Sunday, March 13, 2011

Class Demo: Animas River painting

Posted by Maggie

Yesterday was the first day of a six-week Saturday class that I'm teaching at the New Mexico Art League in Albuquerque. In my classes and workshops, I focus on one technique or subject each day. I like to start the session with my favorite (and easiest) underpainting technique, which is to block in the subject loosely and then wash it with Turpenoid. Depending on the subject, I may exaggerate or change the colors, and I often use slightly darker values for the middle- and darkest-value areas, knowing I can lighten them on the next pass of color.

There are many benefits of underpainting, and I begin over half of my pastel paintings with one of the underpainting techniques. In this painting, the underpainting stage allowed me to solidify the compositional changes I was making from my photo reference, and to lay in a good foundation of values and temperature along with hue. Because this was a class demonstration, I was focused on explaining what I was doing as I worked, and forgot to photograph the progression as frequently as I might have if I had been in the studio. The first photo shows the painting after the underpainting was turped and dried, and after I went back in to do some re-drawing with my soft vine charcoal. At this stage, I was pleased with the composition, initial value structure, and the relationship of warm and cool from the background to the foreground water. However, I could see that I would need to make some changes in the colors and temperatures of the rock formations in order to make them read correctly as to position in background or foreground.

As the painting progressed, I concentrated on establishing local color throughout, and on painting the water with its churning wave action in the middle-ground, and the two fall formations. I didn't worry about the background rocks and foliage in this stage, as I knew I would want to imply more than state their forms in order to make them recede. As I painted the foreground water, I worked on the dark and middle values, avoiding any highlights or light values in this middle stage. When I paint moving water, I like to try to feel the movement of the water with my hand, so as to describe the motion more clearly. In the foreground, the warm color of the water is influenced by the color of the reddish rocks beneath the surface, while the deeper churning water in the middle ground is more clearly the silty-gray-green color of the water. Shadows of objects on the land mass in the top left affect the color as well.

In the final stages, I directed my attention to the focal point rocks. As I developed them, I realized that the bluish cast of color on the rock in front of the focal-point rock needed to relate to it more in color and temperature, and the rocks on the right also needed color and temperature adjustments. The dark shadowed crack on the second rock on the right bothered me, so I muted it to help that rock sit behind the other. Once I had the foreground and middle ground well established, I loosely blocked in and adjusted the background, keeping it muted to recede. Finally, I worked over the entire painting, adjusting edges and values. Above left, Animas River, 16x20 pastel, ©Maggie Price (on white Richeson Premium Pastel Surface, applies to gatorfoam).

Now that I am back home, the painting is sitting in my studio where I can glance at it now and then, and watch for flaws or problems that catch my eye. I'll leave it there for a week or two before I decide that it's truly finished. I've already spotted a couple of adjustments I need to make to the water in the foreground, so I'm definitely not pronouncing it done yet!

Class demos don't always turn into paintings worth finishing or keeping—after all, the purpose of a demo is to demonstrate techniques and give information to my students, not necessarily to complete a painting. I'm very pleased with this one as a demo, though, and I think with a little careful attention, it will be worth being framed.

If you're interested in learning more about underpainting techniques, check out my two new DVDs, each of which deals with a different approach to underpainting.


  1. Thank you for sharing, I am going to try this on my next painting!

  2. very interesting, Maggie. It is indeed a beautiful piece. What do you use to mount the paper on gatorfoam? What kind of spray adhesive?

  3. Although I was not in Maggie's class, I saw this painting in real life, and the photos simply do not do it justice. It is beautiful; the water looks icy cold. Great job, Maggie!

  4. Peggy, the Richeson surface comes pre-applied to one of three different backings: paper, gatorfoam or hardboard. My favorite is the one on gatorfoam. It's lightweight, sturdy and so easy to fram--no mat cutting, just a spacer and glass.