Thursday, March 08, 2007

Abrasive Supports for Pastels & Coloured Pencils #1

Christmas in Cheshire
available via the Art for UK Youth North 2007 exhibition in April)
5" x 15", coloured pencils on Art Spectrum Colourfix

copyright Katherine Tyrrell

I really like making a mark on an abrasive support when developing artwork involving either pastels or coloured pencils. So how come I've not done an overview about abrasive supports before? This post begins to remedy that problem and completes with a second post tomorrow.

Why use abrasive supports for pastels and coloured pencils?
I use an abrasive support for pastels because I find it invariably gives me much greater control over my soft pastel sticks. Adhesion is also very much better than when pastel is used on paper. Abrasive supports vary as to how much pigment can be laid down before the tooth is 'full' - some have such a good grip they positively eat soft pastel sticks.

The way I use my coloured pencils on abrasive supports is very similar to the way I use pastels. The only real difference seems to be the amount of dust produced and how fast the pencils get eaten!

Overall abrasive boards and papers provide good quality support for various ways of working. Whether an artist's approach is realism or impressionism, whether they underpaint using water or solvents or not, the range of supports on offer can cater for every preference.

Views by other artists using pastels are provided in responses given to a a survey of what type of brand of pastel paper people prefer which is currently being conducted in the Pastel Talk sub-forum of the Wet Canvas Pastels Forum. At the time of writing this post and with 35 responses in, Art Spectrum Colourfix is way out in front with Wallis Paper coming second. However note that not all types of support have actually been included and of course the survey is limited to the members of WC. However, it's very noticeable that both Canson Mi Teintes and Fabriano Tiziano pastel papers are both trailing a long way behind the abrasive supports.

Types of Abrasive Supports
This is a list of the different types of abrasive support that I've used or know about
  • Ampersand Pastelbord
  • Art Spectrum Colourfix.
  • Ersta Sanded Pastel Paper
  • Jack Richeson Premier Pastel Paper
  • Sennelier la Carte Pastel (previously known as Rembrandt Pastel Board)
  • Sansfix
  • Wallis Paper
In addition to this it's possible to make your own abrasive supports using pumice or marble dust and this will be covered in a future blog post. My Squidoo lens Pastels - Resources for Artists contains links to various types of supports - and a link to the two blog posts will be added when published.

I'm going to do the first three supports today and the second half tomorrow. Quotes which follow are all from the Dakota Pastels website.

Ampersand Pastelbord
Archival Pastelbord is produced on 1/8” tempered hardboard. The coating is marble dust in an acrylic polymer emulsion that is hand sprayed on a tinted clay surface. This produces a rigid panel that allows extensive working and layering of pastels and is especially good for wet techniques. The portability of Pastelbord makes it great for working on location or when traveling. Four colors are available.
Note that pastelbord was omitted from the choice offered by the survey - which attracted comments from fans.

The coating is pH neutral and non-yellowing and this combined with the quality of the boards on which the coating is laid makes pastelbord a truly permanent museum quality surface. Available in Gray, Green, Sand and White.

The major problem with this support is that it's not available in the UK! I got a sample of pastelbord while in the USA last year and I'm hugely impressed with it for use with CP. It's great to have a proper board and one that is very well made and archival as well. This Ampersand Pastelbord blog post provides a lot of detail about its technical specifications and describes it use with CP. I note that pastel artists also seem to love it and I'd have certainly used pastel with it if I'd more than one board. I'm just trying to work out the economics of a shipment from Dick Blick!

