Painting Surfaces for Pastel | The New Kids

Pastel is unique among fine art media, because it doesn’t have an inherent binder to hold it onto a surface like all other forms of painting. This difference is one of the reasons it gets classified as a drawing medium in some circles. Pastelists, though, most often associate their intent with the act of painting. While the end result of painting with pastel may visually resemble binder-based paints, it does rely on one component that they do not. It requires enough tooth and surface density for adhesion.


This pastel was painted on the new Multimedia Pastel Panel surface utilizing a pastel and watercolor underpainting. A new friend has been found!

As discussed in last week’s post, most pastel surfaces can be divided into two categories: fibrous and sanded. Depending on the general makeup of the surface’s tooth, they can be further categorized as soft or course. Soft surfaces allow for smooth pastel application and are gentler to an artist’s hands when blending, but these may not accept as much pastel. Coarser surfaces, on the other hand, tend to hold thick, multiple applications of pastel more easily, but they can be brutal to the skin if blending techniques are used.

The New Kids | 5 New Painting Surfaces for Pastels: As pastel’s popularity has increased, manufacturers have expanded surface choices to keep pace. Each offering presents a different surface quality, providing a varied tactile experience for the artist. Here are a few that I have put to use:

Art Spectrum Suede: Don’t be confused by the name, the surface is not made of suede fabric. Instead, Art Spectrum created this smoother/softer surface to complement their other pastel surfaces (Coluorfix and Supertooth), which tend to be much coarser. While softer in nature, the surface still allows for generous pastel application. The “Suede” surface is available on paper- and board-weight substrates and in eight colors.

Canson Mi-Teintes Touch: Canson Mi-Tientes paper has been a staple of the pastel community for generations. Their new “Touch” surface is offered on an acid-free paper or board substrate in 14 popular Mi-Tientes colors. The micro fine abrasive coating is screen printed on to the substrate, creating a very even sanded surface. It is toothy enough to facilitate pastel layering, yet soft enough to allow for fine detail work. The capability of accepting various solvents further distances it from its predecessor.

Pastel Mat: Produced by the Clairfontaine paper mills in France, this pastel surface demonstrates a velvety smooth feel, and yet is capable of holding multiple layers of pastel without the necessity of fixative application. It’s produced on an acid-free substrate in a variety of subtle color tones and available in pads as well as single sheets of paper. Its initial velvety touch is deceptive and its true nature is best discovered with actual pastel application.

UART: This reincarnation of the legendary Ersta sandpaper, once popular with pastelists, now comes in a wide range of surface grits from 800 (the smoothest) to 280 (the coarsest) on a PH Neutral, acid free paper. The range of surface grits manifests a soft warm tan surface tone. If you liked Ersta back in the day but shied away due to the acid properties of the paper, UArt is the answer.

Multimedia Pastel Panel: With the recent introduction of a silk-screened grit coating to the smooth side of Multimedia Panels, a whole world of pastel possibilities has been unleashed. Ultra lightweight and less than 1/32 of an inch thick, this acid-free paper and resin-based white surface is impervious to mold and mildew. Since the paper will not warp, it can accept a multitude of underpainting techniques.

Pastel may be our medium but the surface acts as our vehicle for painting. A good way to experiment with a range of pastel surface offerings is to take advantage of the “Paper Samplers” available from Dakota Art Pastels. After giving them a test drive, find a comfortable fit and then commit.




Save Big in the Spring Sale at the North Light Shop!

Subscribe to Pastel Journal magazine

Watch pastel art workshops on demand at ArtistsNetwork.TV

Get unlimited access to over 100 art instruction ebooks.

Online seminars for fine artists

Find pastel painting downloads, books, videos & more


You may also like these articles: