Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Using a Dry Wash in Pastel

The other day, I went out with a 12x18 sheet of white Wallis paper, and I found myself confronted with the problem of how to cover up all that whiteness.  If you use nothing but dry pastel on this paper, little white spots of the paper show through no matter how hard you massage the pastel into the surface.  Sometimes these white dots are a desirable effect, but often, they're more of a distraction.

My preference, when working in a large size, is to use a toned paper such as the Belgian Mist paper, which has a mid-value, warm grey color.  The little flecks of grey showing through at the end pull the painting into a gentle harmony.  When I do use the white, I apply a wash of alcohol or Gamsol to my block-in, and that eliminates the white totally.

Not so this time.  Poor planning?  Maybe, but I did have a roll of paper towels.  I decided to try a "dry wash" instead.  I pulled off a couple of sheets and balled them up very loosely, and then, making a light, sweeping motion as if using a feather duster, I managed to move the pastel around enough to cover the white.  I liked the effect very much.  One problem with using a liquid to wash in the block-in is that it makes the darks almost too dark, and I sometimes struggle with bringing them into harmony with the lights and mid-tones.  This "dry wash" technique, though, actually lightens the darks and gives you a mid-tone.  It gives you a chance to hit the darks a little harder later if you need to.

Here is the "dry wash" stage, and below, the finished painting, which I also posted the last time.

"Templeton Trail" 12x18 pastel, $700 (unframed) - contact Michael

By the way, in case you aren't tired of hearing it yet, I still have some spaces left in my workshops and also in the Grand Canyon Plein Air Workshop this April.


Catherine M said...

Thanks for offering a solution to the snow scene I unthinkingly painted on white. Though not much of the snow in the painting is actually white, that glaring white paper shows through, and it looks like a 5th-grader's work. Now, to find my way to the studio through 30+ inches of snow and counting!

Michael Chesley Johnson, Artist / Writer said...

Thanks, Catherine - good luck with that snow!

Celeste Bergin said...

I will try this next time. I could relate to what you wrote about the darks being too dark with the wet pigment beneath the pastel. You made an interesting discovery that ended in a beautiful painting.