View Full Version : Paper adventures

01-31-2014, 10:05 PM
Hi everyone, my name is Jennifer and this is my first time posting here, although I have been silently haunting the place for a while :)

I am about to start on some new works, and I decided last month to engage in a fair bit of research into the materials that I use (papers, pigments, and fixatives, as well as mounting techniques) while I work out some of the compositions, and so I thought I'd post my findings and ideas and see if I might get some feedback on the thoughts rolling around in my skull.

My interest is in the longevity of my paintings at this point (like, at least 500 years longevity, and I promise it's not an ego thing :)), and while I am feeling pretty good about the available papers and fixatives viewed from this perspective, when it comes to pigments, I confess myself dismayed, and it looks like I am not alone, the rants are well justified and then some, in my opinion. I'll post on pigments in a separate thread. I was greatly inspired by an article I've read authored by Marjorie Shelley at the Met entitled "Pastelists at Work: Two Portraits at the Metropolitan Museum by Maurice Quentin de La Tour and Jean Baptiste Perroneau."

It goes into some fabulous detail regarding the techniques employed by Perroneau, but especially La Tour, who occupies a special place in my heart. I'd like to stick as closely as I can to the materials and techniques used in pastel paintings that have stood the test of time, which for me means avoiding synthetics and acrylics whenever possible. Tall order! And probably expensive (and unlikely for pigments unless I mull my own), but that's how it goes for the time being, so I'll be happy to get as close as I can to the ideal. And as a note, my method of working is to apply a layer and fix, sometimes only a few layers, and sometimes very many, with the final layer remaining free of fixative. I feel that it's beneficial to consider methods and materials in concert, as the variables can change accordingly.

So, papers for starters :heart: While I have used the coated papers, I've decided to forgo them in favor of "handmade" or watercolor papers, which I've actually preferred to coated so far anyway, and so I am currently experimenting with roughing up the surfaces of heavy, rough texture, sized watercolor papers, and I am also about to work with some heavier papers from India, both sized (Khadi), and unsized (Nujabi), and I think that ultimately I'd like to go with a cotton fiber (not linter) and linen combination (Velke Losiny Moldau and friends). It's the sizing that I am currently curious about.. my inclination is to steer clear of it due to the possibility that chemical sizing used these days can cause a more rapid deterioration of the paper, and also since the function of surface sizing is to repel water for the benefit of watercolor application, I am not sure how this translates to pastel painting. It seems to me that if an unsized paper were to absorb humidity, it might function as a fixative for the primary layers of pastel, kind of fusing it to the paper, gently and over a long period of time. But as the fibers would swell and shrink in size, this may have a negative affect as well.. any ideas or experience regarding this, or any of these papers I've mentioned for pastel applications?

And also, I would like to express my gratitude to those that have posted here in the pastel forums to date, I have benefited greatly from much of the information archived here :)


02-01-2014, 08:07 AM
Hi Jennifer, welcome! Well, you're certainly thorough in your research. It is fairly easy to find lightfast pigments, but the particles will be finer than in the 18th century as they are machine mulled. And many of the chemical pigments have been used since the mid 19th century, and are holding up excellently, so personally I trust them.

I normally use a sandpaper, Fisher 400, and know nothing about sizing of watercolour paper. What I've found is that if I take sandpaper (ordinary) and smooth the wc paper with it, it holds pastel better as the tiny raised fibres increases the surface the pigments can cling to.

Fibres in papers (canvas, etc) do move a bit with temperature and humidity. And it doesn't seem to matter. I've "unframed" pastel paintings that are about a century old, and the loss of pigment is neglible. In the manors here, there are numerous pastels on the walls which have not been touched since the 18th century, and they look just great.

Well, I didn't have much to contribute, but I'm interested in what you say, and the replies you'll get, and I wanted to say hello.

