I’ve been working lately on exploring various watercolor under paintings. In the past, I primarily used pastel as my underpainting, using an alcohol wash to fix it before beginning to paint.

My latest painting was inspired from a hike in Banning Mills, GA back in 2011.

Nature’s Glory reference photo

The lighting was picture perfect.I would have painted this scene sooner but it took me this long to figure out how I was going to approach it. Since there was so much going on, the task was how to simplify and edit and maintain the feeling of the place, all while capturing that beautiful light.

Working on mounted UArt 400, I began by sketching out my composition and having fun playing with watercolor washes. I am not trying to paint a watercolor painting. I’m not a good enough watercolor artist to do that, nor is it necessary. I just want to loosely mass in the general colors and values in an interesting pattern and design. This will give me the foundation to then layer it with pastel. Knowing that I can cover up any mishaps with pastels gives me the freedom to just play with the color.

Adding the lights

finished painting – Nature’s Glory 12 x 16 pastel


Sunlit Impression was painted the same way.

Sunlit Impression 11 x 14 pastel.

Working from the reference photo I started with my watercolor underpainting. This photo made me nervous to paint it for I wasn’t sure if I can hand all that GREEN!!

Sunlit Impression reference

I didn’t want to have a green painting so I worked with color combinations other than green in the underpainting. This helped me deviate from the photo and have a jumping off point to explore other color possibilities with my pastels.

Sunlit Impression underpainting


Here you can see my watercolor set up. I learned this technique from Richard McKinley, an expert at this approach.  I’m using Holbein watercolors (tube paints that I squeezed into a pallet and let dry).

Distant Glow underpainting

Distant Glow progression


Distant Glow final
12 x 16 pastel

I’ve been loving this process and find that I can get such painterly effects with the combination of watercolor and pastel. As you can see, I don’t cover up the watercolor completely. I let the combination of the 2 mediums work it’s magic.

7 thoughts on “Watercolor Under Painting

  1. Watercolor is a FABULOUS way to block a painting. I’ve recommended that method in the past to someone who liked to work with colored pencil, but would invariably have far too much waxy build up.
    Your work is glorious!

  2. Great thoughts on watercolor underpainting!
    I especially took notice of using the Watercolors as a way to change your color scheme right from the start, as in the painting of the house surrounded by green.

  3. I love this approach, using watercolor as an under painting! Are you using uart paper? If so, how do you prevent the paper from curling? Also, do you use water with the watercolor or alcohol to prevent too much water saturation on the paper?

  4. Hi! Your work is stunning! I love your colors and it’s truly inspiring to be able to view the progress, from loose watercolor washes to finished product. Thank you for sharing this!
    Do you mind sharing the kind of pastels you use? Any brands you recommend??

    ~Alexis K
    Narragansett, Rhode Island

    1. I use so many brands of pastels. My favorites are Unison, Blue Earth, Terry Ludwigs, Girault but I do use them all. I like a mixture of hard and soft pastels.

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