With pastel it is important to consider the surface you work on. Pastel is diverse and is often thought of as both a sketching and painting medium. We prepare the surface, also know as “grounds” with this in mind.
Grounds can be tinted and textured. To tint merely rub in a pastel color evenly over the surface of the paper. Pay attention to the value and intensity of color. What is the mood or atmosphere you wish to convey? A light tint will be bright, a mid tone will be neutral and a dark shade will be more dramatic.
Buy tinted papers from the art store or do it yourself!
Color the paper with other media as well. Just make sure your paper is strong enough to handle these. Testing the paper out first is the way to go.
Semi-rigid support with clay gesso and stain of walnut ink.
Matt-board supports tinted with acrylic paint. Remember to tape down a flexible support if water is in the tinting media, so your paper will dry flat.
Textured (grounds) refers to the “grip” of the paper. The more grip, the more pastel the paper will hold. The more pastel the paper holds, the more rich layering and diverse mark making possible.
You can purchase very good quality sanded and impressed surfaces or you can do-it-yourself!
We are texturing our supports with several products; some made for pastel, others not.
These products are often used in painting but work for heavy duty pastel work also. You may need to venture into semi-rigid and rigid supports if you want to pile the texture on.
In the example below, linen fabric is adhered to the support with acrylic gel medium. You can also use any PH neutral glue like Elmers glue-all or bookbinders glue. Look for poly-vinyl acetate (PVA) glue. You’ll need to let the glue dry under pressure: Low tech solution: 30-50 lbs. of books. Higher tech: vacuum pressure.
From left to right: Linen on birch plywood, foam-core or gator-foam.
Bottom: Linen on gesso board.
To apply textured medium to the surface of the support, spread thin layers with minimal water added. Let dry, re-apply. Try to get an even coating each time unless you want strong directional brushstrokes to penetrate the pastel.
For this example I’m using a 2 ply Strathmore museum board which is an acid free, 100% rag, archival product. It is heavy enough to use with acrylic media.
Fully dry Golden Garnet Gel with a test of soft pastel.
Look in the hardware store for supplies as well. Just make sure the products won’t yellow and disintegrate in 2 years…
Joint compound creates a soft, absorbent surface. It is made with gypsum, a chalky substance great for grip.
If the compound layer is thick enough, you can impress textures into it while still wet.
For a really coarse surface try lava or pumice gel. If you opt for this you will most likely be working the pastel in with brushes and using wet media to push the color in and help it stick. This includes: alcohol, watercolor, and fixative.
The blue teacup is an example of a coarse pumice gel ground. Unusual and very “tactile”.
Different grounds can work with different subject matter from rough textured rocks, to soft textured clouds and everything in between.
Here is a sampling of several different surfaces. Make one for your own reference.
Left: Joint Compound. Central blue from top to bottom: Golden Grounds for Pastel, Coarse Pumice Gel, sandpaper roughed-up surface. Far right, top to bottom: Tintable Texture Paste from Nova Color, Golden Light Molding Paste (like joint compound), and Golden Fiber Paste.
And now we are ready to start pastelling!