When it comes to sanded pastel papers there is a lot of choice and variety. Any beginning pastel painters would be forgiven for not knowing where to start. But sanded pastel papers are really the best papers for anyone wanting to creating anything more than a sketch. A heavy-weight paper with a decent amount of tooth (texture) will provide the painter with the possibility to layer, scumble, mix and, in some cases, use wet media as well. Sanded heavy-weight pastel papers can make all the difference in your art.
But which one to choose? You can read my earlier overview of the best pastel papers here. From there you can perhaps already figure out which one is best for you. But although I tried to describe each pastel paper, I don't go into much detail about how they all compare.
So in this article I hope to describe the pastel papers I know and explain what they are good for and what they're not so good for. If you are a bit lost on which papers are best for you, and you can't just buy and try them all (although that would of course be the best way to really find out what suits you best), then I hope to help you out today.
Obviously I can only write about the papers I have used myself. So forgive me if you wanted to find out about a paper that is not mentioned; I simply have not got enough experience with it to include it.
Instead of going through each paper I will go over the various ways we might paint and see if we can find a pastel paper to match.
If you like to work in an expressive style, with lots of bold marks, full-on colour and like a fairly coarse texture to enhance expressiveness (like an oil painter could choose a coarser canvas weave over a fine weave), then Art Spectrum Colourfix Original will be your best friend. It is strong and can take a beating, it has a wonderful coarse (but not gritty) texture that helps to create expressive marks. Colour remains fresh and bold.
Sennelier LaCarte is also a very textured (like sand) paper that can keep bold and direct marks fresh. Ampersand Pastelbord is probably the roughest of the pastel surfaces that I know. Mark making instantly becomes expressive and interesting. The texture is even coarser than Colourfix. Pastelbord, however, is not a paper, but thin hardwood panel with a primer suitable for pastels. The hardwood makes it easier to frame or take outside for plein-air work.
Many pet portrait artists adore velour paper. It has a soft velvety texture that cannot be found in any other pastel paper. It is not great for blending, but marks hatched side by side visually blend into one another beautifully. The effect is soft and delicate. You will have to make a bit more effort to create sharp and strong marks, but it can definitely be done. Another soft paper that will help create beautiful fur is Pastelmat. This paper is not a velour paper, but it has a very soft and velvety feel to it. Pastel marks slide on like butter and fine detail is easy to create.
Painting Hyper Realism and fine detail
If you are into super fine detail you will need a paper a paper with little texture to detract from those painted details. But a pastel paper with a low tooth (like Art Spectrum Colourfix Smooth) will not accept many layers of pastel and so painting over mistakes will be harder to do. Some papers with a fine tooth that can still take some layering are Uart and Pastelmat and so these are particularly well suited for highly realistic pieces with fine detail.
Making mistakes or changing your mind
If you are anything like me, and you do make lots of mistakes, or you change your mind during the painting process, you will need a pastel paper that can take many layers. With a good toothy paper you will be able to simply paint over your mistakes, or re-paint something in a different location. I need a paper that allows me to do this without having to battle with a full tooth. Papers with a high and slightly coarse tooth will allow this. Art Spectrum Colourfix Original for example, has a coarse tooth (suitable for expressive work) but if you keep on layering pastel onto it, the tooth will slowly start filling up, thereby softening the coarseness of the paper. Marks become softer and finer and in top layers you can create beautiful refined marks that are not hampered by the coarse paper deep underneath. Sennelier LaCarte is a similarly toothy paper that allows for almost endless layering.
Layering colour for richness and depth
Layering is not only useful to hide mistakes or changes in design, but also for 'glazing' or 'scumbling' effects. With transparent layers of colour placed on top of each-other you can create endless depth and variety in colour and value. Pastel paintings created this way really show off how pastel can be used for full-blown paintings full of richness and depth. The best papers to layer colours are the papers with a high tooth, such as Colourfix Original and Sennelier LaCarte. Both these papers are fairly coarse, however, so if you want to create more refinement and detail, one has to layer a lot in order to work through the coarse texture and reach a slightly smoother level. Slightly smoother papers such as Pastelmat and Uart offer slightly less layering possibilities, but much finer first layers.
I am including this because I just know someone would have asked me what the best paper for painting portraits is. Unfortunately, this is really hard to answer. The best paper really depends on how you paint portraits. If you are into expressive portraits, then a coarser paper would suit you best. If you are into more traditional portraits with layered glazes then you could still use a coarse paper and work your way through the layers to reach sufficient depth and richness. If you prefer to work with a finer texture then Pastelmat, Uart or Colourfix Smooth might be your best bet. And if you like to create quick sketches, you won't need a sanded pastel paper at all, but would be better served with a drawing paper like Murano. Of course the same applies to painting landscapes, cityscapes etc. It depends on your style of painting.....
Plein air painting
Plein air painting (painting outside) is quick and direct painting. You won't have time to work on a small detail for hours on end. The weather, the light and perhaps even the subject matter will change fairly quick and you must get your subject matter down within just a couple of hours tops. There is no time for layering and fiddling! So you need a paper that will give you its best in one go. A first mark works. A mistake is easily fixed. A colour put down won't need a second coat to give it more umph. So you will need a fairly coarse texture paper that celebrates every mark. Colourfix Original comes to mind (again - I really rate this paper), or Uart in its coarser variety. A paper to avoid when painting outside is Sennelier LaCarte as that cannot take even a single drop of rain; the textured coating will come off and ruin your painting.
If you want to keep things really easy then use Ampersand Pastelbord as the rigid hardwood provides you with a drawing board, pastel painting support all in one. With Pastelbord there's no need for tape, clips or a drawing board. The coarse surface will make sure that ever stroke counts.
What is your favourite paper and how does it match your painting style? Let me know in the comments below.
PS: One of the most popular exercises in my online pastel painting course is when we try out different papers. We paint something on drawing paper and we paint the same thing on sanded paper. It really makes you realise the potential and limitations of each paper! More information about the online course can be found here.
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