One of the methods pastel artists often use to place an initial drawing on their pastel surface is to use a graphite pencil. On a sanded surface—like Wallis, UArt and Art Spectrum—the graphite pencil is capable of a variety of lines. The marks flow easily and, by varying hand pressure, a multitude of effects can be produced. Since drawing is capable of producing lines—the one thing that doesn’t exist in nature—it is important to keep the mindset of a painter. Painters traditionally rely on shapes of value and color to define the painting instead of the line of the draftsman (another topic in itself). One way of keeping the attitude of a painter is to use a brush and make things soluble. Whether by spreading pastel with a wet solution, or a watercolor underpainting, a wet start helps to set up a painterly aesthetic before the application of dry pastel.
One means for combining graphite and a wet brush is to use one of the recently introduced water-soluble graphite pencils. These are available from a few manufacturers. The one I have the most experience with is Derwent, a British company with a reputation for artist grade materials. The pencil version is called Watersoluble Sketching. A solid graphite pencil/stick is available called Watersoluble GRAPHitone. Both are produced in various degrees of hardness, producing soft to harsh tones. These products are ideal for line and wash sketches as well as value understudies (see me June, 15, 2009 blog post on notan sketches).
If your surface is capable of handling water and is not prone to wrinkling (I work on mounted pastel paper surfaces to alleviate this issue), applying a drawing with either Watersoluble Sketching or GRAPHitone pencils and setting it with water can produce a painterly notan value understudy in advance of pastel applciation. Even though the graphite can be lifted with the addition of water, the act of making it wet helps to settle it into the surface, allowing for less interference with the color application. An additional advantage is that these pencils are easily sharpened using a regular pencil sharpener; sometimes less easily done with pastel pencils. Experiment on your pastel surface of choice and explore the limitless possibilities of these products. They may be the perfect marriage of drawing and painting you have been looking for.