Saturday, December 09, 2006

Ampersand Pastelbord

"Red" (Private Collection)
"8 x 10" Coloured Pencil on Pastelbord
Copyright Nicole Caulfield

Nicole Caulfield began experimenting with a variety of abrasive surfaces this summer and, on her recommendation, when I was in New England in September, I bought an 11” x 14” Pastelbord by Ampersand to try out. I sourced mine from the Charettes retail art store in Woburn, just north of Boston.

Reader - I am in luuurve! This is just so perfect for me – so long as I can work to the sizes and colours it is supplied in. I've only tried the grey shade so far but the other three colours - green, sand and white - look very useful. I've also only used it for coloured pencils but given the level of adhesion I do not doubt it will be good for pastels as well.

It's available in most American standard sizes (i.e. inches not metric) between 7" x 5" up to 24" x 36" with the grey shade having the most options. 18" x 24" is the most easily available large size. Further information is available on the websites of Ampersand and USA suppliers (see the end of this post for links).

What is pastelbord?

I’m going to quote from Ampersand's excellent information sheet which comes with each sheet.
"Pastelbord is a clay-coated hardboard panel designed for pastels that is suitable for paints of all types, especially acrylics. The granular marble dust finish holds many more layers of pastels than traditional pastel papers and can be reworked wet or dry without affecting the integrity of the surface......the rigid 1/8" hardboard backing makes this an ideal panel for on-location work and standard sizes fit in pochade boxes and carriers easily. pastelbord is acid-free and non-yellowing, making it a truly permanent museum quality surface. Choose from Gray, Green, Sand and White"
Concerns about yellowing, curling, warping and separation are apparently a thing of the past with Pastelbord. Preparation and benefits, according to Ampersand, includes:
  • hardboard base is made using a wet manufacturing process that removes the lamella from the wood that can cause discolouration in paintings
  • the tempered hardboard is manufactured without thick tempering oils and is made from Aspen trees, which have more unform fibers and a more neutral Ph than that of other woods
  • less prone to warping due to the highest tensile strength of any art hardboard available
  • acid-free ground produced by using two coats of acrylic to seal the hardboard before application of the acid-free clay coating.
Key features for artistic use include:
  • very fine tooth with capacity for rich colour
  • ability to use wet or dry techniques on the board eg watercolour painting under pastels
  • heavy water applications do not affect the integrity of the surface
  • acrylic washes stay wet longer
  • flexible use for multi-media people - also suitable for use with oils, acrylics, watercolours and other types of pain
Don't you just love it when they get all technical! I'm unlikely to use it with any wet media but I have to tell you that the whole feel of the board says 'quality' to me.

Read about Nicole's views on pastelboard here. You can see one of the works she has produced on pastelbord at the top of this post.

I've got a problem showing you the whole board as I'm using it to develop a '21st birthday' portrait which is still a 'work in progress' and I'd need the individual's permission - however I can show you part of it (don't you think I'm brave to show you the mouth!)

Although the surface is quite hard in wear terms on the coloured pencils, I seem to be producing very little dust as I can do on more obviously abrasive surfaces. The amazing thing is I can layer and layer and layer and it never loses its surface - marble dust is very robust! The very fine nature of the abrasive surface also makes it really easy to blend as you can see from the sample image.

More importantly, my initial findings are that I can develop good rich dark tones on it without any problem - there's no sinking into the surface or dulling down as can happen on some abrasive surfaces.

OK - so there had to be a downside! I cannot find a supplier in the UK so it looks like I'm going to have to import. I'm currently working out an order to maximise boards and minimise delivery charges with Dick Blick in the USA - who is being very helpful. Other US suppliers include Pearl Paint and the Fine Art Store. Blicks has the best selection of sizes.

I've included a link to Ampersand Pastelbord on my Squidoo lens of useful links about Pastels.

I'd be very interested to hear from anybody who has also used Pastelbord and what their thoughts are on it.

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  1. Ampersand Pastelbord is made near me in Austin, Texas. Wonderful stuff. I have used it for pastels and acrylics. Just super. I understand you can special order larger sizes directly with them.

    Maybe you could be a dealer for them in your part of the world??

    Your snippet of the portrait looks wonderful.

  2. Thanks for that comment Jo - very useful to know - must go and do an e-mail!!!

  3. The red apple drawing is wonderful. I like it very much.

  4. Oh thanks for the compliment Sugar mouse and Katherine for posting my lunch!

    I've been working for a while now with pastelboard and colored pencils and it has become my favorite support.

    It does have some quirks though. I had come accustomed to being able to use a dry brush and smooth my pencil strokes and grain out but when you try and do that on pastelbord the colored pencil falls off. Which is partially why I varnish my pieces at the end to ensure it all stays on! Also while I find lifting small amounts of pencil in the first layers easy with a little poster putty, as I get more and more layers on there I have damaged the texture of the board when I erased.

    The colors you get are amazing though and with the stroke I use I get a very soft but bold effect which I like.

    Also I've been varnishing them and framing without glass. I can't tell you what a difference this makes. My NO-GLASS drawings sell so much quicker than mine under glass and just the ability to see the pigments and strokes up close and without glare makes me happy.

    Anyway - thanks for the write-up Katherine, I'm glad you like the support so much too.


  5. Ampersand Pastelbord is the perfect surface for me. It has the perfect tooth, I can use a wet underpainting on it with NO warping, it takes layers and layers of pastels, and is easily framed. It doesn't get much better than that!!


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