View Full Version : What paper is best for what subject & why?

Deborah Secor
05-25-2004, 01:52 PM
I was just over in the OPS and saw a thread there on what papers to use, and while we've had many, many discussions about different papers to use with soft pastels, my question is what subject matter do you find most appropriate to what paper and why?

For instance, when you decide to paint a dense forest, is there a paper you prefer? A certain color? Texture? Or if you're going to do a very realistic portrait, what paper do you choose and why? How about a pet? A still life? A building? A sky? Whatever...

Or do you find that there is one paper that just about does it all for every subject?

Any thoughts about what it is about the surface that contributes to the portrayal of the subject?

Thanks for your thoughts!


05-25-2004, 02:05 PM
Canson rough side is good if you want a lot of ground colour showing through.

Canson smooth side is good if that's all you have other than the phone book's inside cover.

Vellum is good if you're going for fur or "velvet"-like textures.

Watercolour papers are good for underpaintings with light applications of pastel on top.

LaCarte is good if you can't get Wallis.

ArtSpectrum is good if you can't get LaCarte.

Wallis is good for pretty much anything, anytime, anyhow. Plus, if push comes to shove, you can use it to clean your spark plugs if the car's running rough and you wanna go get more pastels.

Deborah Secor
05-25-2004, 02:24 PM
Thanks Julie--can you mention subjects too???


PS I purposely put this in the Soft Pastels Studio to avoid any complications discussing OP surfaces... it probably should be in Pastel Talk, technically, but I thought it would be simpler here.

05-25-2004, 02:40 PM
awww, amn, Deborah- it's a case of different strokes, from there. For myself, I can get wonderful detail outta any of the sanded surfaces, although I must say LaCarte is a tad easier than Wallis if only because it doesn't eat your fingertips off when you smooth a line back out. Wallis and LaCarte will both start to "blend" themselves by the second or third layer of pastel, with Wallis coming in slightly ahead by seeming to allow the pastel to remain "creamy" better. To me, that makes it good for landscapes, seascapes, cloudscapes and rich still life work.

I despise Canson in all it's forms, and think it gives better paper cuts than pastel results in any genre. Perhaps it is best for harder pastels and a precise line- once you figure out how to ignore the holes, or sand the smooth side some.

Watercolour paper is best, to my mind, for rich, dark, vibrant works that depend upon stroke and shape more than detail- although Mary (AkaMorgie) blows that theory outta the water. But she's stubborn, too.

I like Wallis- I'm a believer....

05-25-2004, 03:29 PM
this is great for the studio, since it's specific papers used for soft pastels. Thanks for starting this!

Now, let's see if I can give input. LOL

Canson, smooth side with light sanding, holds a lot more pastel than you might think. I use it on location when I want to do studies or for first time at a new location. It's price is a factor....cheap. I work faster outside because of the quickly changing light and don't need a lot of pastel layers, so Canson works well. I used this for the figures workshop also and liked it. I tend to overwork with sanded surfaces because I know I can do it....with Canson the limitations keep me more decisive about doing it right the first time! :D

Canson, rough side.....don't like it at all. It leaves too much of the all over pattern to my work because I don't build up heavy layers on Canson. I always think of seersucker fabric when I paint on this side...lol!

Art Spectrum - long time favorite. I like using the toned colors and it has enough versatility for almost any season. The rougher texture works well with my style of painting....I find I don't get too tight when the surface doesn't feel tight (well, that made sense to me, anyway). Cost is better than most of the other sanded papers and the size works well for me. (I save by buying in bulk of 10 to 20 sheets at $4.50 each) I may get one, two, three or even four smaller paintings from one sheet of AS. I use it for all subjects.

Wallis - One of the best surfaces for reworking that I've ever used. Until I tried the underpainting, it wasn't a big favorite. It holds more pastel than other surfaces but I don't like working from white. I did paint on the Belgium Mist a couple of times and liked the toned neutral better. My recent landscapes on location were all on Wallis. The numerous layers that it will take is a major plus+++ making it perfect for any subject. My next purchase will be the Belgium Mist color which I feel would also work well with my underpaintings and not be so 'white' :)

Prepared surface - Golden Pastel Ground on Matboard - I use this medium putting at least three coats over a colored matboard for a sanded toned surface. It's great for plein air where you want a more textured surface that will hold more pastel. You can even create a textured surface to get different effects in the painting by using sponge application, brush application, or other spreader. I get my matboard at the wholesale framers....they give away the odd shapes, and middle cuts, so this is a cheap surface for me to work on.

Illustration board - Golden Pastel Ground - Works the same as the matboard, but its white, then you can underpaint or tone. It tended to bow a lot but stacking it with a couple of books on top for a few days flattened it out.

Velour matboard - Gives a soft look to the artwork because of the texture, but it eats up the pastel, too. I didn't really like it. My sister does pastel pencil work on this and loves it. Her style is very detailed and realistic....beautiful paintings but she spends hours and hours drooling over getting just the right color....LOL....unlike me!!!

Watercolor #140 - underpainted with acrylic (as a watercolor). I did a landscape like this but didn't like the reaction of the pastel to the watercolor paper. I do have better pastels now! and that could make a big difference...just haven't tried it again.

