Thursday, March 08, 2007

Abrasive Supports for Pastels & Coloured Pencils #2

This is the second of two posts providing an overview of abrasive supports for use with pastels. Yesterday's post discussed a range of supports - Ampersand Pastelbord, Art Spectrum Colourfix and Ersta Sanded Paper.

Today's post covers four different surface:

Jack Richeson Premium Pastel Surface (new product)
Sennelier La Carte Pastel (Pastel Card) / Rembrandt Pastel Board.
Schminke Sansfix Pastellkarton
Wallis Paper

Future posts will cover making your own abrasive supports using pumice or marble dust and this will be covered in a future blog post and the velour type papers.

Quotes (in the boxes) which follow are all from the Dakota Pastels website unless otherwise indicated. I was generally impressed with the presentation of information on this website - which specialises in pastels and associated art materials.

Jack Richeson Premier Pastel Surface
Jack Richeson is introducing a new pastel surface produced on three different substrates:140lb. paper, 1/8” hardboard and 3/16” Gator Board. This very aggressive toothy surface will hold many layers of pastel. Sampler includes Paper, Hardboard & Gator Board in three colors (white, black & red earth) for a total of 9 pieces in a 9" x 12" size. (Description of sample pack in Dakota winter sale)
This is a new support which has been variously described to date in its very short product history. I gather Jack Richeson, as the licensed distributor of Unison Pastels in the USA, intends to make a support which reflects the colour of specific Unison pastels. I'm not at all clear who manufactures it - it certainly is not Unison as they only produce soft pastels and nothing else - and I also rang them and asked!

I've not seen this new support at all. It's only available in the USA at present so, of necessity, this part of the overview can only report the views of pastel artists who have been trying it out - some using the sample pack
with the limited range of three colours.

All types of support always generate different responses - lovers, haters and everything inbetween. The overall opinion being expressed in this latest thread from the Wet Canvas Pastel Talk Forum suggests a variety of views from a mix of pastel artists but that overall this new support may not find many true fans due to the rough nature of the surface. Other threads reporting tests by individual artists include images produced and these comments:
"...It takes lots of pastel but you cannot blend with your fingers or tools until you get some layers on. I had to really work at it to get all the little specks filled. It can be rough on your fingers until you give up trying to blend.... "(Nana B)

"....The sanded surface is very sharp and deep, deeply textured. It's the same coating on all three substrates....You need to try this stuff! It's a very 'toothy' paper with a lot of bite to it, sharper then Wallis in a way..... I really like this (gatorfoam panel) board even better than the paper. It has a delicacy to it that the paper lacks. I can't imagine why! It lightly grabs the soft and hard pastels. I'm using a lot of Giraults, Schminckes, and Ludwigs right now.....I like the red hardboard, too, but frankly framing anything even as heavy as that dismays me. It might be nice for location painting on windy days, in small sizes!" (Deborah Secor - who tried all three surfaces)
There is no information as yet as to the lightfastness of the colours but preliminary indications suggest that these might be dye based rather than pigment based (ie 'in the paper' rather 'in the coating'). If that's the case then may be a question over lightfastness of the colour of the support. Any lightfastness standard testing information that people come across will be gratefully received by me and reported on this blog.

Sennelier La Carte / (Rembrandt Pastel Card)
La Carte pastel card has a wonderful working surface produced on 200 lb archival stock. The surface is a finely ground pH neutral vegetable flake and cork that is applied by hand. The sumptuous surface is very uniform and slightly abrasive which promotes excellent pigment adhesion without requiring a lot of pastel for coverage. La Carte has a soft "touch" when compared to other sanded pastel papers. There is a nice subtle color range of 14 neutral colors. *The binder used to produce the surface will dissolve in water, so care must be taken to keep it dry.
I buy la Carte. I used Rembrandt Pastel Board - identical to Sennelier La Carte - for all my early pastels and absolutely loved it - apart from the bit where the cork came off the backing if it got wet! Never ever take it plein air if there is a chance of rain!!! You'll just make everything wetter by crying as you get white spots on your pastel! The only other time I nearly cried was when it disappeared from view for some time before reappearing with the La Carte brand name.

I'd go so far as to say this is the support which made me take up pastels and spend huge amounts on masses of pastels - as it basically loves any brand of pastel you care to try on it. I also know that Dianna Ponting is a big fan of La Carte and uses it for all her work.

