View Full Version : smooth pastel paper

11-26-2011, 01:19 PM
As a complete newbie to using soft pastels,I wanted to know if there are certain pastel papers that are very sooth? I am finding it difficult to get detail into my drawings.
I look on the gallery page,and am amazed at the detail on a lot of the works,(eyes on animals/humans,hair,feathers etc.)



11-26-2011, 02:08 PM
If you want sanded paper, UArt 800 would be a good choice. Don't know how that would translate into Fisher paper for a UK purchase.

11-26-2011, 02:13 PM
Thanks Potoma,
forgive my stupidity,,-are snaded papers the smoothest paper then?,its just when I hear sanded/sandpaper I think they are rough.


11-26-2011, 02:23 PM
800 is very smooth, but does have tooth. It is like very, very fine sand paper from the hardware store. Not sure how it translates into Fisher paper which is roughly (ha!) the European equivalent brand.

If you want exceedingly smooth, just use heat pressed watercolor paper, but nothing so smooth holds many layers for long.

Deborah Secor
11-26-2011, 02:51 PM
It's the tooth of the paper that will take more detail than smooth papers, Brian. It's against sense at first, but dry pigment has to have some crevices to snuggle down into. Flat, perfectly smooth paper won't give you that. Fine, fine grit sandpaper, like the UART 800 Bonnie suggests, gives you enough depth to paint the detail you want, but isn't rough like furniture grade sandpaper.

11-26-2011, 03:00 PM
You might want to try Canson Mi-Tientes. One side is lightly textured, the other smoother. Definitely use the smooth side. This is a non-sanded paper. The sanded papers come in a wide variety of grits - just like hardware store sandpaper. So they can vary from very rough to quite a bit smoother. The higher the number, the smoother the paper. Just as an experiment you can get 800 grit sandpaper from the hardware store to try it out. Of course, I'm not sure if this numbering system for hardware store sandpaper is the same in other countries - these are US numbers.

No pastel paper is really smooth, as it has to have something to grab hold of the pastel particles.

To get detail, you might need to get some pastel pencils or hard pastels. Or work larger. Getting detail in pastel is not easy, but can be done with practice. Much detail in pastel paintings is suggested, or done by covering a thicker area of pastel to reveal just a thin line underneath.


11-26-2011, 04:17 PM
Thanks everyone lots to think about and lots to learn-

Potoma-Fisher paper is available here I have seen it online(not cheap)
Deborah- never thought of it like that-the two papers I bought are Daler Rowney Murano and Blck Canford.The murano seems to have too much texture for me and I have been using the reverse,and the black canford is about the same as the reverse side of the murano.I dont much like either of them.lol.
Don- thanks for the tips,I have some pastel pencils but they just seem to push the soft pastel around,I would think 400 grit or 800 grit sandpaper would eat pastels.May have to try Canson Mi-tentes.
Or splash out on some fisher paper

All the best

11-26-2011, 04:22 PM
Canson isn't reusable very easily, but Fisher should take some scrubbing, b/c you can get it wet and then reuse it. Sanded paper is worth the cost.

Also the difference between 400 and 800 is huge.

11-26-2011, 06:07 PM
Brian, for a smooth finish, you have two economical options, as I see it: the UK Fisher 400, which, when saturated with pigment, is very smooth, but still takes details. Or the French Clairefontaine PastelMat Card (not to be confused with Sennelier Pastel Card/La Carte). The latter isn't sanded, it has cellulouse fibre that looks and feels very 'wimpy', but it takes a lots of layers. IMHO (or rather IMnsHO = not so Humble) the Fisher is superior.

There's a difference between grain and tooth. Ordinary papers (Canson MT, Ingres) have little tooth although they have grain (a structure). Fisher has a deep tooth, but not so much structure. For a smooth look, you can use paper with a deep tooth, as long as there is little structure. You will need to work more on it, though, which is why I would recommend the PastelMat, as it doesn't have a deep tooth nor a structure.

Edit: the UK Fisher 400 can be re-used innumerable times, which actually makes it great bang for the buck.

11-26-2011, 07:21 PM
Thanks Charlie:wave:
such great info for a novice like myself.I really have fallen for pastels even though I have only been using them since october,and I didnt want to be put of by the choice of paper I made.
But all this help will keep me keen,

thank all


11-26-2011, 08:18 PM
Hi Brian. I love Canson M/T and 800 Uart, On the M/T I sand the smooth side which gives me a little more tooth. I use a ruff sand paper. If i get deep scratches in it the pastels will fill it in. and yes you don't get much tooth in the M/T. but it's cheep enought to practice and paint on for finished workes also.

11-26-2011, 11:49 PM
I've had good results on Canson Mi-Tientes smooth side. Some artists scuff it up a little with fine sandpaper (hardware store type) before using it, to give it more tooth. I'll speak up for the PastelMat too. It feels as if it's got a smooth surface and it'll hold a fine line as if it's smooth, but it's like painting on the sticky side of tape. Colourfix Suede is a similar product worth trying.