Brown paper bag paper - yes....you heard right. I use it for class demos...sketches....quick color studies....the texture is great and it comes in a big roll! much cheaper than the sketch pads....and when the students work on it, they don't get intimidated by the price of the paper. It's a nice medium value so its easy to see light and dark when applied also. So don't toss out any of your paper grocery bags! (This paper is not for paintings that you want to keep! it's too acid for any type of work that you'd want to keep)


05-25-2004, 05:16 PM
Canson, smooth side with light sanding, holds a lot more pastel than you might think.

So Carly, just rough it up a bit with fine grit sandpaper (or left over Wallis scraps)? I've never heard of this before, will have to give it a try.

I looove Wallis for everything, but because of its cost, I still use Canson for figure drawing where the tinted background is a great help when you need to get the basics down, and the low cost allows me to "let go" of my cheapskate caution and paint big or take risks.

I used to like LaCarte, but the lack of being able to wet the surface kind of inhibits me. I also used to like Art Spectrum, the really dark colors are great if you want to have quite a bit of surface show - saves a lot of pastel dust!

I've used Unison paper for landscapes which I think is really Somerset - OK, but really just spendy Canson in my opinion.

I bought Hannemule paper and did not think it was worth the price. Thin, with a rather mechanical texture and pale colors. Big sheets and pretty darn expensive if I recall.

I need a support with lots of tooth to stand up to my changes and fixes along the way if I want to really have a finished piece.

05-25-2004, 06:55 PM
just popping over to say cool thread! :D

When I did softies I loved Hahnemule velour for animal fur and I liked watercolor paper for still life objects I wanted a lot of texture on. Wallis and Art Spectrum were great for things I wanted sharp edges and not much blending on, like buildings, that was without an undercoat.

Deborah Secor
05-25-2004, 07:06 PM
I stole the idea right out from under ya, Sue! Thanks...

Do any of you ever seriously consider the subject before deciding on what paper to use?

Do you ever make your own surfaces and why? I painted a big tree painting one time--about 3x4' in ssize--and used a homemade matboard with gesso-and-pumice mixture so it would be loose and rough. No details possible. It won some prizes and sold, so I guess it worked!

I had an artist tell me one time that she worked on Canson rough side because she "liked the fight"! Does anyone get that? (Maybe I should ask Mary that, after what Julie said... ;) )


05-25-2004, 07:11 PM
I stole the idea right out from under ya, Sue! Thanks...

Do any of you ever seriously consider the subject before deciding on what paper to use?

Do you ever make your own surfaces and why? I painted a big tree painting one time--about 3x4' in ssize--and used a homemade matboard with gesso-and-pumice mixture so it would be loose and rough. No details possible. It won some prizes and sold, so I guess it worked!

I had an artist tell me one time that she worked on Canson rough side because she "liked the fight"! Does anyone get that? (Maybe I should ask Mary that, after what Julie said... ;) )


I do. Consider the subject because I can get get different results depending on if I'm going smooth or rough texture (still talking softies here, tho works with both)

Pinecone Conniff
05-25-2004, 07:27 PM
I have to admit that I am a CansonHater. :evil: I just don't feel like I am PAINTING on that paper. I love LaCarte & Wallis. :)As for subject matter...when I need to be a little bit more precise in my painting I'll choose to use Wallis. I like that I can pop in a highlight or detail & the Wallis just grabs hold & remains sharp if I need it to!

K Taylor-Green
05-25-2004, 08:33 PM
I tried Canson, hated it. Until I tried Wallis, all I used and liked was Velour paper. I still love it, but I think I love Wallis more. It does everything.

Kitty Wallis
05-25-2004, 08:50 PM
I tried Canson, hated it. Until I tried Wallis, all I used and liked was Velour paper. I still love it, but I think I love Wallis more. It does everything.

I know I couldn't get what I get wihout it. If the surface I wanted had been available I wouldn't have invented it.

Thank you Kate, and all who have made such appreciative and supportive statements.

05-25-2004, 08:57 PM
Wallis is like "victim paper"- it takes everything you throw at it and comes back for more. It begs to be used and abused- so I indulge it whenever possible. :angel: I'm nice that way. :angel:

Yeah, I think about what I'm going to do first- mostly if it is an experiemnt, I think about what I wanna use up first- rather than "spending" the Wallis. Canson will do sketches- it'd tick me right off to start a sketch on Canson, have it come out halfway decent and then have to fight that paper every other step of the way- I'd be cussing under my breath, I just know it. I've got some ground marble, and pastel gel with pumice, but haven't tried 'em yet- tried the plain old pastel pumice stuff anad didn't care for the plasticky feel. Kinda like cooked mushrooms- wrong texture. The translucent vellum is still good stuff- and REALLY good for details- dunno if it takes an underpainting (it needs too- it's translucent and where you miss, you can see through); Mary's gonna 'speriment on that, she said.

When I can see it in my head, and I'm pretty sure it's going to work, I choose Wallis. Then, LaCarte, then ArtSpectrum, then the translucent vellum, then- whatever.....

05-25-2004, 09:51 PM
Great thread. My choice of paper was limited to what was available in the local hardware/art supply store. Most everyone carries Canson. I worked on it for years without exploring other types. Truly a love / hate relationship. Price is great. Ran down to a real art store and grabbed some other pastel paper just to sample. Unfortunately, the store wrapped them without labeling them and I could not remember what I bought. I also tried a sample set from Dakota Pastels. It was a great way to try everything from Canson, velure, Ersta, Art Spectrum, Wallis, etc. I like the Wallis the best. But I also have been using up some Sabretooth.