Art Spectrum Supertooth and Colourfix
Products appear to vary depending on which country you live in. The following quotes from the Dakota pastels webbsite relate to the Supertooth and the Standard Colourfix products respectively.
Colourfix SuperTooth Painting boards have a more aggressively ‘toothy’ surface than the standard Art Spectrum Colourfix papers. SuperTooth is made by coating 500gm, acid-free, archival watercolor boards with a specially formulated clear acrylic primer mixed with silica particles. The clear coating allows the natural warm white color of the board to show through and the rigidity of the heavyweight board provides a stout working surface. The surface of this paper is quite coarse and aggressive to hold many layers of pastel. It can be under painted with any medium.
ArtSpectrum Colourfix papers are produced on acid-free 300gm watercolor paper. Art Spectrum Pastel Primer is screen printed on the paper surface, leaving a border of approximately 1/2” on all sides. The acrylic base primer is lightfast, has a deep tooth and can handle many different mediums, extensive reworking and over painting. 3 sizes are available.
Colourfix is made by Art Spectrum - an Australian firm which I always seem to think of as nice and friendly. Maybe it's their website (which details all the colours available in nice big cells)?
  • Pros: Papers/boards come in a number of different colours / weights / sizes - plus all primer colours are available in 250ml pots plus Black, White and Clear also in 1 litre tubs so you can make your own supports. All the colours in pot/tub form can be mixed to make new shades. Colourfix is great for use with either Pastels or CP. Many of Fine Line Artist friends have used and like Colourfix (or Pastelbord) for their coloured pencil and pastel work. People using both pastels and penculs like it a lot - but it also has lots of fans amongst artists who just use pastels. Colourfix has a nice range of colours (see the website) - you need to test them to work out your favourite colours - but bear in mind they will take underpainting. Personally I don't think colourfix takes as many layers with pastels as some other supports - but I guess this experience will vary between people as everybody as their own way of working. Papers are available in:
    • 340gsm Colourfix 240mm x 320mm (9" x 12") - All Colours.
    • 340gsm Colourfix 700mm x 1000mm (28" x 40") - Blue Haze, Elephant, Rose Grey, Sand, Soft Umber & Whte.
    • 1200gsm Colourfix 500mm x 700mm and 700mm x 1000mm - Blue Haze, Elephant, Rose Grey, Sand, Soft Umber.
  • Cons: Colourfix can be very difficult to get hold of in the UK except via online ordering (I get mine from Heaton Cooper) but doing this article means I have now located a store not too far away that I can visit and which I will tell you about after I've visited it and cleaned out its stock of plein air boards!. I've only ever seen it before in an art supply store in the USA - but they didn't have any left after I left the store either!
Ersta Sanded Pastel paper
The German manufacturer of Ersta has resumed production of the P400 grit paper. Ersta has a uniform machined surface with a velvety grip that produces a tight edge and holds layers of pastel without clogging. The backing paper of this commercial product is not pH neutral.
I've never ever used this - and I think I've only ever seen it once - and it didn't appeal. But by then I'd been exposed to coloured supports and that's what I'd grown to like. I know it has its fans but I have to say I'm not keen on the lack of a Ph neutral backing.

More tomorrow!

Note: For more details about the charity which will benefit from the sale of the above work see Monday's blog post and this link to Art for UK Youth North 2007. Every penny of commission from the sale of the painting benefits this charity. The view is a particular favourite of mine being the view down to the river and its the valley which I used to see from my bedroom in my parent's old house in Cheshire.

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10 comments: said...

WOW! Katherine, that snowy landscape is STUNNING! I love the horizontal format, and the colors!, and the the composition - it's perfect. I wish I could see it in person. Good luck with the exhibit it April.

Making A Mark said...

Thanks Belinda. I have to tell you this is one occasion when the John Singer Sargent project really paid off big time. I needed to get a nortern landscape done and had been saving this reference up for ages. I thought I'd finished it but JSS sat on my shoulder and bawled in my ear to go and sort out my big shapes! So I went back in - sorted out the foreground and this is what happened!

Casey Klahn said...

I agree re: the snowy LS. It's hard to turn out a good one with this much snow - you did it.
My chum, Sheila Evans (PSA), of Spokane (local to me) happens to be the painter who did the flowers for the Dakota Art website banner and catalog.
My fav is La Carte, second is Wallis Museum, and I also value the Ampersand.

Casey Klahn said...

I wanted to add this. The support that one chooses can be so linked to the pastel that is being used, and the technique.
I like Wallis much more for detailed work, and for layer upon layered studies. It just keeps going and going without clogging up.
But, for scumbling and fresh effects (painterly, perhaps) I like La Carte. But, when I am using La Carte, I usually am pretty sure of where I am going with the work.
Also, if I wish to use a Schminke pastel, I'll likely choose Wallis. If I want to use Diane Townsends, I will use La Carte. The reasons are based on how soft the sticks are. The softest stick, like Schminke, wants to fill the tooth quickly, you see.
For you abstractionists out there, consider Diane Townsend's sanded paper (Dakota Art). I feel that there's no better pastel support for abstraction than this paper, which is Rives BFK with oxide added (I think).

Casey Klahn said...

Schmincke is the proper spelling. Sorry.

Making A Mark said...

Thanks for the contributions Casey - you and I should go pastelling together - we use the same materials!

The second one is an ace contribution and I was proposing to write something similar as a wrap up for tomorrow's post and will still do so - but will also point them back to your contribution and comments here.

vivien said...

that's a lovely study of light on the landscape

Robyn Sinclair said...

Beautiful snowscape, Katherine. I think it is time to ask you (as well as Maggie) how you manage to achieve all you do!

Howard Blumenthal said...


Cool idea, but I wish you would tell us:
1. What the paper is good for.
2. What it's not so good for.

Your negative comments seem to be limited to each paper's availability in the UK. Not very useful for those of us who don't live in the UK...

Making A Mark said...

Howard - there are two parts to this topic - as indicated and linked. You also need to look at the second post which comments on other abrasive surfaces and certainly highlights negative comments quite apart from those which relate to what is available in the UK.

As I've already indicated different people will always like different supports for different reasons. What I like to use and what you like to use are probably quite different. However my overall preference is for using abrasive surfaces and I'm really interested in just how abrasive they really are; whether they can take water and/or solvents on their surface, whether they can be cut to different sizes and shapes and whether they are of archival quality with lightfast colours. I've tried to provide this info in the two posts - and indicated what might present as problems for some people.

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