11-27-2011, 04:54 AM
... PastelMat .... it's like painting on the sticky side of tape.
:lol: Yes, exactly! What a great similie!

11-27-2011, 04:13 PM
Pete and Robert,lots more info to consider,
If I could get a sample of each it would be good.
In the meantime I will keep practising on my murano paper.

Thanks again

Donna A
12-13-2011, 11:56 PM
Hi, Brian. You should be able to fine Art Spectrum's Colourfix Suede papers in England. It comes in 8 colors. This is a fine-toothed sanded pastel paper very much like the Pastelmat that Charlie mentioned. The Mi-Tientes is not an archival paper and hardly any tooth at all and all but the lighter colors will fade considerably!!!

If your dealer does not happen to carry the Colourfix Suede yet, then you can get the original Colourfix papers (in 20 colors!) and use a fine grade of sand paper to sand down the surface to a finer grade. I've done this often before the advent of the Suede and it works beautifully! Best wishes! Donna ;-}

12-14-2011, 07:13 AM
Hi Brian
Yes, your pastel pencils will indeed "push soft pastel around". So, one of the keys to getting fine detail in your work, such as eyes in animals, is to BEGIN with your harder pastels.....pastel pencils are much harder than soft pastels, and only use your softer pastels ON TOP of the harder pastel.

I recently did a Badger picture for my husband...WAY out of my comfort zone on this one, I have to say, but hubby adores badgers, feeds a visitor to our garden regularly, so I wanted to give him a painting for his birthday tomorrow. I really struggled with the finer detail, particularly around the eyes. I was given some help by a WC-er who paints animals, bless him, and in the end, managed to get a passable wildlife pic done.....but he taught me that for details in animals' eyes, one needs to work with hard pastels first and foremost, and keep them really sharp.

Then, you dont need to worry about the paper. It is not the smoothness of the paper that will guarantee you detail, it is the way you use your pastels. Of course, a very ROUGH paper, like a watercolour paper, will be hardest to use for detail, so you just need to be sure you aren't using, and fighting with, a very rough surface.

Also....if you are painting animals, or perhaps human portraits, you may want loads of detail in certain areas....but do remember that it is important to get proportions, shapes and tones right before finally adding detail. It is not always the detail that gives the best results.

12-14-2011, 08:38 AM
Thanks Donna, I will have a look for the suede version,
I actually bought a few sheets of Colourfix from a local art store(the only type and colour of sanded paper they had).Tried a few experimental doodles on it -can't say I am a big fan. :(
The idea of having to sand a paper with another paper seems too much hassle.
I will have to try some of the other papers mention,the pastelmat and fisher,although postage and minimum order(because I live in Ireland) make it a big purchase.

Jackie thanks for the tips -although -you seem to contradict yourself-

one of the keys to getting fine detail in your work, such as eyes in animals, is to BEGIN with your harder pastels.

....but do remember that it is important to get proportions, shapes and tones right before finally adding detail.

Maybe I should abandon pastels if I want the detailed look(although,I see some great work in the galleries here that seem detailed,maybe they are just painted on a bigger scale).

thanks again

12-14-2011, 01:57 PM
Yes, I guess, in a way, you are right, it does seem a contradiction...so I will try to explain.

When I tackled my badgers, I began with hard pastels. I made sure the overall shapes and proportion of the badgers were right. I made sure the important elements like the features, were in the right places. I tried to give some sense of three-dimensional form to the animals, lightly, with the sides of the pastels.

Then, having assured myself that the proportions and shapes in general terms, were right, I worked on the eyes, still using my hardest pastels. I dont normally work just one area up to a conclusion, I tend to work all over the image, but in this instance, it was important to get the eyes right, and soft pastels were simply not "sharp" enough for either my slightly shaky hand or the small eye area, so I stuck to the hard pastels for those areas. I actually continued with the hard pastels all over the animals, making sure I got their forms looking substantial - head the right shape, body the right shape. Eventually, I switched to softer pastels, for the grasses surrounding the animals, which I kept more abstract and sketchy, using lots of loose side strokes, and eventually just a few linear marks to suggest long grasses, and I used a softer stick for some of the white areas on the badger's bodies, and some softer greys and mid tones for their bodies. By and large, I mostly used my harder pastels for the majority of the image, just switching to softies towards the end. I know that if I try to work hard OVER soft, it just pushes the soft pastel around. It is much easier to work layer over layer with hard pastels.

sorry the pic is at the framers and I forgot to photograph it. But anyway...
Does that make more sense?

No need to abandon pastels for very detailed work. You just will need to find a way of working with your pastels which suits what you want to achieve. There are pastellists out there who produce unbelievably detailed work, with pastels, so it is certainly achievable.

Let's face it, it is just as difficult to achieve highly detailed work with a BRUSH, which is soft and floppy, or perhaps stiff and springy....it all takes practice. In fact, practice practice practice is what all painting is about.