I give more consideration toward size and shape of the paper than the type. I paint primarily landscapes. I use Canson primarily for practice. However, I see some excellent work done on it and feel compelled to keep trying. I think you must plan well since it will not take a lot of layers compared to sanded papers. I do like working on Wallis. I think I did one of my better paintings with it. Much easier to work with. (Thanks Kitty). :D

05-26-2004, 12:31 AM
boy, get busy for a week and the whole darned place changes on ya!

i use canson and wallis and artspectrum. canson is for 'soft' things, or more messing around. spectrum has great colors, and if i plan the color to be a major role, i pick that one. i use it alot, and love the sand color, which is a cream color more to me. i also love the dark brown, works great with doing horses. that brands is also great for doing sketchy-scratchy backgrounds, where i just go nuts with some color, but leave the outter edge--winds up looking matted, then i only use spacer to frame it. did that a few times with canson, but like others said, it can't hold near as much so you gotta be careful of just splashing on colors.

wallis--what can i say? if i need detail, if i may need to repair it over and over, or just want white so i can underpaint it my way instead of an all-over color, that's my paper. i tried artspectrum white for it, but ish, was awful. i do like to use the smoothness/roughness of diff. papers depending on what i am trying to acheive with the piece. and hey, i got all kinds of pastels, why not have as many papers to go with em? teehee!

05-26-2004, 02:41 AM
I am one of the few Canson-enjoyers here by the sounds of things. After a period of working on a sanded surface, I often came back to Canson with a little sigh of relief at how beautifully easy it is to BLEND on it with my hand or fingers whenever I wanted to, and to "drift" a soft pastel onto the surface.

The caveat is that it will not take layers and layers of pastel, so whatever your subject, you need a light touch. If you know you are going to want to build up rich, impasto effects, it probably is better to use a sanded surface.

If you want to underpaint, then Art Spectrum and Wallis are hard to beat, provided, again, you are happy working on a sanded surface.

As for subject:paper, I am not sure that it matters what paper you use for what subject, it is more a question of what finish you want, and what techniques you plan to use, and THEN choose your paper accordingly.

Having said that, I did once specifically choose a very rough paper for a beach scene where I wanted an active surface to break up the marks and give a wind-swept feeling. But again, this is a technique consideration - notice the words "break up the marks". Same paper could have been used for almost any subject, provided I did not mind a broken quality to the marks; it would have been a challenge, to say the least, to achieve the smooth quality of porcelain, on that paper.

If the surface finish is important to you, then your choice of paper can help you to create a particular effect.


05-26-2004, 06:57 AM
Well, I am with Jackie in that I truly like Canson paper. I also use Wallis, Art Spectrum and Ersta. I have tried watercolor paper that was pumiced and toned -- was a great surface, but it had been prepared for me by a teacher. I have the stuff but have not done my own surface. Why do it when you can get Wallis or Art Spectrum -- I want to paint, not prepare surfaces.

Regarding the Canson, and the colors -- I use it more for my plein air work or for demonstrating at my classes and workshops. It is a faster surface to work on because you must plan well and use a light touch -- just as Jackie said. I use a lot of the burgundy because I paint many local scenes which are very green and it is a perfect color to determine my choices of pastel colors and values. I mostly now cover the paper since finding out it is not lightfast -- but the color is great for helping you get your values right. I have not tried Carly's sanding (which she got from Alan Flattman) of the Canson. I don't seem to need to do that. Also, I have built up many layers on Canson and had a tough time much later (when just looking) trying to determine what the surface I had painting upon was!!!

I love Wallis -- and really appreciate the time Kitty spent creating this! Way to go girl!!!!

I only very rarely use the white surface without toning it either an overall color or doing an underpainting and then using the brush and alcohol to do a wash. I have tried the belgian mist and it is okay, but don't really see any advantage to using it except it isn't stark white.

When I use the white of the Wallis, I am usually painting a beach scene. I tone it red or royal blue when I am painting a landscape -- or purple, or lavendar, etc. I don't tend to like anything toned green -- since most of my paintings fall into the green category -- Georgia is full of trees, grass and bushes.

I have begun to enjoy using the Art Spectrum -- I did not like it the first few times I used it. Again, I prefer to use it when painting plein air.

I don't think roughness of surface has ever been an issue with me with regard to what the subject matter of the painting would be. Though I can see that if you are doing rocks, waterfalls, etc. a rougher surface might add some to the texture of your strokes -- breaking them up and doing part of your work for you. Being a little looser in style or more painterly!

So . . . that's about what I think regarding paper surface and/or color.

05-26-2004, 08:43 AM
As to whether I pick a paper because of the subject I'm doing, no...haven't really done that, unless subconsciously. I have used cheaper stuff when I'm fooling around, but I find that's an ambiguous choice, too, in that the cheap stuff is so self-defeating and horrible that it takes the fun out of even the most trivial doodling. And yes, I'm talkin' Canson! I think I'm just too ham-fisted to use the stuff. In fact, trying to use Canson was one of the main reasons I didn't get into pastels sooner! Generally, having been an oil painter I guess, I want to pile the color on there and let the strokes mix with each other as part of the process...Canson seems to dull everything I do, the colors just go flat and chalky on it -- for me. For those who like it, have at it.

I guess my preferences are like a lot of the others; Wallis for anything I really think might turn out good, tho I'm still getting used to the white and underpainting and all that. Up til just lately, I'd only used the Belgian Mist which I still like a lot...colors seem to glow on it somehow. I'm hoping the white will be the same once I get the underpainting part down. After Wallis, I guess I'd choose Art Spectrum...I've collected up a rather large "inventory" of it on special and so it's a bit less pricey and I feel more able to experiment on it, plus I LOVE some of the colors. The aubergine and rose gray are simply gorgeous...well, all the colors they make are gorgeous, altho I'm not impressed with the white. The only caveat I have for the Art Spectrum is that it's more delicate than the Wallis...it creases almost if not handled with care and picks up marks from things a lot quicker.

After those two, I plan to try some Sabretooth and Sansfix that I ordered just for fun and the Tiziano (tho I have my doubts on that one--lovely colors notwithstanding.) I've yet to try out the the La Carte, the Somerset Velvet or velour, as well. I'm pretty sure I'm going to wind up using a sanded surface for most everything in the end, however...it just seems to suit my touch better. I do see how the velour or La Carte might lend itself to "furry" subjects, tho.

I'm still very much in the "learning experience" stage as far as pastels go, and it's been fun trying the different surfaces out. And thank HEAVENS there is something out there besides CANSON!!!!

Deborah Secor
05-26-2004, 11:13 AM
I'd like to hear from those of you who have used the Somerset Velvet--and still seem not to have heard anyone using suede matboard, though I know some do.

I have some of the Somerset, thanks to Jackie--and haven't had a chance to paint on it yet. When I do, I'll let you know what it's like for me... I'm a devotee of the Wallis, so I suspect this only slightly porous paper will seem hard and flat. Sanding up the nap might do it, though.

I remember having a customer remark one time that the texture of the Canson (it was 25 years ago!) was just perfect for the adobe wall I was painting. I know of one woman who paints Indian rugs on the textured side of Canson and uses the weave of the paper to mimic the weave of the rug. It works well. So some do predicate the painting on the paper texture.

Just a thought--does the color of the paper make as much difference to you as the texture, or more, or less? Toning is so important, I know, but I wonder if occasionally we don't find a perfect color and just use the paper for that reason alone. Case in point: my Jerusalem wall nighttime painting, which I did on dark blue AS--it was the perfect, perfect color, even though I don't care for the paper much.

Thanks for all your thoughts!!!


05-26-2004, 11:41 AM
Paper color - well that's even more interesting. The obvious thing about colored paper is how much will show through the completed painting and whether it will help the painting or hurt it. If I do not make sure the paper is saturated I get these pinpoints showing through. It sometimes makes the painting feel unfinished. It looks ok from a distance, but up close :( . (Perhaps a different color choice would make a difference.) Sometimes I use complimentary colors or neutral colors in that if they peek it will blend or unify the painting. I also like to use black a lot. It makes the pastels jump. One of my favorite things to do is to have my children paint on watercolor paper and then use it as an underpainting. Makes for interesting affects. Lately, I have been using pastels with a turpentine wash. In this case the paper color is not critical as the surface is toned by section.

05-26-2004, 01:40 PM
After those two, I plan to try some Sabretooth and Sansfix that I ordered just for fun and the Tiziano (tho I have my doubts on that one--lovely colors notwithstanding.)

Ok, Khadres (or anyone else)- what can you tell us about Fabriana Tiziano? (i can't spell... :rolleyes: ) - I just bought 10 sheets, $1.39/sheet at a local arts/crafts store - same price as Canson usually is, locally, but Canson gets such a BAD RAP around here :p that I figured I'd better find something else before I get thrown out of here! (And for those of you new around here, I like Canson, but I haven't tried much else 'til recently - rough side, even!) I liked the texture of the Tiziano, and the colors are AWESOME! Like a kid in a candy store, "I'll take one of these, and one of these, and ooooooh, TWO of these..." LOL

Did I buy a bum paper? :confused:

Deborah Secor
05-26-2004, 01:49 PM
No, Fabriano Tiziano is fine paper for some artists. I have a student who did some very interesting landscapes using it. She enjoyed the darker, richer colors and I have to say it intrigued me. I think some of us just work with a heavier hand than the lighter surfaces allow. I know I really beat up paper by scrubbing things out, layering and washing out and blending and then adding more, so Wallis works best for me. I use La Carte when I want to be delicate--and even it takes quite a bit. Canson would rip and shred under my hand, I suspect!

Let us now how you like the Fabriano and anything else you try. I'd like to know what works and why...


05-26-2004, 02:58 PM
Great thread!! I use ALOT of sueded matboard. The color stays put!, it's easy to travel and do plein aire with, and the colors just explode!! I've included a sample of my work with suded matboard. (if you go to your local framers, ask for some samples...boards that they used for framing...you can get it pretty cheap!) Also..the framer will not use the board if it is scratched..they are usually around $20.00 for a regular size matboard...which is pretty steep...but you can get it for a song as scraps! I go and grab any color they have. The painting is a fall scene, plein air--using sueded mat board. I believe it was burgundy color.

I also have used Canson-smooth side when I started. It is great for many applications. Also, cheap. I'll dig up a picture of something I did with Canson--a winter birch study on black.

I just got some Walis--looking forward to using it. Also have used ARt Spectrum. (the buffalo picture)..and liked the way it handed. I believe they all have wonderful qualities of their own. Still experimenting with things...so I really havn't stuck with one paper/support yet.

Oh..another support that wasn't mentioned was Pastelboard by Amperstand. It's a lovely sanded RIGID surface...so you don't need a board. This is useful out in the field as well. I'll throw in a winter scene done in pastelboard too.

