View Full Version : Pastel Primer

01-24-2015, 05:45 PM
Quick question. I don't want to do a ton of research, and was wondering if anyone had any suggestions for a possible primer for pastels on a rigid substrate rather than paper? I know there is pastel board out there, but I'm just curious about using something like hardboard/masonite.

01-24-2015, 05:55 PM
My top favorite primer is Art Spectrum Multimedia (Colourfix) primer, it comes in 20 colors including Clear which allows underpainting with acrylics or anything else. If it's on an MDF board or something, it might be good to gesso and sand it before using the grit pastel primer.

Art Spectrum Supertooth Primer comes only in clear but has a rougher tooth, similar to but a little milder than Kitty Wallis paper. I like them both, currently have both in Clear.

I used to have all 20 colors in pint jars of the Colourfix but when I ran out of shipping money for my move, they still weren't packed. I had ideas of doing an underpainting with the gritty primer, mapping out areas of color to prime in different colors. It would work to do that with Black and White alone, since they mix well, if you just want a tone underpainting or to paint the notan on the board and go over it with pastels.

Colourfix primer gives exactly the same surface as the Art Spectrum Colourfix sanded pastel paper. The primers cover a lot of area and have a consistency similar to tube acrylics.

They also do well on museum board and acid free mat board. I've used the AS primers on all kinds of surfaces except glass and plastic non porous ones, they never fail. If you prime right up to the edges on boards and go large it's good to gesso the back of the board.

Foam core responds well to these primers, I've used that too and it doesn't need back gessoing, at least at the sizes I use the foam board stays stiff.

There is a similar product available in clear only from Golden, which is Golden Pumice Gel. A lot of people like it but I didn't buy it because I was satisfied with the Art Spectrum products and preferred having it available in so many colors. Cool colors for warm subjects and portraits, warm colors for landscapes, dark colors for a dark background, light colors, nice variety of values and hues in the AS primer.

The black is a particularly nice black surface whether paper or primer, it's deep dark black and the grit knocks down the glossiness of acrylic stuff so it seems deep dark black, not charcoal looking. With light and bright colors the black punches them up and makes them seem even brighter. There's also a rich deep ultramarine wonderful for evening scenes where you could go very loose and light using the paper color as part of the scene or just let it slip to background working over it more heavily.

01-24-2015, 06:08 PM
Awesome, that's the product I was looking at http://www.dickblick.com/products/art-spectrum-pastel-and-multimedia-primer/ I was just seeing if anyone else had used it yet. I'm a little surprised foam core responds so well. I primed that once with gesso, and it warped so drastically, it was amazing :) I assume the primed side contracted and screwed it all to heck :D Anyway, I was just looking to try hardboard for the fun of it, so I'll give that a try and see what happens. Do you usually brush it on or roll it on with a fine/smooth roller?

01-25-2015, 08:17 AM
I brush it on either with a 3/4" or 1" watercolor flat or a foam brush, but when I used the foam brush I got too many brush strokes last time. I keep a watercolor flat dedicated to that, an inexpensive one. I do it so much that it was worth buying an extra synthetic watercolor flat. But I do small sizes, I'd probably get a larger brush if I were going to paint big.

One thing that helps with buckling is leaving a border around the painting area. With foam core especially I might place the painting but cut the board the size of a standard picture frame, so that I can later cut a mat over it and the surface is its own back board. Boards are otherwise a problem to frame.

That means leaving a two or three inch border which is usually enough to prevent warping at the sizes I use. I'd use regular acrylic gesso to give the back a coat if I were going right to the edges and using spacers.

Hardboard would be particularly difficult to mat, hinging it to a back board would be tough and I'd have to use more expensive frames. So just marking it off with a painting area and using a board the size of the frame is a better solution. Give it a go!

I very often do this on mat board. But I don't usually work much bigger than 8 x 10" or now 8 1/2" x 11" at most 9" x 12" - and am really used to cutting my own mats too. So I usually have mat scrap in standard sizes and prime it to the next standard size down or two.

Equus Art
01-25-2015, 08:29 AM
I haven't found any warp-age on foamcore using the Golden Pumice Gel, which I tint with liquid acrylic to get the color I want for the main background. I use a foam brush because I want the texture to show, especially if its a landscape. It can make for interesting grass or foliage effects.


01-26-2015, 08:25 PM
ive been doing a ton of experimenting with pastel primer recently, i use "golden" brand pastel primer. I did get warpage on foam core, although i found that it would flatten back out if i painted the back side with a cheep acrylic paint. I decided, however, that i didn't like using the foam core for several reasons. the main reason was that it dents super easy, and if you aren't careful you can ruin a painting well beyond repair if you accidentally bump it on something, the other reason i didn't like using it was that it made many of my frames obsolete, as the rabbit wasn't deep enough to accommodate such a thick board.

after trying different mat boards, canson art boards, and gatorboard i decided i liked this stuff best: http://www.dickblick.com/items/13708-1026/ I liked it because it was one of the cheepest options that was still acid free, and though it does warp a bit when applying pastel primer, it flattens back out after a few hours, once the board is completely dry again. i can't imagine it costs much more than masonite, yet it should be much more archival, and can be cut with an exacto blade.

the problem with pastel primers, IMO, is that the grit is mixed in a liquid paint, so so matter how it's applied, it will never feel as gritty as a true sandpaper like u-art, it sorta feels like u-art with a thin layer of acrylic painted over it. That may not be an issue for many people, and in truth, i still haven't decided if it matters to me either...many pre-made pastel surfaces have a less prominent tooth, and many people prefer them, I've been using a product called "pastel bord" off and on for a while now, it's tooth has the consistency of a chalk board, and indeed, I've heard of people using chalk board paint as a pastel primer.

