Creating Colored Pastel Surfaces

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A variety of colored surfaces and Colourfix Black and Clear Primer.

In last week’s blog post, I discussed how working on various value and color surface choices could produce exciting outcomes. After deciding on a texture, value and color for your pastel painting surfaces, you may find it not readily available. Even with the ever-expanding availability of new pastel surfaces, finding exactly the right combination can often prove frustrating. When the perfect combination is not easily found, existing pastel surfaces can be altered, or you can make your own homemade surfaces that allow you to control the texture, color and value.

If you wish to purchase ready-made pastel surfaces, there are many currently available. Clairefontaine Rhodia’s “PastelMat” and Ampersand’s “Pastelbord” offer fine choices. When it comes to black or rich dark offerings, and Art Spectrum’s “Colourfix” and Jack Richeson’s “Premium Pastel Surfaces” are many artists’ favorites. Both offer a variety of color and value combinations. Richeson’s surface has a toothier texture and is available on heavyweight Paper, Hardboard, and Gator Foam (a popular choice among plein air artists, due to its strength and lightweight nature).

If you are happy with your lighter/white surface but wish it were available in a different color/value combination, try toning it yourself. A thin application of pastel spread with rubbing alcohol often provides a desirable result with little effort. Make sure to test this in advance of committing to a large sheet of paper. Some acrylic based surfaces are susceptible to the effects of rubbing alcohol. A light spray of workable fixative will add additional durability to the tone, allowing for more technique opportunities. If the surface can tolerate water, a liquid pigment product, often utilized for airbrush techniques, can be a good choice. These have great covering ability with minimal threat of filling the tooth of the surface. Be cautious with acrylic-based paints. They can easily fill the surface tooth when not properly diluted.

If you wish to produce your own surface, start by substituting artist grade acrylic paint for the binder in your grit recipe (see my blog post from April 7, 2008 or my article download “Supports, Grounds & Underpaintings”). My recipe for a homemade black surface is to start with black gesso, available from Golden Acrylic Company or Utrecht Company. Fine pumice powder and water are added to make the desired consistency. Art Spectrum’s “Colourfix Primer” is also available in their full range of surface colors. These primers, along with homemade grit primers, can be applied in a variety of methods to produce a multitude of textures.

With a little effort, you can fine-tune any surface to exactly the color and value you desire, allowing you to be in control of your own process and as creative as you wish.

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