Please note--my work is not as sophisticated as you professional artists. I have learned sooo much from all of you (and Carly..you are in there too!) I just want to show you what my work looks like on the different surfaces.

Hope I didn't jam up anything loading all these pictures.....fingers crossed... :rolleyes:


Deborah Secor
05-26-2004, 03:06 PM
Oh no, not at all nancymae! In fact I think showing pix of the different surfaces and how they resulted is a dandy idea. Why didn't I think of that? Anyone else have something to show?

BTW, I like your winter scene. It seems to look smoother to me--do you think that's the Pastelbord or just the look you went for in this painting?


05-26-2004, 04:04 PM
Thank you Deborah! Yes, I was trying to get a softer feel on the winter picture...kind of a hazy winter day...full of moisture in the air. I achieved this by using a paint brush and water and did an underpainting of my pastels using the pastels themelves. I was just fooling around and it actually turned out like I wanted.

Thanks again!

Maggie P
05-27-2004, 09:50 PM
My general rule is that if I want any detail or hard edges, I use Wallis. I like the white when I'm going to underpaint. When I'm going out on location, I never take anything but the Belgian Mist Wallis paper. It is so versatile, so easy to work with, and I like the neutral tone when I'm working outdoors.

In my studio, however, if I'm going to do something that would benefit from an irregular rough texture, I apply a gesso/pumice/acrylic mix to illustration board or scrap matboard. I like a dark grey color. I paint rocks a lot (what, you noticed?) and this surface is just wonderful. It allows for the happy accident.

I've tried probably every other surface there is. But was spoiled by getting the Wallis paper about ten minutes after it came on the market. After that, the Art Spectrum felt wimpy, the LaCarte was irritating because I couldn't get it wet. I kind of like Pastelbord but if I want a board surface, making my own is cheaper and then I get the irregular texture. I HATE Canson. Anyone who can make a beautiful painting on that surface has my everlasting admiration. I can't do a thing with it. But again, I was probably affected by starting with Ersta (remember that?) and then moving to Wallis. After the sanded surfaces, Canson is like trying to paint on laser paper.

As far as colors, I don't think it makes a lot of difference in my work, except that if I want to underpaint, I definitely want white Wallis. I make decisions about underpainting and surface based on the subject.

Great thread. Thanks, everyone.

Deborah Secor
05-28-2004, 11:25 AM
I'm going to poke around when I can find the time and see if I can post some close-ups of the various textures I get on different papers. I don't do a lot of slick, highly finished looking work, however, so I thought I'd ask if any of you do and if you could then post something showing that finish up close, as well as what paper it is.

I'll see if I can get to this soon. This is also becoming an article for the PJ sometime! Thanks for all your input! More, more...


Laura Shelley
05-28-2004, 01:34 PM
I am largely a portraitist, though I attempt landscapes and still lifes from time to time. When I started with pastels about two years ago, my approach was very different from what it is now, and my preferred surfaces have changed along with my technique.

As a beginning pastelist, I thought in terms of drawing rather than painting. I was trained as an oil painter many years ago, but had been doing graphite and charcoal almost exclusively since my children were born. All I had at first was a set of Nupastels. I used a light touch and didn't layer to any great extent. Tiziano and Canson worked just fine with that approach. I couldn't figure out why anyone needed sanded surfaces. :) I liked medium to dark papers, didn't make much use of light colors, and hated white since my way of working didn't cover the surface by a long shot.

Now I have softer pastels and a very different approach. Wallis converted me to white surfaces. Currently I usually do underpaintings instead of relying on an overall paper color. I pack on the pigment and enjoy the thick, juicy look I can get with sanded papers. However, I'm a studio painter for the most part, and I don't think that approach would work so well if I was traveling. I do some plein aire work, but that's usually to pass time at the beach while watching my kids. For that, I have a pad with glassine sheets, and I don't take the Schminckes along! Portability and lack of mess are my main requirements outdoors.

Although Wallis is wonderful for a painterly look, fine detail and almost-liquid smoothness, I sometimes want something more rough and rugged. With marble dust, acrylic medium, gesso, and combinations of Art Spectrum primer and Golden pastel ground, I can get all sorts of surface qualities. So I switch off. If I'm doing a lot of sketchy background or a larger piece, I often use handmade boards. If I'm working small or concentrating on a face, I prefer Wallis.

My most recent portrait commission involved some debate over the surface to use. The client liked what I'd done on Wallis, but ended up asking for one of my handmade surfaces instead. She said she enjoyed the grainier look and the less well-melded strokes, because "it looks more like pastel"!

05-28-2004, 03:50 PM
I still use Canson. I did try Art Spectrum once but didn't really like it. I haven't tried any other sanded surface for fear I would love it & I can't really afford it right now. Canson seems to work fine for me. You can look on my website - they're all done on Canson except one.
I used suede matboard a couple of times. It was OK but you can't erase as well to correct a mistake. The velour paper I tried didn't hold the pastel very well.

Mikki Petersen
05-28-2004, 11:01 PM
I got some sueded matt board in a variety of sizes from the local Michael's and really enjoyed playing with it. One of the BIG pluses is that it really holds the pastel. But forget brushing out a mistake. The technique I had to use on it reminded me of the old velvet paintings of the 60's. You have to build up layers because it sort of soaks up the pigment. My biggest concern about it was brought up by Jackie in a thread last year...that being the permanance factor. Will the glue hold the fuzz over time?

