Keeping the Pastel Surface Flat | Techniques for Stretching and Mounting Paper

Since the time of French artist Edgar Degas, pastelists have been experimenting with a variety of experimental techniques that may employ fixatives, solvents, and mixed-media. One of the most popular solvents that pastelists use, and one that is happily free of health concerns—is water. Since pastel sticks are water-soluble and most contain high degrees of pigmentation, they can easily be liquefied, producing beautiful underpainting effects. The disadvantage of water when compared to other chemical solutions is its density. Depending on the fibrous content of the pastel surface, water can make it swell, creating an irregular wavy surface when dry. This makes the application of pastel more difficult and contributes to a less than satisfying final appearance. To remedy this, fibrous surfaces require stretching or securely mounting to a rigid backing board. Here’s how:

Surface Prep for Pastel Paper

Begin by analyzing your paper. Pastel papers can be placed into two categories: those that are solely fiber-based and those that have an additional outer abrasive layer. The best fiber-based papers are 100% cotton rag. They are generally multi-purpose papers suitable for various media, including printmaking and watercolor painting, and are commonly available in 90-, 140- and 300-pound weights (thickness of the paper). The 90-pound weight is not recommended for wet underpainting techniques and rigorous work due to its thinness; 140-pound weight can easily be stretched using common practices employed by watercolor artists; and 300-pound weight can be used without stretching.

pastel paper surface preparation

This photo shows masking tape tabs applied to the back of a piece of 9×12 Wallis paper and then flipped over and attached to a Gatorfoam board with a pastel and water underpainting.

Among the papers available commercially that have an additional abrasive layer, one of the most popular is Wallis paper. For wet techniques, they recommend their museum-grade paper, which has a neutral-pH abrasive coating applied over a 100% cotton rag paper. To alleviate buckling when water is applied, they suggest a stretching procedure utilizing tape tabs. As per their instructions:

  • Start by applying 3-inch-long strips of 2-inch wide masking tape to the reverse side of the paper on all four corners. Allow for approximately 1/2-inch overhang beyond the paper. For larger sheets of paper (anything 24-inches and above) an additional tape tab should be applied to the center of each side.
  • Flip the paper over onto a drawing board (Gatorfoam boards work very well) and attach addition masking tape tabs to the exposed 1/2-inch.
  • Dampen the paper all over with water washes or mist (this can be done to the front or back). Wait a few minutes for the paper to slightly sag.
  • Lift the tape at the corners (two at a time) tugging gently from the center and reattach the tape to the board. Do this to all four corners and any center tabs. Keep the drawing board in a vertical position for the dry-down.  Note: The paper will not appear flat until it has thoroughly dried. The Wallis company recommends that you do not tug too hard (the paper will pull itself off the board when it dries), that you do not leave the paper in a horizontal position or apply weight to the surface as it dries, and that you do not apply tape all around the circumference of the paper (this creates added ripples).

Next week, I will review the mounting of pastel paper with a wet-adhesive or professional dry method.

Get more expert advice from Richard McKinley in his instructional videos. Watch a free preview here!



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2 thoughts on “Keeping the Pastel Surface Flat | Techniques for Stretching and Mounting Paper

  1. humancaptcha

    Iam not clear on this part of the instructions for alleviating buckling with wallis paper. “Lift the tape at the corners (two at a time) tugging gently from the center and reattach the tape to the board”. Can you explain this step further?