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Choosing Your Pastel Paper

Choosing the right pastel paper to use with your pastels can be confusing.

Find out what to look for in color, texture and quality that will make make your pastel drawings sing with atmosphere!

Pastel surfaces come in a whole variety of tints, textures and weights. for example, look at the images on this page to get some idea of the range of colors.

The main points to consider when choosing your paper are indeed color and texture as well as size, format and weight.

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Pastel paper colours

The color of your paper will also significantly affect the finished picture. Mood and atmosphere will be reflected by the tint used, for two reasons.

First, pastels unlike paints, rarely cover the whole surface. The tiny gaps left uncovered let the underlying pastel paper color show through.

Secondly, This will 'knit' your picture together providing a subtle but important unity to it.

It's the reason many painters, including myself, usually put a light base color down when using oil paints, acrylic paints, or watercolor paints, to get rid of the harsh, white surface.

As an aside, Joseph W.M.Turner, one of the world's best known artists, was quite prone to using tea, coffee and even red wine to tint his painting and drawing surfaces before he started.

I've put tea & coffee on my paint surface before today - sometimes carelessly, after I've finished the picture ... :-(

But red wine? What a waste!

...Still, it did his career no harm so who's the fool, him or me?

Anyway, back to the pastel paper!

A reddish-brown paper, for example, will give a deep, warm glow to your picture and allow light colors like yellows and creams to really vibrate.

At the other extreme, a pale blue or pale grey will promote a much more subdued effect, such as for misty, winter landscapes.

They come in all sorts of tints and shades from white & creams, through deep, strong primary reds, blues and yellows, onto dark browns and so on all the way to black.


Pastel paper textures

There is a pretty wide range of pastel paper types available from numerous manufacturers. Most have several varieties of 'tooth' and type of texture. By 'tooth' all we mean is the coarseness of the surface.

This photo of a sheet of 'rough' watercolor paper will give you an idea of what I'm on about...

By the way, talking of pale colors ...

The term 'pastel colors' actually means two things and often causes confusion to newcomers.

Pastels in this context simply mean the sticks of pigment you use (whether this be chalk or oil pastels). These can be in pale, delicate tones such as creams pinks and light blues, but just as easily in all strengths through to very strong vibrant reds, greens, browns and black, etc.

You've probably more likely heard of the term pastel colors in relation to the shades you'd use for painting walls and ceilings. Here, there's a variety of whites with a hint of various colors to give a delicate tint.

Just be aware of the two definitions, so you don't get tripped up by them.

For instance, Ingres paper has a 'laid' effect, ie: a grain of closely spaced fine lines on one side, with a slightly mottled surface on the reverse.

Other brands of pastel paper have a velvety texture, also giving a very smooth finish to your work.

At the other end of the scale, some pastel paper is almost carborundum paper ('wet'n dry) in disguise or even coarser sandpaper.

In fact some artists buy sheets of sandpaper specifically for pastel work. It gives a real 'hit and miss' effect with the pastel and is ideal to create a really loose, strong impact. And of course it comes with a ready-made background color.

Rough-surfaced watercolor paper provides a gentler surface that still has enough tooth for the pastel to adhere. Painted first with your choice of base color which is allowed to dry, it's ideal if you're going to blend the pastel colors with your finger.

The best way to find out what suits you is to try out your pastels on any of the traditional art paper surfaces, as well as pastel paper sold specially for the medium.

In reality the only limit to your pastel surface is your imagination.

Just remember, the smoother the texture of the pastel paper, the more difficulty you will have in getting too many layers to adhere, once the grain of the surface is choked with pigment.

On this point, if you're going to do much blending, think twice before you use your bare finger on 100 grit carborundum, unless you want rid of your current fingerprints in five minutes flat!


Pastel paper weight and format

Weight of pastel paper probably doesn't play as important a part as it does with watercolor paper where the lighter versions usually need stretching.

However, if your style is to work and rework your pastel, blending with your finger or torchon, lifting out with an eraser, etc. etc., common sense dictates that your pastel paper needs to be robust enough to stand up to this treatment.

Equally, if your intention is to use pastel as part of mixed media work, you need to take into account the strength of the paper, easpecially if it's going to be wetted by paint at some point.

Choose pastel paper at least 175 gsm in weight - or heavier - equivalent to a good quality, heavy cartridge paper or lightweight watercolor paper.

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.

You can even buy translucent pastel paper, as above, ideal for tracing over a photo (or parts of several photos) to create a new composition, quickly and easily.

As with most other drawing media, pastel paper is available in spiral pads, tape bound pads in various sizes and also rolls for really large work.

Many of the pads come with several tints of color giving you the opportunity to create different moods and atmospheres.

If you want to keep your pastel work in a pad for protection, look out for pads which are interleaved with 'glassine' paper.

This is a strong, translucent tissue paper that keeps the pastel from one picture separate from the next page, rather like a wedding photo album.

So there we are! Hopefully, you've got a better idea of which paper (or other surfaces) you can use for your pastel drawings.

Enjoy your pastel drawing!


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