I still use Canson if I'm going to do a lot of work with pastel pencils or hard pastels but only the smooth side and lightly sanded as Carly suggested.

I like le Carte. It has a lot of the features of sanded paper but doesn't eat up the pastels quite as rapidly. It is also available at my local art supply store. Cut to my usual 11"x14" or 12"x16" it is sturdy like a board.

As I get more into the really soft pastels, I'm finding I need a sanded surface because the layers get thick fast. I'm quite fond of Ampersand's Pastel Bord. I use the deep gray color. Because of the rigid surface, it is much less fragile and easy to store. The problem with it is (and I've had the same trouble with Le Carte), unless I do a fairly thick layer of color and use fixitive (a lot of it) over that layer before continuing, the pigment seems to not adhere permanently. I have a fan on in my studio frequently and the moving air just rubs the pigment off over time.

I just got the sample pack from Dakota but have not yet had time to play with the papers. I'm looking forward to trying the Wallis. I don't like white or light surfaces much though, and like Marsha, I'm lazy, so I'm not as enthralled with underpainting to get rid of the white. If I want to paint, I'll work on a watercolor painting. Funny thing...what I don't like about watercolor is the stretching of the paper. Guess I just don't like prep work...I just want to play with my pretty colors.

My recent painting of the Tetons with the tree was done on a full sheet of ARt Spectrum in a deep burgundy. I found that to be a very satisfying surface and color to work from. I've discovered that using a sanded surface keeps me from blending so much (my bain) and it is relatively easy to correct mistakes.

As for what I like best for what subject...I do give consideration to the surface, in so far as which subject will require how many layers and which subjects will most likely give me fits and need lots of correction. If I'm doing a study of say a single flower or a simple still life, I will usually go with Canson (by the way, I prefer Canson over Fabriano. The Fabriano is too processed.). More and more lately, though, I'm turning to the sanded surfaces even though they are expensive not only in cost of paper but the rate they use up pastel sticks.

Color counts! I find that even though the color does not show through in my final painting, it gives extra oomph to the finished piece. Often I begin with dark gray because it helps me with my tonal values (don't ask why, I don't know) but I found that the burgundy under a predomintly green landscape gives a lift to the greens.

Here's one of my pieces done on sueded matt board. Unfortunately this is as close as I can get because I lost the larger image file when my harddrive crashed and the painting is long gone.

05-29-2004, 11:48 AM
Or do you find that there is one paper that just about does it all for every subject?
For me, as a novice, any subject I choose works better on Wallis. Four reasons:

1) I paint with a heavy hand. It takes layers, layers and LAYERS of pastel.

2) If I don't like what I've painted, I can turn back time with a few swipes of my trusty foam brush and never worry about damaging the tooth.

3) I like to experiment with toning the paper different colors. It's so easy to tone Wallis. A few strokes of inexpensive Nu Pastel in virtually any color I like, blended quickly and easily with the foam brush, and voila -- instant colored paper (thank you, Deborah, for this great technique). If I want a warm grey neutral (or if I'm feeling lazy :p) I can use the Belgian Mist version. [Consumer's note to Kitty: even though your paper is so easy to tone, I would still spend extra money to buy it in other colors.]

4) I can get it in a roll, a large sheet, or a pad, depending on my space and budget. Wallis fits my life!

I don't mean to typecast Wallis -- after all, it's Albert Handell's support of choice -- but for students I think it should have pride of place. Yes, it's pricey, but one sheet can be worked and re-worked extensively -- more economical in the long run than going through multiple sheets of cheaper, less forgiving paper.


Deborah Secor
05-29-2004, 01:31 PM
Hey, thanks to you all for this information! It's interesting to note some of the trends and some of the unique ways we all work.

Maggie and I were together at the first IAPS Convention in Denver back in '96 when Kitty introduced her paper (is that right Kitty--or was that just when I found it?), and yep, I have to agree that it spoiled me in so many ways! I was working on Ersta at the time but once I tried this thick, luscious paper I never looked back. Not long ago I had an artist I interviewed remark, 'What would we do if she ever stopped making it?' Had to laugh because I'm not worried about that, but I understand the sentiment.

I've worked on my own home made surfaces, using all the media you've mentioned, and generally come down to being far too lazy and limited in time to spend a lot of time making things to use. I tend to grab and go, when I can find time to paint.

I don't underpaint much, though I see so many of you doing that with great success. It seems you favor Wallis for that, too. Do any of you underpaint on another surface???

I've not tried the suede mat board either, partly because the feel of suede, velour, velvet or anything flocked just makes my skin crawl! (Like fingernails on a blackboard.) So I appreciate seeing your responses to it.

Like just about everyone, at least everyone who began pasteling about the time I did, I used Canson. I spent a very frustrating year before meeting Handell and beginning to use Ersta. I have to admit that that my images were more drawings than paintings at the time. I almost stopped using pastels, but I'm stubborn and I knew there was a lot to this medium.

Okay, next question: if you were stranded on a desert island with your palette and were free to paint as much and as often as you pleased with no interruptions--because your oarsman cooks, of course--and a crate full of only one kind of pastel paper floated up on shore, what would you hope was in it???


05-29-2004, 04:06 PM
I call it underpainting but I use hard pastels to tone the paper before I continue with the softs. Since I use Canson I don't think I can use anything to liquify it.

Deborah Secor
05-29-2004, 04:48 PM
I do what I call underdrawing--in color with pastels--and think of that as very different from working with paint media of any kind...


