Date: Mon, 21 Dec 1998 15:51:30 -0500
From: Peter Davis
Subject: illustration: Pastels and supports

I love working in pastels. There's an immediacy and spontaneity that I haven't found with any other medium. With one stroke, I can get brilliant colors, cover up early marks, etc. The opaqueness lets me change my mind, experiment with different colors, and keep adjusting colors until they're right. There's no pre-mixing, gesso-ing, etc.

However, the medium is not without it drawbacks. For me, the big ones are:

1) pastels make dust everyplace, which at the least can interfere with your painting, and at worst can damage your lungs.

2) pastels don't lend themselves to crisp edges and tight little details. Sharpened pastels don't stay sharp for very long, so it becomes like drawing with blunt crayons. In addition, depending on the support used, the lines can "spread" and soften even with a sharpened pastel.

3) pastel paintings are fragile. If they're rubbed, or even bumped, some of the pigment comes off, potentially falling on other parts of the painting.

For this reason, I had been working in pastel mainly as a preliminary medium, and then doing finished art in colored pencil. However, colored pencil is pretty laborious in comparison, and it's hard (or impossible) to get the same brilliance of color.

So ... (what's the point of all this?)

I've been experimenting with different supports for pastel. I had been using the Canson Mi-Teintes paper, which is very popular among pastellists.

However, I happened to try a sheet of an old, inexpensive Morilla charcoal paper the other day for a quick sketch and found ... to my surprise, the paper seemed to hold more pastel! The pastel stayed where I put it, and didn't make billowing clouds of dust. This has prompted me to try experimenting with other supports. I've used La Carte, which is like a very fine sandpaper. I know people actually use sandpaper for pastel. There's also pastel cloth, and many other kinds of papers.

Does anyone have any favorite surfaces for pastel? I'd love to hear who's using what, and why.

Date: Mon, 21 Dec 1998 16:12:30 -0800
From: DeDe Sorensen
Subject: illustration: Pastel and supports

Hi Peter,

I use pastels almost exclusively. I prefer Morilla charcoal/pastel paper especially for portraits just for the reason you mentioned--it doesn't get "muddy". I also like Strathmore 80lb. Pastel paper. I've tried Velour paper and like it, however, use this paper when you do not want a crisp look because the pastels tend to spread. Have you tried sharpening your pastels on sandpaper much like you would charcoal? I find this gets me a very good "point" for tight areas. You could also try a harder pastel such as a conte (crayon or pencil) they tend to give crisper lines.

As for their fragile nature, there is really nothing you can do save using fixative. I usually keep my work in progress on a board and over that board a sheet of waxed paper. When I'm not working I pull the sheet of wax paper down over the work and attach it with clips onto the board. As I'm working, I use a small sheet of wax paper as a blotter or hand rest....this helps reduce accidental smearing. For the dust, I keep a drafting brush nearby to dust down my table or easel and always tamp the board onto the table to release the dust rather than is more controlled and you do not inhale the dust.


I have always loved pastels for life drawing on smooth white bond paper. Sure, it's messy, but it sticks well enough and especially when when you rub it with your finger, which is part of my process. You can then go over it with graphite and/or colored pencil. I have even airbrushed over the top of these drawings with watercolor, just not soaking it.

I love pastels for mixed media. They work great over watercolor which has been first prepped with the gesso as I've mentioned before. You want the gesso thick enough to create brush strokes. The watercolor sticks to the gesso in unusual ways. Before too dry, you can still take a damp cloth and change the WC texture, or remove to a tint only. I use pastel over the top of the watercolor to intensify the color, because I love to layer color. Pastel pencils work great here, they don't seem really scratchy over the gesso base like they do on plain paper. (I hate that scratchy feeling.) You have to use your finger to work the pastel into the surface. (maybe you could use a paper stump, I like my ring finger.) I sharpen the pastel pencils with an exacto blade if I'm working small.

I have an example of what the finished product looks like on my website, if you're curious. It's called "Tea with Thee." I work on Arches WC paper (smoother is better,like hot press) if I know it needs to wrap around a drum scanner, but I really like illustration board better.


I tried the Clayboard company's Pastelboard and loved it but it is very expensive - $7.50 for a 11" x 14" piece. It is a neutral grey and has a lovely tooth to it. I've posted an image I did on it at

The scanned image is about 8.5" x 14, and I was using Schmenke pastels.


Pastel has long been one of my favorite media, for its spontaneity, brilliant colors, and speed of application. However, I've always been frustrated with trying to do tighly detailed areas in pastel ... until now.

I've tried using all kinds of blenders, including paper stumps and tortillons, Q-tips(tm), paper towels and Kleenex(tm), fingers with and without latex gloves, etc. The fingers are good, but too large to get any fine detail. The others tend to lift off more pastel than they blend, leaving the area kind of washed out looking.

Finally, on speculation, I bought one of those rubber tipped tools that looks like a very large watercolor brush (ie, the tip is shaped like a cone, almost like a watercolor brush.) This thing is GREAT! I can sit and work into as much detail as a want, and just wipe it off before moving to a different color. I don't know how I got along with out this. I had seen them advertised for a while, but always assumed they were for wet media. I don't know what made me think of trying it on pastel, but I really like it.

- -pd

Date: Thu, 16 Jul 1998 12:36:22 -0400
From: Brie Combs
Subject: RE: illustration: Tips & Tricks - Fixing pastels with steam

I have successfully fixed pastels with steam (a technique Rob Howard, whom we've been discussing lately, advises). It works because the steam realigns the pastel particles, and when it is done right it doesn't change the colors at all. But you have to be careful. Steam from the back, not the front. (I use a handheld Norelco travel steamer, which costs about $10 and puts out a constant flow of stream. I have a larger "burst of steam" model, but have not tried it because I think the burst would be too much.) Also, don't overdo it. A little is good, but too much steam darkens the colors and makes some of them (such as yellow ochres) go transparent. Where I have run into problems is working on sanded paper, because it's a heavier base and then I get worried about using enough steam to penetrate the front side of the paper from the back side, and I use too much. (I have also accidentally managed to soften the adhesive that holds the sand on. Normal non-obsessive people should not have this problem.)

Learned the hard way ... B.

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