Using Pastel to Quickly Lay In an Underpainting in Oil

If time is short, or the scene will quickly change, or I want to experiment with underlying color, I will lay in an oil painting using a hard pastel such as a NuPastel and then ‘melt’ the pastel with OMS (Odorless Mineral Spirits). Pastels have the same pigments as any other colored product but the binder is different. OMS will dissolve the binder and allow the pigment to adhere to the canvas whether it is oil or acrylic primed. You can see where I’ve done this in another posts here.

In this painting I was after one major goal….to get the grapes to really glow. I thought the best way to do this would be to lay in the grapes with a color that is analogous to the general hue (color) of the red grapes. I chose a reddish plum because it is in the red family and the lighter, brighter orange would pop against it.

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In this image you can see the still life I’m going to paint in the upper left corner. The orange pastel is where the lightest part of the grapes will be.

For the green bottle I used a brighter pink as I wanted to dull down the green. I could have used an analogous color such as Cobalt or Cerulean which would have pushed the green better, and I might in a future study.

Notice that I just mass in large blocks of shapes. It’s these large blocks that I will make more specific as I move through the painting. At this stage I want to establish where things will go and their relationship to each other. One thing I ignored in laying in the pastel is the light/dark relationship. In fact, the bottle is darker than the grapes which are, for the most part, a dark middle and a dark value, and the background a light value. The lines that you see in green are compositional lines that I often use to help with the design and to quickly lay in an accurate drawing.

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I’m starting to lay in the dark dull green of the bottle and in the next photo I’m starting to add the lighter yellowish green elements of the bottle and the background

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Once I’ve set the value and hue I can start to move on to the grapes. The biggest challenge is getting the grapes to glow. Grapes are semi-translucent and I want to emphasize all the warm rich colors that are in them. One way is by using a green bottle as that is the opposite of red/orange. The other way will be to play warm/cool of the grapes and to add bits of grey. Because grey is so neutral it is a wonderful color that will help the color shine.

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Im still keeping the grapes rather blocky and loose, only establishing large shapes and light/dark relationships. I’m starting to make more distinctions in the dark areas by adding some darker and cooler spots of color as well as darker and warmer spots of color. Because I want to highlight the warmth and glow of the light part of the grapes I’m making sure to make the darker masses cooler in the area closest to the bright and light section. In the end, the goal is to have it read as true even if it isn’t exactly what my eye might be seeing.

The next step is to start refining the shapes of the grapes and the background. I keep checking through my viewfinder to make sure I’ve not lost my compositional structure and one of those is the triangle shape that is created from where the grapes lay on the ground plane and then start to move up.

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Finally, I will add any other details that will help the final result….color, temperature, drawing, highlights, and hard/soft edges.

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If you want to see a time lapse video of this click here.

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Pastels and Oil Painting

Did you know that you can draw and mass in an oil painting with pastels and use that to guide your through your painting? I don’t remember where I learned this great tool, but I use it a lot as it keeps me on track.

Pastels have the same pigments as oil paints. The difference is in the binder. So it makes sense that you can use pastels with oil paints and have everything work well. In my YouTube demo I show the start to finish painting but I want to share a bit about how and why using a pastel base to create an underpainting and keep you on track.

How: Take your hard pastel (I use NuPastels) and lightly mass in the areas you want. In the photo below I’m starting to lay in my light and dark pattern using pastel.

peonie pastel small

You can use any color(s) you want but when I choose colors I’m thinking about (1)how they will work with the overall finished painting, and (2) Do I want a simple lay in of just lights and darks using just 2 colors, or (3) Do I want to give more detail to the lights and darks and use maybe 2-3 values of light pastels – leaves on trees tend to be dark in color, but if they are in the light area I might use a darker light pastel to indicate the masses of this dark light value -and 1 or 2 values for the darks?

Once the pastel has been applied I take a clean brush and dip it in Turpenoid or Gamsol and then lightly blot the brush. Beginning with the lightest colors I use my brush to paint over the pastel. Don’t let it drip, unless you like that effect, and keep your brush clean. Once you’ve done all the light area go to the next lightest area and continue working until you have completed all the lights. Do the same in the darks.

Peonie Gamsol small

When I’ve done all the painting I then take a soft brush and soften the whole thing. This will need to set up for about 10-15 minutes and I will set out my paints while waiting for the Gamsol to evaporate. It doesn’t need to be dry, but if it’s too wet it just is slippery and it’s easy to loose what you’ve just done. Plus the pastel mixes with the paint and will affect the color.

Peonie Gamsol Softened

This the painting after softening with a brush. You can see it’s a really cool abstract version of what’s to come.

When and Why: (1) You can use pastels to quickly tone a canvas. (2) It’s a great way to set your plein air painting as it will keep you from chasing shadows and light. After you do a thumbnail and decide on the design, transfer it to your canvas using pastel and set it with your Gamsol or Turp. You will have saved so much time that even taking the 10-15 minutes for the abstract to set up you will still be ahead of the pack. 3) Use this to start a really large canvas and this will save you HOURS!! I painted a 6 foot painting using this method and it saved me days of work.

Here is the finished painting:

Peony Finished

Let me know your thoughts and if you’ve ever tried this.