Monday, June 18, 2012

Pastel Paper and Pastel Boards

I've been reorganising my art supplies recently.  It helped to make me realise how much it's possible for one artist to buy if you haven't got your art supplies as well organised as they could be!

Having acquired an IKEA Alex Drawer Unit for paper storage I've been surveying my stock of paper and boards for working with coloured pencils and pastels.  The new unit has made for a huge improvement in knowing what I've got.

Having unearthed all my pastel grounds from where they'd been hiding I've now got a strong itch to get back to working with pastels again!

So far as the pastel grounds are concerned I've tried a fair few different types of pastel paper and pastel boards over the years but always felt that I could do with a better understanding of how the supports vary.

One of the ways I understand art materials better is to get them all lined up together and then systematically review them - looking for similarities and differences.

I've started to do this by creating a new site - Pastel Papers and Pastel Grounds.  It's very much the type of site which I wished I'd been able to review when I first started using pastels.  The new website provides:
I'd be very happy to hear from pastel artists who have reviewed different pastel papers and pastel boards and are happy to share their views - and generate a little bit of traffic to their blogs!

I'm also really interested to find out how the voting turns out - and what turns out to be the most popular pastel ground!

When I started out, it wasn't long before I began to appreciate that the type of ground you used made an absolutely HUGE difference to the way the pastel adhered and what it ended up looking like (Thank you Bill Creevy!). That's when I wanted to know more about the different types of pastel support and began to experiment with different types of support - before I started working more with coloured pencils.

I meet a lot of people who say they work with pastels - but in fact they only seem to work with pastel pencils and have never ever tried to work on anything than pastel paper of the type found in most art shops. To me they're missing out on a wonderful experience as all of us who have acquired messy hands will vouch for.

I know that I had what felt like an absolute epiphany when I started using Rembrandt Pastel Card (no longer available but now reincarnated as Sennelier La Carte Pastel (Pastel Card). Suddenly I had a surface which gripped the pastel and made it much easier to get saturated colour and to show the marks I intended to make. Plus working big and using the whole arm opened up a whole new way of working! Plus I learned the hard way not to get it wet.

Later on, I began to see the development of grounds which assumed that the normal way of working would include a watercolour or acrylic underpainting prior to the application of the pastel and there are now a number which offer this functionality.

[Update] I was also sceptical about the ability of watercolour paper to take pastel - until I did a workshop with Sally Strand on Cape Cod - see The best ever workshop - pastel painting with Sally Strand and my painting on Saunders Waterford NOT 140lb

It's also interesting to see which brands remain year after year and which are those which come and go (and which are those which get a new name every year!)

Shelves of Sennelier Pastel Card - formerly known by a number of other names!
as photographed in the Sennelier Shop in Paris in 2009 (the one opposite The Louvre!)
You can find out more about pastels and other papers and supports in two related websites:



  1. The Pastel Guild of Europe ( in their recent May 2012 issue, covers pastel surfaces in detail. For my work, I use Sennelier La Carte and Art Spectrum Pastel Primer applied to smooth canvas (Frederix Knickerbocker). Surface is absolutely key for those who paint in pastel.

  2. Yes the pastel scribbler (free to download) follow the link above, covers papers and grounds. I did an article on sennelier la carte, that is my current favourite


  3. Ryan - please send me the URL for the online page where I can find the review so I can consider it for inclusion in the site

  4. OK - I've found it - it's actually the June issue not May.

    I've included a link to it under the section about Comparative Reviews of Pastel Papers and Other Supports

  5. Katherine, this is a very interesting topic. I'm looking forward to following up the leads above. I use white Colourfix paper, coloured with acrylic wash if needed, for soft pastel work and coloured Pastelmat card for my pastel pencils. I must try the Sennelier pastel card. Can you wet it?

    Jenni Twidle

  6. NO! absolutely not you will ruin the surface or your stared painting.The Cork covering comes off leaving you with the card underneath.Be careful when you blow Pastel off too!

  7. NO! absolutely not you will ruin the surface or your stared painting.The Cork covering comes off leaving you with the card underneath.Be careful when you blow Pastel off too!

  8. Thanks John - must have missed this comment at the time. I emphatically endorse what Johns say

    Pack up fast if using this plein air and it starts to spit with rain!


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