Deborah Secor
07-01-2004, 10:06 PM
I'm shamelessly pulling this thread back up to the top to ask if anyone wants to comment on any of the surfaces we haven't discussed extensively. Here's a list to consider:

Art Spectrum Colourfix
Dakota Pastel Board
Ersta P400, Ersta P500
La Carte
Schmincke Sansfix (Do you like this one???)
Velour Board
Wallis Pro, Wallis Museum, Wallis Grey
Arches Cover (Have you tried this one??)
Canson Mi-Teintes
BFK (I hear about this but have not tried it..anyone else??)
Pastel Cloth
Sabretooth (Anyone used this???)
Larroque Soft (Anyone?? What is it?)
homemade surfaces (recipes anyone?)

Thanks for your help...


07-01-2004, 11:52 PM
I bought the sample set through Dakota Pastels last year. It had a good selection including Ersta, Wallis, Laroque, Arches Cover, Dakota pastel board (art spectrum on board), Canson, velour, and some others. A great way to try them out. I highly recommend it.

One thing that must be kept in mind. Each paper requires its own technique. Canson requires a light touch and some planning. You can whack away on a Wallis and rework or add more layers to fix any mistakes. Some work well with underpainting. Others, would not work at all e.g. velour. So, I think you need to approach the paper correctly or you will be dissatisfied with the results.

Velour - I did not like, but that may be just me. It was fuzzy, i.e. I could not get sharp lines.
Arches cover was ok. To me it was similar to a Stonehenge. Somewhere between Canson and water color paper.
Sabretooth - To me it had a fine sanded feeling although I believe it does not have an abrasive added. Not like a Wallis. It took more layers than the Canson but not as much as a true sanded paper like Lacarte, Ersta or Wallis. I liked using an underpainting of pastel and turps. No problems there. Fairly tough. I could remove pastel with an erasure or a brush and rework without loss of tooth. I think I've posted some of my paintings that were drawn on Sabretooth.

07-02-2004, 12:11 AM
Well, I already gave my assessment of Sabretooth in another thread. To say I disliked it is putting it mildly, but I imagine someone else could use its oddball surface to good effect....just not me. The description I read somewhere about it, it IS sanded lightly...or rather whatever they spray on the paper to coat it (or roll onto it or whatever they do) has fine sand in it, but no, it's not like other sanded surfaces at all. It's more lumpy and the only way I can describe it is it's akin to the surface of a fairly recently asphalted road which has been rolled enough to be "smooth" but still isn't...does that make any sense? It literally EATS soft pastels, so if you're tight-fisted about your softies, steer clear.

But it looks like Ed liked it pretty well, so just goes to show... I just can't imagine how one would get any sharp definition on it at all. I hope he'll show us more of his work on this paper -- would be fun to see how he works his magic with it.

I've got a couple sheets of Sansfix and I think I'm going to try that next.

K Taylor-Green
07-02-2004, 12:59 AM
Lost track of this thread. Dee, glad you bumped it back up. To answer the "stranded on a desert isle" question, Wallis without a doubt. I learned on velour paper, I still like it, but I think my technique for it is opposite my technique for Wallis. To get the most from velour paper, start with soft pastels and finish with hard pastels or pastel pencils. If you know it's limitations, (can't erase, won't hold more than 4 or 5 layers of pastel) you can make it work. I tried Canson after learning on velour. I had some around because it is great with colored pencil. Not for me with pastels, not the way I work. Then Wallis. :music: Now I'm ruined. But I can do anything with it. I can experiment with colors, change my mind a dozen times, have more than one blonde moment, :eek: , and still turn out the work that I want. As for expence, well, you can save one piece of Wallis to try different techniques, different styles, different ANYTHING. To me that is saving money. If you need to re-visit each experiment for any reason, photograph it before you scrub it off. If Kitty needs a spokesperson for Southwestern Ohio, she has me. I'm a convert!! :D

07-02-2004, 10:10 AM
Here is some work I did on Sabretooth. I used mostly Rembrants with a turp underpainting. I think you can see the texture showing. The fence posts were done with white Conte' crayon.

I think you need to know your support. I did not like sanded paper at all when I first used it. Now that I understand it better I am starting to enjoy working on it. Look at the thread that Jackie started with Canson. I have also seen some good studies performed on paper grocery bags. No doubt each must be approached differently. Just goes to show that variety is the spice of life.

07-02-2004, 02:19 PM
Here is some work I did on Sabretooth. I used mostly Rembrants with a turp underpainting. I think you can see the texture showing. The fence posts were done with white Conte' crayon.

I think you need to know your support. I did not like sanded paper at all when I first used it. Now that I understand it better I am starting to enjoy working on it. Look at the thread that Jackie started with Canson. I have also seen some good studies performed on paper grocery bags. No doubt each must be approached differently. Just goes to show that variety is the spice of life.

Nice ones, Ed! One thing about that paper, it MAKES you stay loose! I can see where the higher contrast subjects would work better with it than what I was trying to do. Mine will get used eventually....for something.

Deborah Secor
07-02-2004, 02:41 PM
Thanks so much to all of you--you have no idea how much help you're giving me!!!

Anyone like Schmincke Sansfix? If so/not, why?

What about Ersta? I hear it's impossible to get here anymore. Anyone know why? Do you care? :rolleyes:

How 'bout Pastel Cloth?

And Fabriano Tiziano? (Is that the one that has the little machined lines like a row of fencing in it?)