02-01-2014, 01:50 PM
Thank you for your contribution! Any information you can share will be beneficial for this exploration of mine. And I am thorough, at times to the point of obsessive.. :D but I enjoy finding and sharing information, so my hope is that my posts at the very least can offer something useful, and won't be perceived as a judgement against other materials or methods that pastellists use here. It's just a thing for me right now, so I am going with it :)

I really like the effects that I get with using sandpaper on the watercolor papers, at the moment I am working with just a basic Strathmore 300gsm cold press paper that I roughed up with a 100 grit sandpaper, and it works well for particle adhesion, plus I like the visual effect. By fixing layers and using pastels with some grit in them, I can get some great depth colorwise. I learned some fun things about the Nujabi paper last night (who knew that isopropyl alcohol could take that long to evaporate?), so once I get a bit more information, I'll post pictures of the papers and techniques I am experimenting with.


02-01-2014, 04:36 PM
Jennifer, welcome and I look forward to your postings and findings on various papers and techniques used to prepare and manipulate surfaces. Paper properties have always been interesting to me. So, yeah! I am looking forward to it! When you describe various paper properties, it would help (me) if you'd also include information on where you found that paper.

BTW for those interested in that Shelley article to which Jennifer refers, it's available free online from the Met (God bless the Met!) here: http://resources.metmuseum.org/resources/metpublications/pdf/Pastelists_at_Work_The_Metropolitan_Museum_Journal_v_40_2005.pdf


02-01-2014, 07:07 PM
Thank you for the reply! In hindsight I realized that I maybe should have started this thread in the Materials section, so feel free to move this if appropriate.

I have links!

This page gives a nice overview on papers: http://www.artpaper.com/mm5/merchant.mvc?Screen=ArchConcerns

I am leaning towards a paper that incorporates linen due to the strength and durability of the fibers, and it has been used historically (for thousands of years) with success. Linen is actually stronger wet than dry, and wikipedia says that the "fibers do not stretch and are resistant to damage from abrasion." The Velké Losiny Paper Moldau paper can be found here: http://www.italianartstore.com/store/VelkeLosinyMoldau.html, and I have contacted a mill here in the states called Twinrocker (http://www.twinrocker.com/) to see if they might make linen and cotton rag papers, but even if they don't I am going to order a sample of swatches of papers which they offer on their website.

The Khadi paper I ordered from here: http://www.cheapjoes.com/catalog/product/view/id/26999/s/khadi-handmade-paper/category/146/, and this is the manufacturer's website: http://khadi.com/

I also ordered the 300lb watercolor paper sampler pack that Cheap Joe offers as well: http://www.cheapjoes.com/cheap-joe-s-watercolor-paper-sample-packs.html, so I'll be having some fun with those. Cheap Joe looks like a really nice guy.

I picked up a sheet of the 200lb medium rough Nujabi paper from Jerrysartarama here in town: http://www.jerrysartarama.com/discount-art-supplies/paper/watercolor-paper-and-boards/nujabi-watercolor-papers/nujabi-watercolor-sheets.htm which is a beautiful paper, heavily textured and thick, but because it lacks sizing requires some care. I'll have some pictures of this paper in a day or two.

And for more information regarding paper sizing: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sizing. Marjorie Shelley's paper mentions that the papers that the pastellists used were only lightly sized, or the artists soaked the papers to remove the sizing entirely in order to make the paper more receptive to the dry pastel pigments.


02-03-2014, 11:00 PM
Many thanks, Jennifer, for starting this fascinating discussion (and thanks, Jan and Charlie, for your additional info). I appreciate your thorough research and helpful links, and look forward to seeing what you discover. Do post examples of your work on these surfaces, too!

Best, Evelyn

02-04-2014, 05:37 AM
Jan, thank you for the link!

Jen, we can only post in two sections in the Pastel Forum (Talk and Studio). The Mods move interesting threads to the archive sections. So you posted right.

I've just looked at the pictures in the article, and reacted to the statement on page 108. How a painting looks in raking light is highly affected by the brand of pastel. Roché pastels give this "bumpy" surface, for example, while Rembrandt pastels give a smooth surface (depending on how many layers there are and how much fixative and how many layers thereof there has been). But I really should read the thing before starting to argue with it.

