I will often start a pastel painting with an underpainting of either watercolor, acrylic, or a wash of pastel diluted with isopropyl alcohol. My favorite is acrylic. I prefer the thicker consistency of acrylic, and I feel that the colors are bolder than watercolor and less muddy compared to a pastel wash. I also find that acrylic helps avoid warping of the sanded pastel paper as opposed to a heavy dose of watercolor.
For my acrylic underpainting pastel, I chose a brilliant yellow-orange fall field scene. Here is the reference photo. It was an early morning as I was biking on a warm autumn day west of Saline, Michigan.
For the underpainting,my plan was to use the opposite (complementary) colors of the actual scene. I added blue acrylic to contrast with the orange and gold field.
Next, I applied a bold red to contrast with the green portions of the scene, which consisted mostly of the distant treeline. The point of the complementary color underpainting is to convince the pastel colors to "pop" in the final version of the painting. You can sometimes see that effect when gazing at a juxtaposition of blue and red, where the colors seem to shimmer.
Next step was to lighten the sky, applying a white/pink hue:
Here is the acrylic underpainting after painting the sky.
But I decided that the needed to be brighter, so I added a very light blue touch of acrylic. The pastel paper was Kitty Wallis dark beige, which is not the best to capture a light sky. So toning it with a light-colored acrylic will help!
Now to apply the pastels! Below is the current version of the pastel painting. I blocked in the major values and hues and will work on adding further detail (but not too much). I am pleased how the color is so bold, thanks to the dark and complementary acrylic underpainting.
Look for the final version of this 12x12 pastel in a future blog.