View Full Version : Black paper and pastels

10-18-2010, 08:47 PM
This black paper I'm using to do a portrait on with soft pastels is starting to do my head in. The problem is, the skin tones, every time I blend I end up rubbing off enough pastel that the black paper starts to show through, even with the lightest touch. I've tried cotton buds and that's worse. :confused: I used fixative earlier in the painting to take the sheen of the pencil sketch so the pastels could stick to it, but it left horrible blotches all over :( , but I'm tempted to fix it again to fix an undercoat of colour and hopefully stop this black showing through :crossfingers:. It will mean going over everything again to repair what the fixative ruins.

This problem with the fixative only seems to affect the paintings on black, white paper paintings fix ok.

Don't think I'll use black paper for portraits again.

What do you think?

10-18-2010, 08:55 PM
I would think using black for portraits would be very difficult indeed. My first choice is to either tone white sandpaper a neutral color that works with skin tones, Wallis sandpaper in belgium mist, or to use a Canson neutral tone, either brown, green, grey or tan. Sometimes the Canson Tobacco and Ivy colors work really well with portraits, as you can use the darker tone of the paper in your shadows, but it is not as harsh as black would be. I'd probably be very frustrated also, especially if I were looking for a somewhat realistic result. If you're going for something more abstract in nature, maybe the black would work. If it's not working for you, maybe it's time to abort, and try again on a more friendlier color.

10-18-2010, 10:55 PM
Black is very difficult to work on, and even though we have had a few recent threads about it, I wouldn't recommend it. As you are finding out, one needs plenty of opaque layers on black which means little or no blending, but building up layers instead. Since skin is translucent, it is often a good thing when a hint of the paper color shows through when that color is related to the skin tones. White works, too, because skin can be very light and reflective.

The fixative wets the pastel, which can cause it to lose some opacity and even be absorbed a little into the paper (depending on the paper, I would guess). So, the black paper will be more noticeable than white after fixing.

At least that is the way I look at it!


Deborah Secor
10-19-2010, 12:14 AM
Neil, I agree with what the others have said. A lot depends on what paper you're using, what fixative you've used, and the skin color, of course. On a good paper with plenty of tooth, I haven't had any problem with blending, but I don't finger blend much on it. Fingers can sometimes add too much oil into the mix. A touch here and there, no problem. I use Colour Shapers, which requires you to build up at least three or four layers of color. Otherwise blending can sort of rub away the color, whether using fingers or Shapers.

When I teach women I tell them blending is not like putting cream on your skin. You don't rub it in--you use it like make-up, very lightly blending it so it stays on top. However, with a guy I'm not sure that will make much sense! (Unless perhaps you've done theater or something of that sort.) At any rate, it's not like cream... Don't blend too much! Let some of the pastel sit atop what's already there and add more layers, which will naturally begin to blend together as the layers increase. I sometimes make three or four passes over the surface, meaning that I paint it four times--it's true!

The depth or tooth of the paper is another big issue. If it's a harder surface, as you blend the color can be revealed from below. We use that to advantage all the time, which is why black might not be your best choice of ground color unless the skin tones are quite dark to begin with.

Fixative can be a real problem. When I can I try to avoid using it. It literally penetrates the pastel crystals making some more transparent and others gummy and dull. I've had the most success with SpectraFix, but nothing is 100%, and again it depends a lot on the paper you're using.

Hope that helps!

Merethe T
10-19-2010, 03:00 PM
Yes, black can be a challenging color to work on, and it sounds like you have a smooth paper? A sanded paper would give you more tooth and make it easier to build layers. However, it is possible to achieve striking portraits on black! I find it easier to build up layers on paper if I use hard pastels and pastel pencils for the first layers(thin layers), and save my softest sticks for the finishing touch.

And as the others have said, you may find it easier to build up layers if you don't use your fingers for blending, or at least do so very lightly. I am a blender myself, but when working on black paper I don't blend - I tap my fingers on the pastel ever so lightly. Pastel pencils work well for blending too, and will keep the colors brighter. I don't use fixative at all, I'm to scared of ruining the painting! :lol:

10-19-2010, 04:18 PM
I haven't done a portrait on black paper though I have done a pastel painting of a Swan on black La Carte. I think the trick is, as mentioned above, not to blend too much (or at all if you can stop yourself!) I think you'll find the colours will cover the black well and continue to sparkle, something that's lost by too heavy blending.

10-19-2010, 06:40 PM
Thanks everyone, you've restored my faith in working on this piece and without using fixative :thumbsup:

It is smooth paper, so it's worth sanding the paper if too smooth? hmmm, will have to try that.

10-19-2010, 07:09 PM

I have sanded Canson paper (on the smooth side), and found it to work. I used a very fine sandpaper afixed to a sanding block. Remember to do it outside, as it does make a bit of a mess. Paper makes a lot of fuzz! I prefer the Canson unsanded, but it was a neat trick, and I might use it again for something different. I don't see why it wouldn't work on other papers as well.

Yve Gal~
10-20-2010, 12:17 AM
I use black Artagain paper often and it is pretty smooth, which at first was a challenge, but now I really love using black paper. I had the same problem at first, but realized that for black paper I had to take a layering approach. Oh, and if I do blend here and there I make sure there is plenty of pastel to blend lightly. After I blend I reapply some color for more "umph".

Black paper can really be a fun paper to use, IMO. It's not for everyone, but hey what works for one may not for someone else ;)

Go black paper! :clap: lol