A number of times I’ve been asked about my pastel underpainting process. I’ve developed a unique technique of using a monotone (or sometimes duotone) underpainting to start my pastels. Here’s an example of a painting done on location in Half Moon Bay California. This was a beautiful day in December looking East around 10am.
I started with a few quick sketches each around 2” x 3” to try different compositions. From this I quickly moved to blocking in a composition using a water-based media on Wallis sanded paper mounted on museum board.
My goal when underpainting is to block in the major shapes and relative values to develop the composition. I do this fast and loose. Using a single color makes it very easy to add and subtract paint rapidly without concern for the color composition or for colors going muddy. I also like using a uniform color because later I’ll let some hits of underpainting color peak through the pastel and the consistent color adds cohesion to the painting. I also often use very vivid colors to add liveliness to the finished painting.
For this painting I primarily used magenta gouache (Bengal Rose by Winsor Newton). Near the end of the process I also used a darker blue to push some of the darker values since the magenta isn’t very dark even when used thick and full strength.
When I’m using a toned support (this was Wallis Belgian Mist) I sometimes find that bits of the paper color peaking through a very light value sky can be distracting. For this reason I blocked in some very light values where I anticipated I’d be adding clouds.
Here you can see the start of the underpainting in relation to the site.
And here's the finished underpainting.
For this underpainting I used 2 colors plus white (duotone). I’ll often only use just a single color (most recently I've been drawn to magentas), and I find this works really nicely as well.
And then the final piece …