Friday, June 12, 2009

Working with Pastels - Tips #1

Whenever you go to a Private View (see Exhibition review: The Pastel Society's 110th Annual Exhibition) I find that you always end up swapping tips about what media and supports people use and the various ways of working and framing.

Various works by Michael Norman PS
in The Pastel Society Exhibition

copyright the artists / photo copyright Katherine Tyrrell

Here are a few about working with pastels that I picked up - and offered - on Tuesday. It's as if it takes talking pastels to remind me of what I do and have done in the past!

I've never tried the vacuum cleaner one before....but I promised that I'd keep quiet about who gets the vacuum cleaner out!

Leave your pastels in fresh air to 'cure'

Leave pastels out in the air. Exposure to air causes them to dry out and the pastel 'cures' and hardens off. Some people use shelves (like oil painters), some people tack work to walls.

Protective paper for storage

We discussed different papers we use to protect pastel works when stored without a frame. You can use
  • glassine
  • sugar paper
  • thick tracing paper / layout paper
Getting rid of loose pastel prior to storage/ framing - use the vacuum cleaner

This is the one I've never done before but I'm definitely going to give it a try!

You can apparently vacuum up loose pastel by holding the nozzle just about the pastel work. Any loose pastel comes off with the suction.

Getting rid of loose pastel prior to storage/ framing - the hefty thwack

I'm a great advocate of taking my pastel support outside and giving it a great big whack on the back before using fixative or storage or framing. If you've got a lot of loose pastel you'll get a great cloud of pastel dust! Ideally do this at intervals while working - it saves grief later.

This one is much more difficult of course if you've already mounted your support on a board.

Produce a nap on mountboard

Wipe wet cloth over mountboard to produce a nap. (I'm just about to go and give that one a try for the first time!)

Use a watercolour or goauche base for pastels

Provide an underpainting for your pastels by using watercolour or goauche to provide an underpainting. You can read about how to also use watercolour paper with your underpainting in - The best ever workshop - pastel painting with Sally Strand

Note: Michael Norman told me that the three large pictures in the above photo were done on whole sheets of colourfix mounted on board. Unfortunately I forgot to ask which colours he favoured for his wonderful palette of estuarine colours!

Making a Mark reviews......


  1. I started using a vacuum when I realized I was blowing the pastel dust off a lot. It works well, and I assume is healthier than blowing. It picks up little hairs or fibers that cling to the painting very nicely. I've also used it to take off sections of pastel when I've changed my mind on what I'm doing, but I've only done that when I'm using suede matboard as a support.

  2. I've used the vacuum cleaner too - and prefer working with pastels over watercolour or gouache to using them alone :>)

    What puts me off is framing them - oh the times that I have to take the frame apart to clean yet another speck of pastel dust from the glass :>(

    I've vowed to let my framer take care of this in the future and not re-use frames and put them in myself - EVER AGAIN!

  3. I hope this means we are about to see you working in pastel again. The Ponds series in your pastels would be stunning.


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