By its very nature pastel is a dusty medium. Depending on the brand of pastel you work with and the surface you choose to apply it to, dust can be minor or heavy. Harder, less toothy surfaces tend to produce more dust, while sanded surfaces tend to hold more of the pastel particles. These minute pastel fragments are often toxic and can be hazardous to your health. Use caution to avoid inhaling the pigment particles.
- Work with your paintings in an upright position, allowing the dust to settle gently to the bottom of the painting.
- Work in a well-ventilated studio workspace; cross ventilation is very helpful if a mechanical means of pulling air away from the easel is not utilized.
- Use a damp towel to clean up around the painting area. A damp towel will hold the dust instead of stirring it up. This is also useful for wiping your hands frequently while painting.
- Avoid the bad habit of blowing on the pastel to dislodge the dust. This removes the pastel that has not been well adhered to the surface but also makes it airborne. If you must blow, take it outside and immediately stand back.
- To better collect the dust below your painting, create a trough, something to hold the dust until it can be dealt with. Otherwise dust will fall down onto your workspace, creating a considerable mess.
- If you plan on disposing of the dust at the end of the painting, wide strips of tape with the sticky side facing up can catch the dust, making cleanup very convenient. If you want to collect the dust, a hard trough is better suited (see the 11/26/07 blog about what to do with leftover pastel).
In my studio, I use a formed metal trough that runs across the bottom lip of the easel tray (see photo above). This collects the dust that I carefully scrap into a container. When traveling or working on location, aluminum foil is a good choice. It is easily folded and stored in a plastic zip-lock sandwich bag, taking up no room in your travel case. To attach the aluminum, or reverse tape, trough to your painting surface, adhere it to the back and fold it to the front. If tape is used for the trough make sure the sticky side faces up. Often a folded strip of mat-board is useful, making the trough more rigid. Experiment to find what works best for your needs, and then get into the habit of using good dust hygiene.