life.

I'm not real familiar with your works in pastel before Mikki, but this one shows some spontaneity here...and has a fresh look to it! That's what this underpainting is all about as far as I'm concerned.

Of course...there are many styles and opinions and just because I don't care for the overworked blended look doesn't mean everyone agrees with what pleases my eye. There's room for many styles and approaches.


02-12-2003, 09:49 AM
Mikkie...love the freshness of you underpainting..I'm going to have to try this...

larry..thanks again for this thread..sure has been an eye opener...with great difficulty I am working on the not so blended pastel..there is such a beauty with this medium...my next underpainting I will work differently...and try not to blend the top strokes..:D its going to be a challenge but lots of fun

Mikki Petersen
02-12-2003, 01:01 PM
Thanks, Mo, Larry and Sunny. Mo, I thought about dragging out my hairdryer as I was blowing on it to try and hurry it. The Pastelbord is treated masonite which does not abosorb the moisture so it made drying even worse. I of course did not consider this as I applied a really wet wash. I found even gently blowing on it distorted the painting. Next time I'll try paper, I think or acrylics.

Larry, I'm an unschooled illiterate when it comes to terms and art history, etc. What article was it you read? I need to learn about these terms. Anyway, I did find that with the underpainting I worked out a lot of the analysis before laying pastel to board which resulted in far fewer layers of pastel. I some places, like the rocks, ground and many of the leaves there is only one layer of pastel. My personal taste, perhaps due to my myopic view of the world, is to have a slight blur to soften the lines. This is where my frustration is with acrylics. They dry before I can blend them. At the same time, I love the spontaneous look of many of the pastel paintings, like Carly's, and some of the pastel masters, where the pastel is applied more like crayon. I definitely see value in underpainting and will continue to experiment with it.

Sunny, I try not to blend my final strokes but sometimes the devil makes me do it. I really like Larry's quote about "the person to kill the artist". I am developing this little caveman guy in my head who wields a BIG club to stop me before I go to far. You seem to be doing well with controlling the temptation to go to far. All your paintings are crisp and bright.

And, yeah, I liked the underpainting too. If it had been on paper, it might have developed into a watercolor painting. I may have to try some watercolors again...

02-12-2003, 01:18 PM
Mikki..thats MO, LARRY, and CURLY..of the 3 stooges..sorry Mo and Larry couldn't resist..:D


I cropped the finished piece...After I posted the underpainting..I didn't blend the top strokes:eek: YIKES....very difficult for me...but a good learning experience.....although Larry a few good knocks on the top of my little ole head..wouldn't hurt...I think the piece looks unfinished...I think because I'm not used to not overworking....some good lessons learned...

02-12-2003, 02:21 PM
Mikki, I didn't realise it was on pastel board. I've only ever used watercolour paper when doing a watercolour underpainting. So of course you would have to be careful not to warp the board.

When that caveman is fully developed how about sharing him out, could do with him myself very often. :D


02-12-2003, 02:27 PM
Sunny, it's not the first time I've been linked to the three stooges. :D I see the funny side. :)

Your painting is cracking, I think if you blend anything else you could well spoil the textures that you have created and the clean sharp lines on the wooden panels and fence. I really like the contrasting textures between the softness of the horse, which is beautiful, and the wood and building behind him.
So glad to see this thread has now been 5 starred too. :)


Mikki Petersen
02-12-2003, 04:33 PM
Sunny, this is abrilliant piece. So crisp and bold. I, too, love the contrast in textures. Isn't this fun? We are learning and experimenting and creating whole new styles for yourselves.

As we speak, I'm working on an acrylic! I did an underpainting and let it dry and am now trying to embellish the underpainting instead of reworking it to death. Come on, Caveman!

I voted for 5 stars for this thread and I'm glad enough others did too to get it into the Hall of Fame.

02-12-2003, 04:48 PM
thanks Mikki and Mo...I think that caveman gets around...;) It is fun..when someone asks me what I do for a living ..I am so tempted to say I am in Research and Development...always learning.:D

I voted 5 stars for this thread too..its a good one...Larry has a many helpful and thoughful threads to his credit...He is such a big asset..we are so fortunate that he takes the time to share his insight...his students are lucky...

02-12-2003, 07:12 PM
well..this one happened by accident......watercolor underpainting...pastel added on top


10 x 14 Arches rough WC paper


appreciate comments...the wc was weak and boring...I had let the foreground get too dark and it oppressed the rest...so I added the pastels...

comments appreciated


Mikki Petersen
02-12-2003, 08:35 PM
You know Pampe, one of the reasons I do not paint in watercolor, even though I am a great fan of watercolor paintings, is because I paint by the seat of my pants and don't plan well so those light areas get screwed up. Your experience here gives me an idea for exploring the watercolor underpainting with pastel embellishment. Then, I don't have to worry about those darn whites so much.

I just love the way this painting of yours turned out.

02-12-2003, 10:22 PM
that is kind of a clever notion and a means to give wind to the sails so-to-speak to attempt more bolder watercolors. If they botch (as to what you are saying Mikki), you can use it to perhaps build a nice pastel over it. Interesting...


Mikki Petersen
02-13-2003, 03:03 AM
Yeah! Hats off to ya Larry! Look at all the fine possibilities that have come from this thread. I just love this kind of idea sharing. we all win!

02-13-2003, 02:36 PM

it would save a lot of paper......:rolleyes:

02-13-2003, 02:49 PM
Pampe...like what you did..looks good:)

02-13-2003, 05:11 PM
thanks, sunny...I wish I understood this medium....but it is really something on ROUGH watercolor paper

02-15-2003, 01:11 PM
Re the idea of doing pastel over watercolours, or over "failed" watercolours.......one thing to try, by way of a change anyway, which is always refreshing, is to work on a smoother paper with your watercolours than the usual NOT surface. Something like Somerset Velvet, for instance, or even a hot-pressed watercolour surface.

If the watercolour works - great. If not, grab those pastels and work over the top. On a smoother paper, you will have less problem with the pastels, than you will on a bumpy, rough surface watercolour paper.

Just something I found out by "accident" and experience!

Another thought: I sometimes start a pastel with a rough "underpainting" using felt-tip pens. These are great fun to use, particularly the ones which have a softer "brush" tip at one end, as well as the firmer "pen" tip at the other. You can really have fun with these, without worrying about having to stretch your paper, and they won't clog the "tooth" of the paper at all. They are great to use on location, because you do not need to carry water around with you.


Mikki Petersen
02-15-2003, 01:34 PM
Jackie, thanks for the info. As usual, your thoughts on a subject are of great value. I like the idea of using watercolor pens on location. I hate the idea of all that messy water and clean up away from the studio. It's another one of those "Now why didn't I think of that..." ideas.

02-15-2003, 01:42 PM
thanks, Jackie....yes the rough paper really ate the pastel

also, Mikki....watercolor pencils are nice to take along....and maybe just a waterpen....