02-06-2014, 11:02 PM
You know, I've read through the paper a few times, and there are still points that I am not entirely clear on, but as I have been working with the Nujabi paper I believe that a few items are beginning to come into focus. With regard to the "raking light" (and honestly, Marjorie's paper is the first place that I have encountered this term :)), my impression is that the artists would work the papers to achieve this tooth before painting, but that each artist had different requirements as far as preparations and personal aesthetics were concerned. It sounds like La Tour really worked his surface to get that effect that you see with the lighting, and the reworking he did as he painted further enhanced this texture, while Perronneau cared about it.. not so much.

My experimentation so far has demonstrated that lightly sized papers alone don't like very much reworking, so I suspect there were some, or many other variables involved. Once an artist soaked the sizing out of a paper, what was the next step? I have no idea! As far as the reworking or multiple layers of pigment is concerned, without further treatment to the paper, softer pastels work well, whereas the pumiced sticks damage the fibers a bit. I don't know what the qualities of the pastels of artists in the 1700's were, and I am currently looking through and looking for publications discussing this (don't hesitate to recommend!). It would seem that most of the pigment sticks were fairly soft since they were creating their own, or the sticks were being created under their direction, but if they were using pumice as a surface preparation, perhaps it stands to reason that someone would have been mixing pumice into pigment sticks as well? I know the Roches have been around since then, but who knows how the ingredients have evolved since their inception.

I am assembling the pictures of the experimentation with the Nujabi paper now and should have something to post tomorrow. This is the first time I have worked with an unsized or mostly unsized paper (which I have recently learned is called "waterleaf" paper), and it has been fascinating. Please don't refrain from argument, or raising points or questions, I feel that all perspectives on the materials we use or the observations I post can be super beneficial :)


02-07-2014, 05:55 AM
Jennifer, I've read it through (that is, not studied it thoroughly), and yes, there are many variables. The autor just left out one of them which gives exactly that look. Multiple layers of fixative also helps it. Roughing up the paper.
Back then, they experimented with mixing ground glass into glue or gesso. Imagine finger blending on that! Ouch! No wonder it didn't take.
The article made it more clear to me how fashion constrains commission artists. (They gotta live and eat.) So, many of their methods were invented to suit a certain look that was in high demand. Impasto and painterly wasn't on the agenda.

Things certainly loosened up with the Impressionists, who used pastels in ways unhindered by fashion. But, they didn't make such gorgeous lifelike portraits as de la Tour did.

Unfortunately, so very little research has been made into the history of pastel. It is very difficult to find things on the net, maybe because so many universities have restricted access to papers to university people only.

Well, I'm interested too, and may come across something, and if I do I'll let you know.

02-09-2014, 11:25 PM
Well, I'll be avoiding the ground glass route, too many sets of mischievous paws in this house, finding their way to all the places :) I'll definitely be doing more experimenting with the fixatives though.

"..so many universities have restricted access to papers to university people only."

This is silly, since when is a degree required to be an artist :confused:

So I've got some pictures of the Nujabi watercolor paper (100% cotton, acid free Indian handmade papers), it can be found here:


I purchased a 22x30 sheet of the 200lb medium rough paper for $3.08. My impression is that this paper lacked or had a very small amount of sizing, due to the amount of liquids it absorbed. I cut the sheet down into workable pieces and used several different brands of pastel on it, plus distilled water and 70% isopropyl alchohol for washes, as well as La Tour and Spectrafix fixatives.

This is the paper:


It has lots of tooth and irregular texture and is medium stiff. I used a Rembrandt to try some applications, on the right side is just the pigment, the middle is a wash of 70% alcohol, and the left distilled water. The water seemed best, as less liquid was required to melt the pigment, although some colors were diminished in chroma which could be corrected with a reapplication. Using a wet brush was much better than a spray bottle especially after finger blending the pigment into the paper (blending with fingers was really nice on this paper for some reason), as the paper required a little encouragement to absorb the liquids, and once it did it bowed while wet and then returned to a respectable flatness once completely dry. The first thing I liked about the paper was how it almost completely absorbed the wash of pigment, my finger picked up very little dust after the wash dried.


Then I just started laying down some colors to get an idea about blending, and the paper held up well under a few layers of blending, I only pulled off a couple of small fibers that came free. The background has a wash of Art Spectrum gray-green, but the flower has no wash applied. There was very little dust involved as well, the majority of the pigment that I applied to the paper actually stayed on the the paper, instead of falling off or becoming airborne. I didn't use any pumiced sticks for this.


