View Full Version : Whites/lights in pastel

Art Leat
05-06-2007, 03:33 AM
Just started in pastels, using Sennelier soft, Conte hard and Faber Pitt pencils.

The books say you can successfully put light over dark, but having recently done a still life with white daisies I found the whites disappointing, dulled by the underlying background which had been fixed. The ground was a 'not' surfaced watercolour paper, 380x280, and for the daisies I applied a (cream) white Sennelier soft to a dark background colour. Was the ground too rough, perhaps?

All tips and any book recommendations will be appreciated - I have read Bill Creevy and Jackie Simmonds

05-06-2007, 10:07 AM
Hi Art Leat. I've moved your question from the New User forum to the Soft Pastel Studio, as that is where all the experts hang out. I'm sure they can help.

05-06-2007, 10:24 AM
Hi Art Leat,
Welcome to the soft pastel forum. You can put lights over darks, but if you are really after a very light almost white colour, I wouldn't put the background colour under the white, but paint around it leaving the space for the flower open. Maybe you can show us your painting so we can see what you mean. I have just been experimenting with whites (mainly sennelier) which you can see in my lotus flower. I painted the flower straight onto the paper. It seemed to work.

maggie latham
05-06-2007, 10:48 AM

Hello and Welcome,

Have you tried working on a sanded pastel paper, such as Wallis (here in the States). I think because you are using a watercolor paper, the paper is not holding the layers of pastel well.

When I use an abrasive surface (you can also make these grounds yourself) I can layer Many, Many, Many colors and still the whites stay bright and clear. I usually use Scminke whites and W&Newton.


Art Leat
05-06-2007, 04:25 PM
Thanks appleby.

I'm sure you're right. Why didn't I think of that.

I've looked at your lotus flower and some of your other postings. They're terrific. I'll keep your advice in mind when next doing a pastel

Art Leat
05-06-2007, 04:40 PM
Thanks Maggie.

I'm sure you're right about the watercolour paper.

I've heard recommendations of sanded papers and Wallis paper before, but have been able to find only one source of the Wallis in the UK and that was very expensive. The suppliers I use do not list any sanded papers. I'll try a fine grade of decorator's sand paper.

Can you tell me more about making your own abrasive grounds, please?

05-06-2007, 06:23 PM

a couple good plans for making a nice primer-base to pastel on. i use art spectrum primer myself tho., and find it very useful for my needs. i put it on the left over middles of my rag mat board, and use it plein aire. i apply with a foamy roller, doing many at a time. i think its pretty thrifty and i like the sizes and to not waste those mat leftovers, and they are great in the wind.

05-06-2007, 07:31 PM

Jacksonart has Colourfix and other sanded papers.
I've never used it but I've heard good comments about Royal Sovereign which for what I've read may be simmiler to Pastel Card, but I cannot tell.
Try also Greatart, they have good prices.
I guess that Heaton Cooper also has lots of stuff.

Kind regards,


maggie latham
05-06-2007, 08:11 PM


There are several different ways of making a ground for pastel painting. The most common is to use acrylic gesso (either white or clear) OR acrylic matt medium, with either Pumice Powder, Marble Dust or Aluminum Oxide Grit.

I canít remember the ratios of the top of my head, but will look in my reference file and let you know.

I come from a watercolor background, so always have watercolor paper hanging around, and have used these grounds on 300lb smooth and rough (Not) and 140lb. You can put a ground on pretty much anything. On watercolor paper I usually put one layer of gesso on first then two layers of ground. If you donít want brush strokes as part of your finished painting, then you should use a foam roller or a very light touch with a gesso brush. Hardboard panels or MDF panels would work fine, but you should prime them on both sides and edges with gesso to stop any warping etc.

My favorite substrate for light weight studio and Plein Air painting is something called Gator Foam Core. This is different from the regular foam core one uses for backing in framing. It has a harder, denser surface on both sides, and is resistant to warping. The jury is still out on how archival it really is though! I buy this pre cut (quarter inch in thickness) in standard framing sizes because I am too lazy to cut it up! But I know artists who cut it with a sharp Kraft knife. I apply a gesso ground, then two coats of the pumice, clear gesso and water mix. Sometimes I add a pre made Colorfix ground made for pastels as this Ďbeefsí it up as it has marble dust in it. You can also add a little acrylic modeling paste. Some brands have sand and grit added. You can also add watercolor or acrylic pigment to make a colored ground.