There are two really great plus points about this support: the level of adhesion - it always seems like it will take more and more pigment plus the great range of colours that it comes in (which is why I know they are the same product!)

The card can be cut down - but you do need to be careful and use the right sort of equipment. I always use a heavy duty cutting knife and a cutting mat.

Schminke Sansfix Pastellkarton
Sansfix is an archival pastel paper with a water-resistant surface that allows under painting with acrylics and other water based paints. The unique surface has excellent pigment holding capabilities and the colors are highly light fast. Solvents used in oil painting, varnishes and fixatives do not affect the surface coating. Concentrated alcohol (i.e. alcohol washes) will cause the surface to become soft and sticky and are not recommended. There are six colors available in a 19.5” x 27.5” sheet.
Depending on which supplier you get it from, Sansfix is available in sheets (metric dimensions 50x70cm or 30x40cm) or on rolls 70x300cm and comes in 6 colours: old white, sand, beige, light grey, velvet green and anthracite. The odd thing about is it's very dense and bendy. It has a surface which I would describe as being like a refined NOT watercolour paper.

I've recently tried solvent on a piece of Velvet Green Sansfix to see whether an underpainting could be produced using light shades of coloured pencil which cover what is a dark background shade. The resulting underpainting is left above (maybe I don't have brush phobia after all!). As you can see coverage after Zest It solvent was used was very satisfactory.

It struck me that it might well work well with thin washes of acrylic paints for underpaintings but that it's inherent bendiness might well present other problems for a film based paint.

Wallis Paper
Many well known professional pastel artists now work exclusively on Museum Quality Wallis - although it's not cheap. It's not used so much by coloured pencil artists despite its potential.

The story behind Wallis Paper is told by Kitty Wallis in a thread on Wet Canvas - the Wallis Paper Story.

You can contact Kitty on her industry partner website on Wet Canvas and obtain a small sample strip of Wallis paper to see if you like it before ordering. The picture of the Camellia Bud on the left is what I did with mine! It eats coloured pencils fast - but in return they look more like pastels. I ordered!

There is no official website for Wallis papers (please provide one Kitty!) and the most comprehensive information I've found about Wallis Papers on one webpage is that provided by Jackie Simmonds. Jackie is a well known pastel artist in the UK and is also the sole supplier of Wallis Paper in the UK.

Wallis Papers can be provided in two grades - Professional and Museum Quality, in two colours - White and Belgian Mist (a light buff colour) and in a pad, as sheets or on a roll. The Dakota Pastels site details the range on offer.

The technical details of the two types of paper (summarised from the information on Jackie's website) are as follows.
  • The sanded surface is created with a tough aluminium oxide grit, slightly less hard than diamonds (9 on MOHS scale). This provides a remarkably durable tooth similar to fine sandpaper. The coating protects the paper against acid migration from any art medium, or from pollution. It accepts being wetted through underpainting processes and can be reworked repeatedly without losing tooth. It can also be used for oil and acrylic paintings
  • Professional: double primed surface on a 240 gsm base of neutral pH wood pulp cardstock, buffered and acid-free with an estimated archival life of 300 years .
  • Museum Quality: triple primed surface and primed back on 300 gsm cotton rag paper which is naturally archival, does not produce acid from its fibres and neither needs nor contains any buffering. Estimated archival life of 500 years; meets Library of Congress standards for permanence.
  • The surface can be cut to different sizes making for a very adaptable support.
A warning though - this paper eats pastels and pencils. The expense doesn't just come from the cost of the Wallis paper, it's expensive because you'll need to replace pastels/pencils more often than when used on other gentler supports (eg Colourfix).

Two final points relating to technical data and making a choice about which support is best for an individual artist................

Message for artists: Casey made an excellent comment on yesterday's post (do take a look - he has some great suggestions) which I very much endorse. Before choosing a support, it's best to think about the sort of work you want it to be, which pastels or coloured pencils you want to use and what quality of support you require. All surfaces are good in different ways and for different purposes; all surfaces will frustrate you in different ways and at the end of the day quality costs money. The best thing to do is try them out and then work out which surfaces suit your subjects, your preferred pastels/pencils and your working approach and style - and are affordable within your budgetary constraints!

