Paper for pastel painting
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    Paper for pastel painting

    Hello I was just wondering what paper people use for soft pastel works. Normal, toothy paper seems pretty limited in what it can hold for layers.

    I saw there are sanded papers you can buy, but they seem pretty pricey. So I looked up some recipes to make your own, but I can't imagine that it is a lot cheaper. It seemed to involve mixing gesso with pumice or marble powder and sponging that on your paper. But I can't think of many papers that wouldn't buckle with that treatment. Would canvas work as a surface for it? Or maybe masonite would be cheaper.

    I'm really not sure how to proceed so I would love some advice. Thank you for looking

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    For finished work I think watercolor paper might do well. That stuff can take some abuse and gesso should sit well on it if you go that route.

    I'd also think heavier drawing papers would do well, such as bristol.

    Canvases and hardboards wouldn't be too bad of an idea either.

    If you wanna save some cash you can re-use your paper/canvas/boards by using the flip-side and by gessoing over old work and starting anew.

    For watercolor paper, I'd imagine 140 lbs (300 gsm) weight paper would do the trick. You might even be able to thin out your pastel work with some medium at that weight (it's designed to hold up to being soaked, but I'm not sure what turp or other non-water mediums would do to the paper). If you want heavier, the weights go all the way up to 300 lbs (600 gsm) but that tends to get pretty expensive.

    Look for rough textured paper as well, that's gonna be as toothy as you can get.

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    Canson Mi Teintes Paper is what I have used thus far (the smooth side with the sticker). I think Golden makes a grainy gesso that you can apply if you need some tooth (although you may need to stretch it as you would with watercolor paper with gum tape), but only my teacher has done so thus far. Also, I will recommend NuPastels if you aren't set on a brand of pastels. They're already rectangular if you want that fine, linear aspect to your drawings.

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    Over the years I have tried many substrates for soft pastels. For years I used Strathmore because it was the best thing I could find at the time. It's about the same as the Canson for soft pastel, but cheaper.

    What I finally settled on about fifteen years ago is rough newsprint. Nothing is kinder to my finger tips! Regular newsprint will not work, nor will any slick paper - the pastel just slides off.

    The rough newsprint has a wonderful tooth that grabs hold of the pastel particles and keeps them nicely. Not only that, but the texture is perfect for those luscious blends and gradations of tone and shade that just give you goose bumps.

    Water color paper is rough on a macro level, but going down a little to where the pastel powder gets intimate, it's actually quite slick. I have at times been forced to use water color paper for pastel work, but it was always a battle.

    The only thing you have to be careful with when using newsprint are using cheap pastels on them. If the milling is bad, or they've glazed over with age or dampness, you can end up scratching or tearing the paper. It's happened to me a couple of times over the years.

    Also, it's made with the Kraft process, so it will turn yellow and brown with age. The pastels won't of course (again, if you use high quality - good pigments, not dyes). In fact, good pastels will last longer then anything, because the fillers in pastels are also inorganic ( mostly - there will be a tiny amount of binder such as gum arabic or something synthetic like a high molecular weight polyacrylate). I suppose a high quality water color would share this virtue, but because in the case of water colors there really is no filler to speak of, the pigments are entirely dependent on the substrate. As long as the substrate lasts, the water color lasts. Pastels can outlast the initial degradation of the substrate at least.

    Oil on canvas, as much as I love the stuff, is only good for two or three hundred years before it starts to rot, crack, turn brown or some combination, because of the reaction of the linseed or other polymerized oil with uv, oxygen and the linen or cotton fibers.

    On the few occasions where I do work for people who know or care about archival quality, I use a French paper. I believe it's, "Reves", or "Reeves" or something like that. I know right where it sits on the shelf at Binders, but I can't be sure of the name. It's pricey. It has all the same wonderful qualities that rough newsprint has, but it also is museum quality and it's heavier, which is wonderful. It's wonderful stuff!

    Substrates like felt or velvet are nice, but the edges and blends tend to be grainy because that stuff has too much tooth. I also stay away from any of the sanded boards. They chew through your pastels like an industrial chipper, which means you spend a fortune on colors for every painting.

    They are also so very unkind to your finger tips. This is not a casual consideration at all to a serious pastelist. You know how important the touch and feel of the pastels on the paper are.

    Hope this helps.

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    Thanks so much for everyone's input. I really appreciate hearing some advice on this subject.

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    Art Spectrum makes a product called Colourfix Primer that you can paint onto paper to roughen the surface, or you can buy sheets of paper or stiffer boards already coated with it.

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  11. #7
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    Some sugar paper is archival and is great to use with pastels. Just check out the manufacture beforehand. In the US it's called construction paper.


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