Plein Air Pastel Demo With Underpainting

My plein air painting Barn at Dusk was created with a value underpainting that combines both local and complementary color.

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Plein Air Pastel Demo With Underpainting | Terri Ford, ArtistsNetwork.com

1. My surface is a Dakota Wallis board. Because of the light source, the setting was very bright so I used a white board for a sheer and bright underpainting. For more muted color I would have used a Belgian mist (gray) board. I used NuPastel #305 (a dark blue-green) for the initial drawing and to establish the value patterns—the darks in particular. This #305 is the darkest NuPastel other than black, which allows me to achieve a full range of values. It’s important to me to really capture the darks and create an image that depicts the spatial relationships within the scene. If done successfully, the sketch could stand on it’s own as a monochromatic painting.

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Plein Air Pastel Demo With Underpainting | Terri Ford, ArtistsNetwork.com

2. I then added both local and complementary colors with NuPastel. Yellow and turquoise were added to the sky. These are both darker, brighter versions of the final local color. I avoid pastels with white in them for this technique because I prefer a sheer wash in the underpainting. A dark red NuPastel was applied to the lower portion as a complement to the final green in the grass. I then applied denatured alcohol to the painting with a stiff bristle brush, keeping a paper towel close at hand to control the flow. I apply the alcohol to the lightest colors first to avoid contaminating them with the darkest color. The pastel blends with the alcohol to create a wash of varying values. Once this step is completed and dry, the underpainting is set and will not pick up or mix into the dry pastel that is applied on top of it.

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Plein Air Pastel Demo With Underpainting | Terri Ford, ArtistsNetwork.com

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3. With the pastel set in the underpainting, I’m able to layer dry pastel with varying amounts of pressure, building up texture and light. I skimmed the green grass over the red with different strokes to allow the red earth to show through. I applied a cooler green to the back of the grass to create depth and added spots of slightly lighter green to give interest to the expanse of grass. Because the darks were well established, I was able to paint in the light of the sky and subtle highlights of light hitting the trees in the upper foliage as well as the trunks. The hills in the background caught more light on the left and became cooler and darker as they receded on the right. I then continued to build up the painting developing detail in the barns and fencing. Here you see the completed painting Barn at Dusk (pastel, 8×16).

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For more about Terri Ford’s pastel landscapes and her underpainting process, click here and order a print version of the January/February 2011 issue of The Artist’s Magazine.
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