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How Adding Texture to Pastel Underpaintings Creates Striking Effects
Just South of Town by Tom Christopher
Adding texture to your art doesn’t have to be a task that comes later in your work process. In fact, artist Tom Christopher establishes textural elements to his pastel art during the underpainting stage.
“Several years ago, I was able to view an original Jackson Pollock painting. I was immediately taken with the textures and variation of line he was able to achieve simply by dripping paint onto a surface,” recalls Christopher. “When I returned home to my studio, I wondered how I could use the techniques I’d just seen in my pastel underpainting.”
With some practice and drops of acrylic paint, Christopher creates striking texture in his pastel landscapes. However, the key to success is knowing how to apply just the right amount.
“I’ve found that adding too much texture to a painting becomes a distraction,” adds Christopher. “So remember: Less is more.”
Achieving Implied Detail
Christopher paints primarily on Gator Board using a quick-drying pastel mixture of water and pumice gel that he then applies over the acrylic drippings. “This provides the grit that allows the board to accept my layers of pastel,” he explains.
The artist coined the term “implied detail” to describe the landscape elements that are created as a result of adding texture in the underpainting stage.
“Although it takes practice and a keen eye to spot these elements, it’s an effective way to paint trees, rocks, grasses, etc., while still retaining a loose and contemporary style of painting,” advises Christopher. “I’m always looking for a way to depict some aspect of a landscape by using a simple stroke of pastel. Allowing the texture to work for me makes that possible.”
He also recommends taking the time out to experiment. “I like to set aside one day each week to try out new pastel surfaces and underpainting techniques,” says Christopher, noting that this allotted time helps him stay focused and excited about making art.
5 Steps to Textured Underpainting
For those of you ready to experiment with adding texture to your underpainting, here is a step-by-step demonstration from Christopher.
1. Expose Brushstrokes
To begin establishing texture, I start with a 16×20-inch sheet of white 3∕16-inch-thick Gator Board.
I paint the entire sheet with flat acrylic wall paint, usually antique white, using a stiff 3-inch brush. This will leave the brushstrokes exposed.
2. Sketch Abstract Subject
After the paint is absolutely dry, I sketch a loose abstract design of the subject — in this case, a field in autumn — using dark gray watercolor.
3. Employ the ‘Jackson Pollock Technique’
At this time, I identify the areas that will receive texture — trees, rocks and grassy sections — and then mask around them using blue painter’s tape.
I then employ the “Jackson Pollock technique” and use a thin stick to drip acrylic paint onto the surface.
I’m careful to include thin and thick drippings, which will resemble tree branches and native grasses in my final painting.
4. Remove Masking Tape
After the acrylic dries, I remove the masking tape to leave the texture exposed. Now I’m ready to add the pumice gel-and-water mixture.
5. Add the Grit
I create approximately 1 pint of my homemade ground, using Golden’s Fine Pumice Gel and water, mixed to the consistency of pancake batter.
Next, I cover the entire painting with a thin coat of the mixture(5a). It will dry clear, leaving the textured design exposed and enabling the surface to accept several layers of pastel (5b).
From Underpainting to Completion: Evaluation the Final Painting
The textured areas are easily visible in my final version of Autumn Feast, but they aren’t noticeable enough to become a distraction.
Autumn Feast (final painting); I’ve found adding texture to my pastel landscapes — like this one — gives the painting a contemporary feel.
I’ve found using this type of textural underpainting is a great way to keep my pastel landscapes loose and painterly. The effects through adding texture prevent me from overworking areas by creating implied detail that effectively captures the excitement of the scene.
Tom Christopher is a signature member of the Pastel Society of America and a Master Circle member of the International Association of Pastel Societies. He enjoys painting the landscape of the Midwestern U.S.
The art techniques featured in this post were provided by the artist, Tom Christopher, and first appeared in Pastel Journal.