Thursday, May 18, 2017


Framing art to take to the Jura Silverman Gallery each spring keeps me busy for several weeks. The studio, the adjacent family room, and the framing area all become a chaotic mess, with art work, backing boards, mats, and glass covering pretty nearly every inch of space.  It's no wonder that I knocked over my travel mug that was half full of tea. The lid popped off and tea began to run under pencils, rulers, papers, and stacks of magazines on the work table, splashing onto one finished, unframed painting that was on the table.

In the image on the left you can see the dark, wet splotches in the lower left corner and a few drops in the sky of this close up shot of the painting.

This could have ruined the painting if it had not been done on Art Spectrum Colourfix paper. All I had to do was wait for it to dry and repaint the splotched areas. This is one good reason to love papers that accept a wet application.

Below is Soft Autumn Light  10 x 18 after the splotched areas were repainted.

Surfaces used for pastel include commercially prepared paper, boards, and sandpapers. Some artist like to prepare their own surface using prepared primers or their own formula. Choosing which surface to paint on can be overwhelming for the new pastelist. When I started out as a pastelist I used Canson MiTientes paper and I still do on occasion. The Canson paper is very popular, it is reasonably priced and it comes in many colors. It will not, however, accept a wet application. One side of the MiTientes paper is textured and one side is smooth. I have heard artists argue over which is the 'right' side of the paper. My answer, there is no right side. Each side has it's unique characteristics. Try both to see which you like better.

To understand pastel paper it is important to understand the difference between tooth, grit and texture.

  • TOOTH  is what holds the pastel particles to the surface. A deeper tooth holds the pastel well and accepts many layers. The less tooth, the less layering the paper will accept. Once the tooth is filled the surface will accept no more pastel strokes. A paper with less tooth can create problems when framing because the pastel dust falls off easily onto the mat or glass. If the tooth is insufficient to hold all the layers one would like, the surface can be sprayed with a workable fixative to bring back the tooth. I do not use fixative, but that is a subject for another day.
  • GRIT refers to a sanded paper and usually has a number associated with it like what is used in commercially prepared sand papers used in the building trades. Uart paper has seven grades, with 240 being the largest grit and 800 the finest grit.
  • TEXTURE is the pattern on the surface. Texture appears as tiny bumps, inlaid lines, patterns or grain. This texture can be seen and felt. A pastel lightly dragged across the surface  shows the texture.

In my last blog post I suggested that beginners to the pastel medium might like to experiment with a variety of pastel brands. A good source for sampler sets is They have sampler sets of pastels, pastel papers and pastel boards. Working with a variety of pastel brands and papers will help you decide what works best for your own unique style and technique. Freely experiment using small pieces so that you will not feel you are wasting paper. Try light over dark, dark over light, soft over hard, etc.  Try varying the pressure. Try using the side of the stick and the end of the stick. Try as many combinations as you can. To check the layering capabilities of the surface try adding multiple layers one over the another and count the number of layers that can be added before the surface will accept no more.

The example below shows six different papers with five different pastels dragged across plus a sixth layer,  a blue pastel drawn across diagonally. You can see the difference in the amount of pastel that is grabbed by the tooth of the Art Spectrum and the Uart paper. You can see the texture of the Canson MiTientes paper. 
The pink was dragged across first then the next five colors where dragged over the top but each one was started slightly lower than the last color to reveal all colors that were laid, so when you look at the green on the bottom it is covering four other colors. You can see that the Art Spectrum, The Uart, and the Canson (smooth side) do a better job of accepting the five layers. The colors on the Strathmore, the Canson MiTientes (textured side) and the Bristol seem to blend together as the layers are added. Experimenting with papers and pastel brands allows you to become familiar with how the various materials will perform.

To sum up, some papers have a lot of tooth, but very little texture, others have lots of texture but very little tooth. The combination I like to use is less texture but a lot of tooth. As I mentioned before, some papers can get wet and others cannot. The coating on some papers will disintegrate if it comes in contact with moisture. My favorite papers are Uart sanded paper and Art Spectrum Colourfix. Both are smooth (less texture) with lots of tooth and can accept a wet application. The Art Spectrum paper comes in many colors and sizes. Both are durable, versatile, re-workable and forgiving; accepting a wet application as well as multiple layers of pastel. Uart comes in a variety of grits and sizes, including rolls of 56" by 27 yards. 

Another consideration is archival quality. Any finished work should be done on an archival paper. It is less important for sketching and experimenting, but for finished work it is wise to use the best quality you can afford.

If you have any questions, please feel free to comment below or send an email to .
Let me know what you'd like to know about pastel techniques and materials.

 Future topics I am considering are:
  • Easels, etc
  • Under Painting and other ways to start your painting
  • To Blend or Not to Blend - Does sand paper remove your fingertips?
  • To Fix or Not to Fix (Fixative)
  • Forgive or Forget - Correcting mistakes or tossing it out.
  • Framing
  • Not Your Common Dust Bunny - Dealing with pastel dust
  • Plein Air Equipment
  • My Favorite Art Books
  • L

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