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by Charlotte Herczfeld

Papers can be divided into four major categories, and then we can add the category of other surfaces.


  • Sanded papers, with a hard gritty surface, added to it. They can be coarser or finer.

  • Papers with a soft non-abrasive surface added to it.

  • Plain pastel papers, where the paper itself is the surface.

  • Other papers, as watercolour/aquarelle papers, charcoal paper, printing papers.

  • Other surfaces, as for example Linen canvas

Sanded papers


Normally, the hard grit is either mixed into the binder, or strewn on the binder. The former tend to have a less deep tooth as ArtSpectrum Colourfix has, while the latter can be rather aggressive, like Fisher 400. They both hold many layers of pastel. The more aggressive the tooth, the more layers they take. The sandpapery papers tend to be sand-coloured, while those with grit mixed into gesso can be had in many colours.


Softer surfaces


Here we find papers like Clairefontaine PastelMat, Sennelier PastelCard (LaCarte), and velour papers. All of them take many layers of pastel, but the only one who allows for early blending is PastelCard, and it is the paper that holds a hard edge best, the others tend to give softer edges. All hold on to harder pastels well,but the velour papers tend to not be amenable to finish layers with very soft pastels, as that layer may simply slide off. These papers are made in many colours.

Pastel papers


The structure of these papers is had by letting the paper pulp dry on cloth or a metal grid. The structures of these get indelibly imprinted in the paper. Papers of the type Ingres have a striped pattern, while Canson Mi-Teintes has a structure like honeycombs.The papers have structure, but little tooth.Both sides of the paper can be used for painting, and one side is usually more smooth than the other. Unless you use fixative, they do not take many layers of pastels. In my opinion, these are not the best papers for beginners, but in the hands of a seasoned painter they perform very well. These papers come in many colours.Some of these papers have a too pronounced structure, which can be sanded down with ordinary sandpaper. Then the paper will perform a bit more like velour, and take a few layers more than the untreated paper does.

Generally, the thicker the paper is, the better it holds on to pastel.


Other papers


They may be just what you need, for your style. I recommend that you experiment with different papers. Generally, look for papers with some degree of tooth, as it is more important than structure.

Pastel pigments tend to rest on the top of structure. So a cold -pressed rough watercolour paper will give you a fight, unless you do a wet underpainting first, and then you can create beautiful effects with the pastels where the underpainting shines through. Pastels are a wonderful way to save failed watercolour paintings. To gain more tooth, you can prime the watercolour painting with a clear gesso with some grit in it


Linen canvas

Often they come with gesso already applied, and they can be more or less structured. Some artists apply a pastel primer over the existing gesso, to gain more tooth


 Tooth, and Structure


Tooth is how well the paper ‘bites’ and grabs onto the pastel pigments. Tooth is in the texture of the surface, with its grains and spaces between grains. A deep tooth has deeper spaces. Compare with ordinary printer paper, which has virtually no tooth at all.


 Structure(can also be called texture) is the regular or irregular pattern of the surface of the paper.You can have a paper which gives a very smooth painting as the structure is minimal, but the tooth can be deep. And vice versa, a paper can have lots of structure, but little tooth.

Pastel papers and surface, an overview
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