Message for manufacturers and distributors: Please find a way of making your technical specifications more easily accessible in both catalogues and on the Internet. I'm much less interested in what a particular artists says about how they find it - because everybody works in different ways - than I am in having all the relevant technical data. Abrasive supports are not cheap so it would a great leap forward if all artists were able to make an informed choice of support based on good quality technical information and our own experiences of whether or not the support suits the way we work.

I hope you find this overview across the two posts useful. You can find more useful information about pastels and coloured pencils and links to relevant websites in my Resources for Artists websites - for Pastels and Coloured Pencils.

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Casey Klahn said...

Very informative, as always.
I will add that one can buy the Museum Wallis by the roll. I took a workshop from Kitty (we live relatively close; me - Washington; she - Oregon) where she introduced me to making pastels and to the idea of seeing two sides of each primary color. She's been at pastels for over 40 years, and is a great artist.
I am eager to try the Richeson, which Dakota has in a trial package.
The Dakota people, also of Washington State, have a very nice workshop venue, and I will crow about their flat rate for shipping. Unlike other mass art catalogers, they know pastel, and they ship it right. You may pay full pop, although their sales are nice and regular, but you will usually save on shipping vs. other retailers. I don't know if this is true for overseas shipping, however!
Oh, you touch on Gatorfoam. It's a very expensive tool, but it has the value of being feather light, stable against warping, dent-proof, and archival. Some art paper manufacturers are using it to mount their pastel paper products to, following the lead of pastel artists who have been doing this for a while.
I look forward to your posts on making supports, and I want to suggest that Gatorfoam is an excellent substrate for this. Also, some artists will purchase Gatorfoam in really large pieces, and cut it down as needed. Looks like has the large sheets of GatorBoard. Shop around.
I thought the stuff was made by Weyerhaeuser, but it looks like it is Alcan Composites USA. Now they want you to consider Structa Board to be the latest thing, but I'm confused as to why. Looks like budget Gator Board to me.
I choose the 1/2" thick, which is available as Gator. Structa looks to only be available in the thinner 3/16".

Jeanette said...

Great information Katherine and much appreciated thank you. I only wish I could find ANY kind of decent pastel paper here in Newfoundland. Everything that's sanded or abrasive or just plain different than Canson Mi-Tientes has to be mailordered.

I'll be checking out Dakota's, but would imagine shipping will be challenging in costs, as well as US/Canadian currency conversion, then duty...see what I mean?

Katherine said...

Thanks for the comments folks!

Jeanette - you have my sympathies - I'm faced with exactly the same problems when it comes to getting hold of anything by Ampersand.

Casey - Kitty is great isn't she - I just love her pastels.

That's good to hear about the Dakota pastels people and shipping costs. I remember reading a thread a while ago which suggested you should always tot up what the total cost is and not just go for the goods with the cheapest prices. Although I suppose you might save a bit on import tax if you did the latter!

I had my first acquaintance with gatorfoam last year and wonder whether it is available at all in the UK. I've come across foamcore but not gatorfoam/board.

Casey Klahn said...

I would go through some trouble to get some GatorBoard. It becomes the substrate of a work when primed and surfaced the way you like. see Susan Ogilvie, PSA, for her incredible work preppeing on Gator.
I will try to look up the actual links and info on this, but time is short, today.
I have drawing boards of gator, and one is a work surface. Really great stuff.
Jeanette, the Dakota Pastel people, in Mt Vernon. Washington, can almost sneeze into British Columbia, Canada. I would call Robin on the phone at Dakota and see what Canadians typically do for shipping/postage.

Lisa B. said...

I would have thought the Wallis too abrasive for CP. Stunning work, Katherine!

I'm also saddened to see Mi-Teints getting such poor reviews. Harley Brown, Mike Beeman, L. Diane Johnson, Bruce Lynch, and Jackie Simmonds have all done such exception work on it.

Katherine said...

Lisa - I agree that excellent work has been done in the past on Canson.

However the survey on WC is about preferences. I think Peggy B got it about right when she said
"Canson is a love it or hate it paper. I know professionals who don't use anything else, and others who won't touch it."

I'll confess that there are quite a few of us who can't stand the machine-made chicken wire side because of the pattern it can create in work.

However I don't think it's so much Canson getting poor reviews (every surface has some people who not keen on it) so much as pastel artists finding more and more that they prefer to work on the sanded papers. Maybe because they reduce the need for use of fixative and are more versatile?

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