It is fun to experiment, and you will soon find what suits your method of painting. After all my experimentation, I still prefer to work on Wallis paper for most of my paintings. I often mount this to 8ply rag board, or Gator foam if I need a sturdy surface. If you use regular glass paper (sand paper) remember that it is not archival and if you paint your masterpiece it will degrade over time!

Hope this has helped. I will post some recipes for grounds In this thread later.



Deborah Secor
05-06-2007, 11:24 PM
Great advice you've gotten here all around, but let me add that Senneliers seem to me not to be soft enough to do the kind of "light over dark" coverage you've probably read about. If you had a deeply textured or sanded surface and some truly soft pastels such as Schminckes or Unisons (or Great Americans or Terry Ludwigs, here in the US), I think you would find that you could add a dollop of rich white on top of even the roughest surface and have it adhere nicely. When my students have used the harder pastels they're amazed to find that a Schmincke just 'grabs' differently. I know that many folks call the Sennies soft, but to my mind they're more in the medium range. Just my humble opinion!


maggie latham
05-07-2007, 07:37 AM

Good Morning!

Here is a recipe for making your own ground. I also agree with Deborah, about the Schmincke whites.

Making your own Pastel Ground

Half cup of water (or less)
Half cup of Gesso
3-4 TBS pumice powder (this comes in different grades) F2 is medium

Mix together and apply. You have to mix continuously or the pumice works itís way to the bottom!

* This is quite a chalky ground especially on thick watercolor paper.

Experiment with different quantities of gesso and pumice. Clear gesso (or acrylic medium) is also good to use and is less chalky. I often add watercolor or acrylic paint if I want either a warm or cool ground.

One year a group of us Painted wooden holiday ornaments to raise money, and painted the above ground onto the wooden ornaments, so that we could use our pastels to make mini paintings on them! Of course we had to fix the finished ornaments really well, and then give each ornament a spray UV varnish or a coat of acrylic matt varnish.

Once you make your own ground you can put it onto anything!!


Art Leat
05-07-2007, 11:41 AM
Thank you for your help, Maggie,

I'm looking forward to trying your recipe and will let you know how I get on

05-08-2007, 12:49 PM
I have managed light over dark with coloured pastel papers. Cannot remember the weight, but I use the quite thick kind. Etc. Canson mi-teintes. It is easy to use, no need to prime, and not so expensive. :)

Art Leat
05-09-2007, 12:08 AM

I haven't yet tried a dark paper, having done most of the small number of pastels completed on a medium-toned washed watercolour paper. Luckily, within the last few days, I bought a Mi-Teintes pad so I can give your suggestion a go.

Thanks for your help.

05-09-2007, 03:17 PM
Just remember to fix the layers before you introduce a totally different colour, unless ofcourse you want them to mix. I have tried watercolour paper a few times, never worked for me.
A few pages back is a picture of my mast. The blue sky was done almost covering the whole paper before I started on the details. If I want large areas much lighter I try not to get too many dark layers underneath, as the paper finally gets filled up. :)

Art Leat
05-10-2007, 01:06 AM

I found the rockfaces and snow scenes in the pastel section at koti.mbnet, but no "Masts" (?). My navigation seems to be adrift.

I tried fixing on the watercolour paper, but id didn't seem to help much.

But thanks again anyway for your suggestions.

There is another problem that has bothered me. After your last reply, I got some Mi-Teintes and using a near-white sheet started a still life of flowers and fruit on a white table cloth, the intention being to use the paper colour for the white

I soon ran into trouble. Working horizontally because my drawing, which at the best of times is shaky, is not so good when the picture is set vertically, I found that dust from oranges and their purplish shadows in the foreground had strayed onto my white tablecloth. No amount of work with a putty rubber could remove the stains. I guess the only solution is to fix the stained area and apply a white pastel (and learn to work vertically so that it shouldn't happen again)

05-10-2007, 01:10 AM
Working on a sanded surface will help, and yes turning the paper when working, knowing you want a certain space clean will help, also using nupastel or hard pastel pencil makes less falling dust...we've all done this so not to worry.

05-10-2007, 05:24 PM
Sorry if my homepage is misleading. It was done in a hurry a couple of years ago. (The email is no longer valid etc.) It was also mostly intended for finnish people, so...You can try this page for masts.
And yes it is almost impossible tyo keep the paper clean with the dust. And also the need to have "the white of the paper" is not that necessary as in watercolours. I mostly work the whole piece in a uniform manner, unless I have just one object and no background at all.

05-10-2007, 05:33 PM
I use Unisons and they cover well - but a very gifted pastel painter said that Schminke is the whitest white and best cover of all and when I'm ordering pastels again I want to try it.