As marvelous as the medium of pastel is for painting on location, there’s one issue that has to be addressed to make sure our efforts survive: Transportation. Small travel-sized pastel palettes have made life much easier for plein air painters, as has the introduction by most major pastel manufacturers of half-stick assortments of their most popular colors. Lightweight travel easels and accessories that accommodate our needs have also become available. But at the end of a painting day, the most important consideration we face is how to transport a painting—how to get our efforts home safely.
In the 40 plus years that I have faced this pastel transportation dilemma, I have tried many methods. Through a lot of trial and error and keen observation over the shoulders of fellow pastelists, I have come up with a system that is working very well, is relatively lightweight, and damage-proof.
Surface Support: No matter what pastel surface is being utilized, it is advisable to have it attached to a rigid support that is larger than the painting image size. My preference is to have a border of between 3 and 4 inches. This helps when painting on location by separating the painting from its visual surroundings, makes attachment to the easel simpler, allows for better access to the edges when applying pastel, and provides a space for gripping the painting without fear of damage. While this is especially helpful when working outdoors where the luminous effects of natural light can be quite difficult to counteract, it is also useful in the classroom or studio. The principles of the theory of simultaneous contrast, which have been frequently discussed in this blog, are the reason. The lesson being: whatever tone the painting is next to will have a visual effect on how we perceive it.
Back in the day, most drawing boards (surfaces used as a support) were made of wood. It was rigid, could be sealed to repel moisture, and in most cases was warp resistant. The drawback was its weight. Carrying a couple of moderate sized wooden boards for a day of painting might not seem like much until time to head back to the car, not to mention packing them in a suitcase for air travel, especially with the current limitations placed on luggage. Fome-Cor board—a strong, lightweight, polystyrene foam clad with clay-coated paper—seemed the perfect support when it was first introduced. Sadly, exposure to sunlight and water made it prone to warping. To rectify this, Gatorfoam Board, a similar product but clad in solid wood-fiber veneer, was introduced. Widely available in white and black, and occasionally in a natural wood tone, it is the perfect surface support for pastel painting and transportation. When working on location in extremely sunlit situations, I prefer the black. It is less reflective, easier on the eyes, and helps to keep my value/tone pastel selections inline. In the studio when working under moderate illumination, my preference is white.
Next week, in part 2 of a three-part “Pastel Painting Transportation” series of blog posts, I will address protective sheets, tapes, and additional advice on getting pastel paintings home safely.
MORE RESOURCES FOR ARTISTS
• Read Richard McKinley’s latest column “Watch Your Tone” about the importance of your painting’s surface tone in the new August issue of Pastel Journal on sale now in the North Light Shop.
• Pastel Landscapes E-Mag! Discover a master pastelist’s tips for painting the landscape in our special e-mag collection, “Albert Handell: Essential Lessons in Pastel Painting,” available to download for only $2.99!