A New Surface for Pastels


Pastel field sketch painted on Pastelmat paper.

One of the pleasures of pastel is its ability to be placed on a wide array of surfaces, producing a variety of appearances. A couple of weeks ago, I was at Dakota Art Pastels in Mount Vernon, Wash., teaching a workshop. While there, I was introduced to a new pastel surface with fabulous possibilities. As I entered the warehouse for an afternoon of pastel indulgences, Robyn Williamson and Craig Lemley (owners of Dakota Art Pastels) asked me to try out a sample of a new paper called Pastelmat, which is being introduced in the U.S. by Ladd Forsline and Bernadette Ward of Colorfin in partnership with Armadillo Art and Craft.

The paper is milled by Clairfontaine of France and is available in a variety of colors and sizes. As I touched the surface, I thought: “This paper won’t work for my techniques; it’s too smooth and lacks the necessary tooth to hold the pastel for multiple pastel applications,” and as I glanced upward, I noticed a slight smile on Robyn and Craig’s faces and a hint of a twinkle in their eyes. “Go ahead; make some pastel marks before you judge the paper,” they encouraged. As pastel was placed to the surface, it was like magic. It grabbed the pastel, retaining a heavy bold indication of the stroke. Multiple applications of pastel could be added without any indication of the tooth being compromised. Trying to smudge the pastel produced no effect. The marks stayed in place. The feel of the paper was like a cross between velour and fine sandpaper.

Next, I wanted to see how it accepted water. Since my painting technique often relies on a watercolor underpainting, or the spreading of pastel with water, it was critical to see how it would respond. The paper accepted the water without a problem and didn’t wrinkle. Brilliantly colored underpaintings were easily produced on the white surface, and the application of pastel over the top was as before, velvety smooth.

Now they knew they had me hooked. The only thing left to ascertain was its archival properties. Happily, I can report that it is produced on an acid-free, 170-lb premium card stock, and is lightfast. Single sheets are available in eight subtle colors, including white and maize (a creamy antique white). Pads of the paper are available in three different sizes with two variations of color combinations and the paper is separated with individual sheets of glassine. The paper is now available at Dakota Art Pastels or 1-888-345-0067. You can also find out more at the Pastelmat website.

As the popularity of pastel continues to rise, so will the selection of ready-made surfaces for its application. Each of these surfaces has a unique personality, allowing artists to express themselves with a multitude of techniques. While there may not be one surface for everyone, Pastelmat is surely one I would recommend giving a chance. It has quickly become part of my favorites list.

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6 thoughts on “A New Surface for Pastels

  1. Debra Billet

    I used 2 sheets straight out of the pack and found each to have imperfections that would not take pigment at all (PanPastel) several were ‘wrinkles’ in the paper and another was a ‘pit’ about the size of a nail head. Nothing would adhere to these surfaces, not even Sharpie.
    Just wanting to let people know to test the entire surface for these defects (by light coating the entire surface with your medium) and avoid these areas if you are going to need detail. I didn’t find mine until well into my paintings and had to improvise the landscapes to have a tree or cloud or some other amorphous feature to mask the defects.

  2. michal

    Ordered tablets from Dakota…arrived in 6 days. Good service. Tried paper Plein Air set up. Humid and paper in whole tablet curled a bit, so used clamps. Good colors choices, surprisingly holds many layers of pastel, color stays put, can’t blend much dry first layers. Will try turpenoid, water next. Will fix to rigid backing, also. Very nice paper addition to options.

  3. Robert Sloan

    Hahaha! I wasn’t the only one who handled the sample and thought "Gee, this has some nice tooth for a non sanded paper." Uh huh. Riiiight… it is so fine that I can get incredibly tiny details but it holds good and strong like Colourfix. I have found my fine-grit surface with it.

    The colors are wonderful. Sienna is very rich and warm. Anthracite isn’t black but a lovely sparkling dark more like the coal it’s named for — it’s shimmery. All of the colors are a little shimmery. When I want some of the ground to show, these colors are fantastic. When I don’t, they will take all kinds of mediums.

    I love Art Spectrum Colourfix, it’s still my favorite but I now have two favorites. PastelMat is going to become a staple for me, for more than one medium. No fixative needed when using Pan Pastels, really nice about that. I’ll have to see if I can keep from fixing with sticks too, since it’d be wonderful to be able to keep the colors that pure.