Tag Archives: sanded paper

Pan Pastels – Love Them, Love Them Not

pan pastelsRecently an artist friend recommended that I try pan pastels. She extolled their dustless virtues until I was itching to get myself a set. So when I came across a basic set on sale I jumped on it anxious to put them to the test.

I like the packaging and the way they screw together making a nice, neat stack. My set came with a few sponge applicators, but not handles for the sponge sleeves.

The consistency is creamy and they blend together beautifully. But dustless? They do have less dust than traditional sticks and of course it does make a difference what kind of surface you are using.

My first experiment was on  a lovely sanded paper. I did an under painting with the pans. Having just the basic set I felt very limited with the colors available. So I put in the basic shapes of boats, houses, mountains and trees. Then I resorted to my Sennelier sticks.

Leah Wiedemer, soft pastel, 6.5"x9"

Leah Wiedemer, soft pastel, 6.5″x9″

Yes, the sticks are much messier, but I don’t mind getting a little dirty when I work. I’m happy with the result but a little disappointed that I abandoned the pans in order to achieve the look I wanted.

For my next experiment I worked on Canson Mi Tientes paper on the smooth side.  I wanted to see if I could force myself to complete a painting using only pan pastels. First I laid in an under painting. The sponge applicators are great for blending and kept my fingers clean.

Under painting for Venice Rain by Leah Wiedemer

Under painting for Venice Rain by Leah Wiedemer

The colors looked like they were going to work. The pastels blended easily and created a minimal amount of dust. I continued working with the pan pastels indicating where I wanted the umbrellas, people and shop windows. Then when it came to final tweaking I again went back to my sticks. The temptation was just too great. I’m weak. I do love my Sennelier sticks and will probably continue to depend on them. There is something about the directness of stick to paper that makes me feel more connected to the work. Also I like an unblended swath of color here and there. I’ll use the pan pastels too, but only for backgrounds and under paintings.

Venice Rain, soft pastel by Leah Wiedemer 6.5"x9.5"

Venice Rain, soft pastel by Leah Wiedemer 6.5″x9.5″                                                  

What is your experience using pan pastels? Love ’em or hate ’em? I’d love to hear how you use them. Leave a comment to tell me what you think.


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Mad Scientist?

You’ve seen the old black and white movies featuring the mad scientist with a maniacal gleam in his eyes, hunched over a laboratory table, mixing smoking chemicals. That’s a little how I feel when I’m trying out new art materials. Just swap out the lab coat, beakers and smoking chemicals for new paints, pastels and supports, keep the maniacal gleam, and there I am. Lately I have been experimenting with different pastel papers. Experimenting can be a costly practice, so I tend to take it slow and buy new materials a little at a time. I will say though that the knowledge gained is a worthy pay off.
The surface I have the most experience with is a gray velour paper. I bought a giant box of it years ago so I don’t even know who makes it. Since then I tried ordering velour paper on line and just wasn’t very happy with it. So, I recommend that you buy your first sheet in person if you can. That way you can feel the density of the velour and weight of the paper. I became very comfortable with a nice, heavy, toothy version of this paper. It’s forgiving and will take multiple layers, blending with ease. So if you like to blend with your fingers this won’t tear the hide off of your finger tips. It gives a soft almost dreamy quality to the finished product. I usually tap it good to shake off the excess and give it a light spray with a fixative when I’m done. The biggest negative of this paper is that it is prone to scarring.
When I noticed that my giant box of gray velour was dwindling, I decided I’d better start experimenting with something readily available and affordable. That’s when I bought a pad of assorted Canson Mi-Teintes. The assortment refers to an assortment of colors, which I like. It allows me to use complimentary background colors for my paintings. Each sheet has a smooth side and a toothy side. I’ve tried both, and for a small painting I think I prefer the smooth side. It grips the pastels adequately and blends nicely. I find that I have to plan more carefully because it can’t handle too many layers. It’s good for quick sketching. I enjoyed using it for figure studies, but I don’t like it well enough to use it for a painting I intend to sell.
The last paper I tried is a sanded paper made by Art Spectrum. The sanded paper, as you might imagine has plenty of tooth and really grabs and holds onto the pastels. It is a little pricey, as is the velour paper but you can find different prices on line. When I tapped the paper to let fall the excess pastel I was pleasantly surprised to see very little fall out. I felt that I was able to achieve a more painterly effect with this paper than either of the other types. I like it as well or better than the velour and each sheet seems very consistent with no flaws or scarring. Next I plan to try different brands of sanded papers and maybe an ampersand board to see how they compare.
So it’s back to the drawing board for me, to continue experimenting and creating. Do you have a favorite pastel paper or board? Or maybe you prefer to prepare your own surface. Tell me about it. I’d like to include it in my next “lab” day. If you would like to learn more about pastel painting or beginning drawing you can join me in Tuscany in September. Diana Scimone and I are taking 2 weekends to teach writing a book and drawing in beautiful Barga, Italy at Casa Cordati. You can read more in the last post.

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