Then I applied a few layers of La Tour fixative and applied more layers of pigment:



The more I worked the paper, the less receptive to the harder pastels it became, so I was limited to the softies like Schmincke and Unison. Then I got bored and laid a water wash on a clean paper and added dry pastel work on top. The wash did a nice job of filling in the tooth a bit so I could get cleaner lines, but the liquid also altered the nature of the paper and the fibers lost some strength. There are some Roche pigments on the right side, and I did like the way these sticks worked with the paper:


As a point of reference, this was a rose I worked out a couple of weeks ago on a sheet of 140 lb Strathmore cold press watercolor paper roughed up with some sand paper, it's in my nature to clearly define shapes on paper:


but the Nujabi is not that kind of paper :) I decided to go back to the other rose and apply a distilled water wash to it, and then discovered something else I really liked a lot. I only washed over the flower, and as a result the paper expanded outward from the flat areas in an embossed kind of way:


It returned to a relatively flat state after drying, but I am going to see if maybe mixing in some egg white might help the paper keep its embossed shape. Any suggestions regarding this are welcome!

After the wash and 2 more layers of La Tour fixative:


The effect was nice, and I continued to work in more layers and will probably keep working in this direction for a bit. I also tried a few layers using only pumiced pigments, and this route looked to be a promising one with a fixative added to it. After a few layers of pumiced pastels, the fibers in the paper started weakening, so something to improve the strength could provide a good support. I really like this paper a lot, I feel it might have some potential if I start experimenting with fixative solutions, and I also liked that it challenged me. Out of the box this isn't a paper that will do what I want it to do, but when I broke out of my own habit and tried to understand the best way to use the paper as it was I started moving towards more impressionistic and abstract styles. Neat! This one has Spectrafix layers, which is the fix I will use from now on.


I definitely recommend playing around with this paper if you like doing that sort of thing. I'll be doing it until I find the perfect paper :D


02-10-2014, 06:20 PM
Interesting, Jennifer! Thanks for taking the time to make and post all those pictures. :thumbsup:

The paper looks lovely. The texture reminds me of some deckled-all-around St Armand watercolor paper that I've got stashed somewhere around here. Each sheet has almost its own distinct personality.

It looks as if you are doing a lot of finger blending and creating under-washes using liquids. (As well as layering with fixative.) What's odd is that hasn't eliminated those pesky tiny white dots. I confess they annoy me and getting rid of them is one of the two main reasons I use underpainting. On the other hand, you may be okay with them, which is all good. I'm just surprised that the techniques you're using are getting the results they are. Interesting!

Thanks again for sharing and putting so much time and effort into this. Much appreciated. :heart:

Oh, one more thing, RE this : "..so many universities have restricted access to papers to university people only." . . . This is silly, since when is a degree required to be an artist". Academic scholarly paper publishing worldwide is controlled by a handful of European companies who own the prestigious journals. Scholars submit their work in hopes of getting published. If chosen and in order to get published and move up the academic ladder, scholars give article access and article re-print rights to those journals for nothing. No compensation whatsoever. The publishers turn around and sell access (subscriptions) to these journals to universities for enormous yearly fees. Eye-poppingly enormous yearly fees that rise annually. Terms of the subscriptions require universities to restrict access to just those affiliated with that university. So as you see, the university is just the middleman here (and going bankrupt trying to pay for it all) and not the bad guy. They bad guy (in my opinion) is the scholar who, rather than give his writings away free to anyone (via the web), choses instead to give his writings away free to blood-sucking journal publishers. The scholar has made the key decision that props the whole edifice up and perpetuates the cycle. An initiative called Open Access Publishing (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Open_access) is starting to make inroads, but change comes slowly in academia.

A related and parallel initiative is the attempt to give free online access to all scholarly research, articles, findings and so forth that have been funded with public funds. This initiative has more 'legs', since public funding agencies can add those kinds of publishing requirements to the terms of the grant. Still, it's a big controversy. [sigh] Scholars and scientists tend to resist the imposition of conditions like that on the fruits of their labors.

Goodness!! Sorry for getting so far off-topic!:rolleyes: