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What's Behind the Pastel Painting?

The finished paintings seen on this website were begun with an underpainting. An underpainting is a wash of colors and values that set the tone, build contrast, and can even save you some pastel. Below is an example of a water color-based underpainting. The scene (which makes little to no sense when you view the underpainting) is on the Huron River in Gallup Park, Ann Arbor, Michigan.

Below is a new project I began yesterday. Below you can see the reference photograph, the initial underpainting, and about 30 minutes of pastel application effort.

Reference photograph. What caught my attention was the tangle of trees and luminous grasses reflecting the morning's sunlight.

Underpainting: starting the pastel

The underpainting below is comprised of a wash of watercolor. I blocked out bright and dark values, tossing in the basic hues of the painting. The distant hills across the water are cooler and lack the local color seen in the various greens and browns of the foreground. I accelerated the drying process using a desk fan, and set the dry painting under a book to ensure its flatness when it was time to paint.

The start of the pastel painting.

This early stage of the painting included blocking out additional values of green, adding color to the sky and reflections in the water. One hour of total investment at this stage, from initial sketch to underpainting and initial application of pastel.

I will continue to build layers of detail (including many more entangled trees) over the next couple of hours. A successful painting needs planning; thinking ahead about how best to convey your message and with what values and colors is a great investment in time, and helps avoid rework.

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