i bought a decent supply of different pre-made pastel surfaces to try recently, because as of late i haven't tried anything that wasn't available at my local blick shop, the problem is i don't paint fast enough, it will take me a month or two to try every brand and grit that i have, to see what i prefer...it seems to me that the more tooth a paper has, the brighter and more vivid the colors seem...though i haven't even tried my grittiest papers yet so i'll reserve judgement on that...It would explain how unreal kitty wallis' paintings sometimes look, she is one of my favorite painters, i just love how bold and bright her strokes look, almost like it was done on a computer.

her paper, of course, is the one brand i can't get my hands on, though i would desperately like to try it, ive considered ordering a paper sampler from dakota just because it contains a few sheets of her paper, but the price tag holds me back.

ive recently decided i want to find a thinner paper that i can prime, so that my finished works will fit in my presentation books, this is a problem i have with priming hard boards, if i don't frame them, i find storage to be a pain...i thought about stretching paper like watercolorists do before i prime, but it would be a lot of work to stretch a dozen sheets and prime them.
I recently found a new product though, http://www.dickblick.com/products/yupo-watercolor-paper-pads/ these yupo pads are made with an acid free plastic type product, supposed to be waterproof, i bought one the other day and i believe i'll be able to prime these sheets of paper without any warping or buckling, and it's thin enough that i can still store it in my presentation binders... i will let you guys know how it works in the end, though i don't know when i'll find time too do it, im still furiously trying to finish a painting on colourfix paper so i can start testing more of my different u-art grits...does anybody know by chance what u-art grit is closest to wallis?

01-27-2015, 10:32 AM
I think the closest Uart to Wallis is the coarsest or the next coarsest. Wallis has extremely coarse deep tooth. Blick used to carry Wallis paper, that's where I used to get it and I still have some, don't use it often because I prefer to work large if the paper's that coarse and really don't have energy to paint big and layered during winter. Maybe this summer. I'm well stocked up, got a big pad of it and all.

I haven't tried priming Yupo but it's definitely a possibility. I'd be worried about the primer adhering, but if it does that'd be a wonderful surface. Yupo is about as waterproof as it gets.

What I like for paper to prime is 140lb watercolor paper, either smooth or Not surface/cold press. It's what I'm used to with the AS Colourfix primer. Art Spectrum Supertooth primer used to be available at Blick and they don't have it listed any more. I bought a pint of it and that's rougher than the Colourfix, less of that acrylic over grit feel. Colourfix paper has the same exact texture as the primer, so that was why I got used to it.

I also liked the Colourfix surface because I could finger blend without ripping my fingers to bloody pulp. I think what put me off the Wallis was just how many layers it took to start getting saturation on it, it ate everything I threw at it, Colour Shapers, chamois, fingers, pastels.

It's fun using very soft pastels on coarse sanded paper though. They come out great and perform well, adhere well on it. I don't usually use fixative on sanded surfaces. Fine grit Uart is wonderful for the delicate, detailed hard pastel or colored pencils realism too.

I use the primers both on cheap watercolor pads and on sheets of good all-rag Fabriano Artistico or Arches watercolor paper. The surface is the same but I spent less on the paper, also even the cheaper watercolor paper is still acid free so if a preliminary painting comes out well I wouldn't feel bad about selling it.

Moises Menendez
01-28-2015, 07:40 AM
I attended a recent workshop with Susan Ogilvie and she uses gatorboard primed with gesso and pumice gel covered by a warm tone such as orange tint. I am interested doing landscape as well but if I only use the colorfix primer for any board or surface my question is: will that be enough to work on pastel instead of the Ogilvie technique? I like to do simple things and not to get too complicated with complex methods. Also, what surface would be the best for portraits ?

02-02-2015, 03:27 PM
Great info here!

I really like the idea of making my own surfaces. I was going to order the Colorfix primer but just saw a video by Karen Margolis and she recommended using Liqiutex Clear Gesso. The Liquitex is about about half the price of the Colorfix primer. Anyone use that or have a comparison?

Also, has anyone tried using primer on Canson MT?


Moqui Steps
03-17-2015, 03:04 AM
The primers and boards that I have tried that contain pumice break down too easily for me if I do any serious rubbing, erasing with chamois, or if wash off a failed painting to start a new one. Pumice is a very soft media and cannot hold up to repeated abrasion.

The supports that use aluminum oxide are what I prefer. I also insist on a water and alcohol proof surface and usually mount them on a more rigid surface such as foam core or hardboard.

In addition to the well known surfaces made with Aluminum Oxide, I have also made my own pastel boards on tempered "Masonite", based on tips from here on WC and quite like the results. However, no matter how much effort you put into it, you will never be able to replicate the surfaces found on the commercially produced papers, as they are applied mechanically using electrostatic adhesion methods and are VERY uniform in grit exposure and evenness.

The hand coated surfaces can be pretty exiting to use due to the unique textures they lend to the pastels, but don't expect to get an even and smooth application of pastel on this type of surface. If you sand them down to try to make them smooth like the store bought stuff, you lose the tooth.

03-17-2015, 03:49 AM
I haven't tried the Liquitex clear gesso and was surprised that Karen said it was toothy on her blog. I like the Colourfix and have also got the Supertooth primer, though Blick doesn't seem to carry it any more. Pity about that, its rougher tooth came closer to Uart. Glad I got it when I did.

I get the primer smooth nearly as much as store bought when I use a watercolor brush and get it wet before dipping in the primer. I miss my jars of colored Colourfix though, loved having the choice of all 20 colors it comes in and that made life so easy.