What if? by Tracey Maras

What if? by Tracey Maras
7th August 2019 Helen Bullock
In Unison News

Isn’t it exciting when you stumble onto something that is totally new?  That is what happened when a colleague and I were developing a series of workshops on creative underpaintings for pastel.  While experimenting and asking “what if?” the technique of “Floating Pastel” was created.

An underpainting can make a painting even stronger.  It can provide a value roadmap, foster a more dramatic colour scheme, instil colour harmony or add textural interest.  With “Floating Pastel,” I discovered that it could provide all of these elements as well as adding a sense of depth and dimension to my paintings.

Having experimented with a variety of papers, I have found that this technique works best with UART because of its ability to handle liquid mediums.  After taping down the paper, I lightly apply pastel (single colour or a few colours, 2 or 3 maximum).  The pastel is then liquefied with Isopropyl Alcohol and brushed onto the paper. (image #1)

Once dry, and working on a flat table, I brush a light glazing of water across the paper.  Using a drywall sanding mesh, I grind a fine layer of pastel dust (Nupastel or Rembrandt) onto the sheen of water.  (I wear a dust mask and work in a room that is well-ventilated.)  Two or three analogous colours work well when applying the “floating” pastel dust.

While the surface is still wet, I take an eye dropper and drop 91% Isopropyl Alcohol across the surface, which repels the floating pastel dust, creating a colourful, abstracted underpainting.

Once dry, I proceed with applying pastel as I would with any painting.  The flowers begin by painting the negative space of the background while laying in darkest colour values.

I then progress to the mid-values and the light values

 Throughout this process, I choose how much of the abstracted underpainting will show through.  The final details are added to complete “Stephanie’s Surprise”


This 2×3 ft. painting was completed on UART 500 using Unison pastels.

This technique has helped me become more painterly in my approach as I have to incorporate the surprise of colour and texture that results from the underpainting process.  While first utilising it in floral paintings because of its ability to give the flower petals a translucent appearance, I have since used this technique for landscapes and wildlife subjects.  It is exciting to think of all of the possibilities, just by asking “what if?”

Tracey Maras

Tracey Maras is best known for her realistic pastel paintings of the natural world around us and life interacting with it. Working with pure pigment, her pieces are vibrant yet intimate views of Central Illinois and beyond.

Since 2000 Maras’ work has spanned many themes including wildlife, landscapes, interiors and portraits. She consistently pushes the limits of the pastel medium, exploring new techniques in each work. Maras actively teaches pastel techniques in workshops and classes throughout Illinois.