True Grit | Creative Uses for Clear Pastel Grounds

Anyone who has read this Pastel Pointers blog knows that I’m a cheerleader for creative and new pastel techniques. As painting mediums go, pastel is one of the most versatile. Its only prerequisite is that there be enough surface abrasion for adhesion—the toothier the surface, the more layers of pastel that can be applied.

pastel pointers clear acrylic grounds

I created this 14×11 pastel underpainting by applying various pastels to the surface and wetting them with a brush and clear pastel ground. Additional texture was built up throughout the painting with clear pastel ground to add an impasto painterly quality to the anticipated final painting.

Surface Grit: The need for surface abrasion has lead pastelists to experiment with a multitude of fibrous papers, many of which are still being milled in the manner they were hundreds of years ago throughout Europe. When more abrasion was desired, various grit/glue combinations were applied as sizing, creating papers that compare to modern day commercial-grade sandpaper. Up until recently, many pastelists were inclined to use these sandpapers, but as more archival alternatives became available, the practice subsided. With the introduction of acrylic polymer emulsion, a more stable binder was found for the purpose of gluing grit to a substrate. This has allowed artists to create their own pastel grit concoctions utilizing a multitude of acrylic mediums and abrasive materials, such as pumice, rottenstone, silica and various other crystalline products.

Acrylic Grit Mixtures: Flexible by nature, acrylic allows for thick buildups of surface grit and the ability to affect the layer with textural brushwork without fear of it cracking and becoming loose. These acrylic grit mixtures can be tinted with acrylic colors to create a toned surface or left nearly clear, showing only the slight influence of the added gritty material. Popular commercial brands, Art Spectrum Colourfix Primer and Golden Acrylic Ground for Pastels, offer these acrylic grit mixtures for prepping pastel surfaces. Both are heavy bodied with the Art Spectrum Colourfix also being available in a variety of tones as well as clear. Clear Gesso, available from Liquitex and Art Alternatives brands, is another option. It provides a slightly smoother tooth.

Clear Acrylic Pastel Grounds: Clear acrylic pastel grounds can be placed over any surface tone or initial underpainting that can tolerate the application of a layer of acrylic. When it dries, what lies below will show through. This creates unlimited creative possibilities. Another method of utilizing clear acrylic pastel ground is to brush it into a layer of pastel. The pastel pigment will join with the acrylic emulsion creating a paint of sorts. Colors will darken when wetted; the artist will need to compensate for this. Once dry, a durable underpainting will be produced. Since it is acrylic, a multitude of painting media can be applied over the ground and subsequent pastel layers can be scrubbed nearly off with water or mineral spirits without affecting the pastel ground underpainting.

These clear pastel grounds also allow for sectional textural buildup, producing an impasto appearance than can rival an oil painting. The gentle raking of a soft pastel stick over these dried textural areas will deposit pigment only on the highpoints, accentuating the texture.

As technology provides a means, artists will find a way to put it to creative use. Clear acrylic pastel grit is one of those tools.



Look for Richard McKinley’s Pastel Pointers column on pastel palettes in the new August 2013 issue of Pastel Journal!

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