Oh, and last but far from least, I have heard very little reaction to Art Spectrum here... Anyone want to sing its praises or trash it here? Just curious...

I appreciate anything else you want to share. You never know what might end up in this article--not even I now that! :D


07-02-2004, 03:46 PM
Art Spectrum - hmm.... My mother told me if I wasn't going to say anything nice, I shouldn't say anything at all. (get my point?)

Ersta - I'd take it or leave it but mostly leave it. Why bother when it's "paper" and not washable like Wallis - even if it is cheaper.

Nope - I'm in favor of your other choices.

best of luck in writing.


07-02-2004, 07:25 PM
Over a year ago I ordered 5 sheets of Ersta (still got some, even though I've given some away)....I got smart and did a blind study of support samples ordered from Dakota. Yes,,Wallis Museum won with Wallis Professional came in 2nd, ..... La Carte 3nd, but the water soluble surface disqualifies it from future purposes. Ersta is not my ideal support..400 and 500 gr. For a class I took, I ordered many sheets of Canson in a variety of colors. I like it best for ops than sanded surfaces...and when it comes to painting with softies, there is a limited window of opportunity related to pigment adherence to Canson.....(thus the preplanning Jackie refers to in her thread on Canson.) I think its affordability allows me to work in looser manner ( psyco painter )..The velours were my least favorite surface to work on.

Laura Shelley
07-02-2004, 08:25 PM
I like Fabriano Tiziano best of the half-dozen brands of colored papers I have tried. Yes, it does have little lines, something like a laid texture but more irregular. It looks more natural than the rough side of Canson (though I do not hate the rough side of Canson!) You can fill in the texture more easily than with Canson, but it does hold reasonable amounts of soft pastel. Detail is not too hard to achieve.

07-02-2004, 09:44 PM
I think you can still buy Ersta through Dakota Pastel. Also I believe Ersta is not archival.

Kathryn Wilson
07-02-2004, 11:17 PM
Well, it looks like I need to sing the praises of Art Spectrum all on my own. It was the paper that got me back to pasteling again - having only used Canson, I was discouraged and didn't like what resulted from using it.

Art Spectrum, for me, has just the right sanded surface to it and I love all their background color choices. My favorites are Terra Cotta and Royal Blue. I can use it for both soft and oil pastels.

Somerset Velvet Black is another favorite of mine that I don't think you got many comments on - love it for dramatic, vibrant color. It takes a beating, but no water please.

Of course, Wallis is the best - but don't use it often because of the expense.

07-03-2004, 12:40 AM
Deb, I think the demo that Carly did for underpainting was on Art Spectrum...not sure tho, but you might want to ask her. From what I understand AS will take pretty much the same kind of underpainting techniques as Wallis. The only reason I put AS second to Wallis is that the AS is a tad rougher and doesn't take nearly as many layers as Wallis. I do love the colors tho! But Wallis is so smooooooooooooooothe and yummy. But the Art Spectrum is yummy too....arghhhhh....Wallis is what I'd hope for on a desert island for sure, but hey, if a stray freighter happened by and dropped a buncha Art Spectrum....that would be nice too, just for variety. :D

Kathryn Wilson
07-03-2004, 06:48 AM
Yeah, just imagine Sooz if Wallis were available in colors like AS - wow! hint, hint - ;)

07-03-2004, 07:45 AM
Yeah, just imagine Sooz if Wallis were available in colors like AS - wow! hint, hint - ;)


But Kitty will just tell us to quit bein' lazy and color our own! :D Which I STILL haven't gotten around to trying yet! Well...I did...but it didn't work out too well -- let's just say you have to THIN Createx before ya lay it on there! :rolleyes:

07-03-2004, 07:59 AM
I'm with Kat - I love Art Spectrum, though I didn't the first time I tried it. As Ed says, you have to spend some time getting to know what a particular paper can and can't do for you.

My recent still lifes and plein airs were all done on Art Spectrum and that's the surface I would turn to first for most still lifes, florals, landscapes and plein air. For landscapes in particular, I enjoy seeing that slightly rough texture show through when I don't build up the pastel too thickly - but I also like the fact that it will take enough layers for me to build up the colour more smoothly if I want. Lately I've been priming everything in sight with AS primer in leaf green dark, which is one of my favourite colours (of any support) to work on. A mid-to-dark green or a burgundy seem to suit me for most subjects, especially portraits and landscapes, as they're either complementary or analogous to the colours of skin or foliage.

It's only now, though, that I realise I've never done a portrait on Art Spectrum. I love AS and I love portraiture, so why is that?? For portraits I tend to choose either La Carte or Tints. La Carte's sanded surface allows me to build up loads of pastel till I get almost a 'wet paint' effect, very smooth, which I like for skin -


With the reverse side of Tints (Winsor & Newton's answer to Mi-Teintes), I can let the colour and rough-but-not-too-rough texture of the paper show through -


As for other papers, I found Ersta pleasant to use, but the sheet I had was a bit bendy at the edges, as if it had come off a roll and I couldn't flatten it. As for pastel cloth - yuk! You get a sheet of it in the Dakota sampler, but I have yet to see anybody here say anything positive about it. Somerset Velvet can be nice for sensitive figure paintings because it comes in very pale shades and its soft texture makes me want to stroke the pastel on very gently. As for Wallis, it's not available in the UK and is too expensive to get shipped over but I've got a pack of the lovely stuff coming my way next week, courtesy of a friend who's been visiting family in the States :)