Setting the Stage: Underpaintings for Pastels

In the October 2011 issue of The Pastel Journal, artist Robert K. Carsten demonstrates some of the many ways a pastel artist can prepare a surface with a ground or underpainting as a setup for exciting effects in the painting’s finish. Here are additional options from Robert to explore and consider:

Textured Ground Demonstration: Cliffs at Etretat
Another option for creating a textured ground on your surface is to apply a coat of Golden’s Fine Pumice Gel, or a mixture of Golden’s Soft Gel (or gesso) with some fine pumice or marble dust (in a ratio of about 4 or 5 tablespoons of grit to one cup of gel or gesso). When I want a thinner mixture that’s easier to spread, I add up to 1/4 cup of water to the mixture. Acrylic paint can be stirred into any of these mixtures to obtain a colored ground. And a variety of surfaces may be used, including Multimedia Artboard, Gatorboard, 4-ply matboard or a heavyweight watercolor paper.

Cliffs at Etretat Step 1
Step 1: I apply a coat of Golden's Fine Pumice Gel to Multimedia Artboard first with a palette knife, then brushing in multiple directions. I work in an area of approximately 12x12 inches at a time, so I can achieve the texture I desire before it dries too much.






cliffs at etretat step 2
Step 2: After drying, I apply pastel (see the right side of the photo) and then brush this application with alcohol (shown on the left side of photo) to force pastel into the crevices.









cliffs at etretat step 3
Step 3: The gel, being more fluid then a paste, gives texture with slightly rounded peaks. This method gives a deeper texture than if I created a similar texture by only using a pastel ground such as Art Spectrum Colourfix Primer or Golden’s Pastel ground. After drying, I begin my pastel painting keeping my pastel stick at a low angle at first to rake across the textured surface. Anywhere I want a different color in the recesses, I rub a soft pastel into the surface with my fingers.



Cliffs at Etretat (18x26) by Robert K. Carsten
Cliffs at Etretat (18x26) by Robert K. Carsten. The brushed textured ground can be seen throughout this pastel, contributing to the overall texture of the rock ledge and unity of the work.



























Pastel Underpainting Demonstration
Here, I applied a pastel underpainting in various shades of warm pinks and oranges, and then washed it down with mineral spirits (alcohol is another option). The variation and luminosity of my ground colors suggested some of the colors I chose for my overpainting and played a significant role in creating the resulting drama.


Step 1: Using a piece of Museum Grade Wallis paper (other options: Art Spectrum Colourfix paper or UArt sanded paper), I apply Nupastels (hard pastels work well in building successive layers, leaving plenty of tooth to create my painting) to the surface. I use wide masking tape and keep it's outer edge peeled up so that when the paper is wet, I can lift the tape and pull the paper taut, insuring that it will dry flat.


















Step 2: I brush the surface with mineral spirits using a wide brush as well as a fan brush, the latter gives me delicate blends. Let dry.











Step 3: When dry, I apply more pastels in varied colors. I find that this second step can give both more color options and higher saturation to the color where I apply like colors on top. Where I apply dissimilar color, I get more earth tones and grayed colors. I then wash it down with mineral spirits, this time using only the fan brush to better retain purity of color in respective areas.













Step 4: Here you can see the finished ground.










Lake at Sunset (17-1/2x11) by Robert K. Carsten
Lake at Sunset (17.5 x 11) by Robert K. Carsten



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