Due to the sensitive nature of pastel and it’s responsiveness to the medium it is laid onto, it’s important to consider the final effect you wish to achieve when choosing materials. Every pastel artist is unique and there are many approaches. In this article Ilia adds some comments based on her particular technique which is focussed on utilising single strokes to achieve maximum contrast between colours and while laying form to attain a sense of movement rapidly without reworking or building up layers. Some pastellists prefer to work in layers, taking advantage of the softness of their medium to achieve a sense of depth and richness in their images through the under and overlaying of texture and colour.
Pastel surfaces come in a variety of tints and textures. The main points to consider when choosing your paper are colour and texture as well as size, format and weight. Pastel Papers need a sufficiently textured or abrasive surface to hold several layers of dry pastel. The surface should look relatively smooth and not pitted and rough. There are several brand name pastel papers on the Australian market, the most popular being Canson Mi-Teintes a traditional pastel paper with a vellum drawing surface and a high cotton content. And newer Textured pastel papers Art Spectrum Colourfix and Canson Mi-Teintes Tex which have a fine layer of grit for holding more pastel layers without the need for fixing. A challenge many pastel artists face is the risk of smudging when the artwork is completed. The risk tends to be greater, the smoother the base paper. Workable fixatives are often used to hold the pastel in place and prevent this from happening. The downside of using fixative is that it knocks back the intensity of the colours and sometimes flattens the overall effect.
Watercolour papers can be an excellent surface for pastel work as they can withstand a lot of reworking. Canson Mi-Teintes is a dual surface pastel paper which is suitable for any dry media and light ink, gouache or acrylic. Mi-Teintes comes in a great variety of colours, this paper holds less layers of pastel than sanded papers but you may be surprised at how much it can hold, the idea is to use a lighter touch when applying your pastel.
Art Spectrum Colourfix consists of 300gsm watercolour paper that has been screen printed with Art Spectrum Colourfix primer. There are 20 lightfast colours to choose from. And for those of you who cannot get enough grit a ‘Supertooth primer’ is also available. Colourfix primer can be purchased in 250ml tubs so that you can custom make your own surface to paint on. The Primer will adhere to almost any clean dry surface, paper, canvas, ply, plastic, glass timber, ceramic and metal. Canson Mi-Teintes Tex has a similar range of paper and product.
Gritty papers can be forgiving in that you can wash off a painting if it is not coming along so well. Erasing is easy with sanded paper – simply lift off excess pastel with clear adhesive tape or brush off with a dry brush or use a pencil eraser. Errors can also be touched up with a new coat of prime. The tough toothy surface can be sanded, scrubbed, soaked and reworked over and over. You can get paper with a board backing similar to matboard (mountboard). Indeed, some matboards have a grained finish, ideal for pastel work, so don’t overlook this option.
The colour of your paper will significantly affect the mood of the finished picture. When covering over the entire image area, tiny gaps created by the texture of the base paper will allow the underlying pastel paper colour to show through which creates an overal tonal value for the finished work. There’s no reason to not use white paper, and one of the beauties of using pastels is that the under surface can shine through, adding an extra dimension to your work. If you work like Ilia, the base colour is critical and a mid tone is generally preferred as it allows both highlights and lowlights to be added to the paper without reworking. With a single stroke an element may be brought forward or sent back. As with most other drawing media, pastel paper is available in spiral pads, tape bound pads in various sizes. Many of the pads come with several tints of color giving you the opportunity to create different moods and atmospheres.
Recipe for making your own textured pastel surface
Mix marble dust and pumice powder with some acrylic paint for colour and add a bit of matte medium, brush the mixture onto to the surface, while still wet dust more marble dust or pumice powder until it has the required tooth. Let dry. Voila! Pastel fundamentals • The limitation of pastels is that colours cannot be readily pre-mixed as with liquid paints. All colour mixing occurs through either layering, juxtopositioning of colour or show through from the base medium • Both soft and hard pastels have a chalky texture and basically the production process is the same. Faber Castell and Conte pastels offer a crisp, hard stick which produces sharp line and is harder to blend, whereas the Schmincke range are rich in colour pigment, dense and incredibly soft and rework-able. Attaining crisp detail requires the use of blending aids. • Soft pastels have more pure pigment and less binder than the harder versions. As a result, the colours are strong and vibrant. They also impart a smoother, velvety feel. This may be a disadvantage if you’re hasty. The reduced binder makes soft pastels prone to breaking and your drawing can be easily smudged if not fixed between layers. • The harder versions have more binder and less pigment and are therefore slightly less vibrant. However, their strength allows alternative techniques, for example they may be sharpened to a point allowing finer, crisper detail to introduced later. They’re also good for use as an underpainting or outlining prior to overlaying with soft pastels.
Additional techniques from Ilia’s product rendering days
While popular pastel work involves depth, softness and a often exquisite depictions of light and tone, it can be used for other less conventional effects.
Scraping pastel dust with a knife and scattering it along illustration board and then using lighter fluid or a similar solvent on a cloth or tissue to dissolve the scrapings and blend colours can create a lovely sweeping background. This background can then be picked out by a sharpened erasor to create shape and line from the loose form. Ilia used this technique to produce illustrative backgrounds depicting products when studying industrial design at Philips in the Netherlands.
Another nice trick is to get a small piece of regular bond paper, roll it as tightly as possible, tape it so it doesn’t spring loose, trim the tip into a point and use it to smear and sharpen detail when working with pastel. Go to the bottom of Ilia’s gallery page and view her ‘Colour in Your Life’ tutorial on her style of pastel work.
Where to find out more
Visit or ring Leanne at Musgrave Art if you have a question relating to art materials and processes and she’ll either have the answer or know where to source it for you!
Phone 07 5531 4010
Musgrave Art Southport Trade Centre
3-15 Jackman St, Southport 4215
Monday to Friday 8.30am-5pm Thursday 8.30am-6pm Saturday 9am-12.30pm