To see some superb animal images, with plenty of detail, together with lovely abstract looser work, take a look at the work of MIKE BEEMAN, you can google him and see his wildlife pics. They aren't large scale, either. Look at this Alsation head....even the nose looks moist...

There are also terrific artists on these boards who do amazingly detailed work with pastels.

Why give up before you even begin? Isn't that somewhat defeatist?


12-14-2011, 05:17 PM
Thanks Jackie for your detailed reply,
Your description of you badger painting makes perfect sense,(hard pastels for finer and finest detail and soft pastels for the rest).
Given that is a good painting process to follow in order to get detail in a painting,I will have to invest in a set of hard pastels-any suggestions for a good starter pack?

I agree there are many examples of fine detailed work on this forum and Mike Beeman is certainly in the top echelon,that is what attracted me to soft pastels as a medium.
I haven't given up just yet.
I suppose if money was not an issue,I would just buy all types of paper and all brands of pastels soft and hard and through trial and error I would eventually come to some 'team' of products that would work for me(or if none of them worked for me, I could then just 'give up'.

Maybe I just havent the correct materials for the effect I desire-
Maybe I am just a bad workman blaming his tools-
Currently I have -
Portrait Selection from Rembrandt(30)
Derwent Pastel Pencils(24)
Inscribe soft pastel(48 half sticks)
Daler Rowney Murano paper(neutral colours)
Daler Rowney Canford paper(black).

I have only painted about 5 pastel paintings(posted most of them on here).
It could be a case of impatience/frustration or it may just be a case of lack of skill.
But,I can say,I appreciate all your help and replies Jackie,this is a great place,
and has inspired me to return to art after a good 25 years.
I will just have to keep at it.

p.s. i will have a sample of fisher 400 paper in a few days time -it might be the thing I was lookin for

12-14-2011, 05:29 PM
After watching Lorenzo Chavez do beautiful stuff on the smooth side of Canson MT, I started using it. And like Pete K, I sand it a bit first. I also use Canson MT board, which has only the waffle side. I sand that down a bit and the texture isn't so pronounced.

12-14-2011, 06:16 PM
Thanks Sonni,so many choices.

Love your flickr feed some stunning stuff.


12-15-2011, 03:29 PM
Hi Brian,
This was done with pastel pencils on valour paper 10" x 7" and shows the detail you can get.


I started using pastel pencils after watching a dvd by Colin Bradley on how to do cats and dogs and fell in love with pastels.


12-15-2011, 06:25 PM
Lovely piece of art Ray,the kind of thing I aspire to be able to create,
for detail it seems pastel pencils and 'hard pastels' are the kit.
I do have a 24 set of derwent pastel pencils(but the colours just dont seem as vibrant as my soft pastel sticks and the 24 seems very limited pallette).
I seem to be doing more reading than drawing at the minute-between here and books.That could be the problem-maybe more drawing would serve me better,rather than trying to find out everything.


Donna A
12-15-2011, 07:16 PM
Thanks Donna, I will have a look for the suede version,
I actually bought a few sheets of Colourfix from a local art store(the only type and colour of sanded paper they had).Tried a few experimental doodles on it -can't say I am a big fan. :(
The idea of having to sand a paper with another paper seems too much hassle.

Hi, again, Brian! Sanding the Colourfix only takes two or three minutes, including getting a sheet of fine sandpaper out of the cupboard, so---do consider giving it a fast try sometime! And I've sanded it different amounts, even what seemed like a LOT, and it gave lovely though slightly different results with each amount of sanding down. Take good care! Donna ;-}

12-15-2011, 07:24 PM
Thanks Donna,I promise I will give it a try.
As I say,I am reading lots and painting zero at the minute.
Purchased Bill Creevey's Pastel Book and read most of it today.
Just cannot seem to get anything that makes me want to paint,and if I am not interested in the subject,it transfers to the painting.
So I am waiting in vain for a spark of inspiration.

Thanks again for your reply


12-15-2011, 07:48 PM
Hi Brian

I don't know if you are aware of the Reference Image Library here at WC, but just in case you haven't been there yet, here is the link. Thousands of photos that you can use for painting. http://www.wetcanvas.com/RefLib/

Have fun.


12-15-2011, 11:10 PM
The many times I have read here about pastel papers I have never seen mention of Pentel Meridian. I have used it and love it. I'd say it is perfect for pastels.
It has a random toothy surface and you can get detail. It is a 90# 100% cotton paper. I'm really surprized that more people don't use it. That might be because they called it "drawing" paper and was listed with other sketch pads.
Also there is Artagain which I like for pastel.
My website www.the-oh-zone.com shows work done in both. The white backgrounds are Meridian, the dark backgrounds are Artagain. I ran out of the Meridian and so far the only place I have found it was on Amazon. There are fewer sheets to a pad since I first bought it. I sure hope they haven't changed it otherwise.

I very much dislike Canton M/T.

12-16-2011, 09:51 AM
Cheer Doug,will have a look...
Thanks five for the tips-love your dogs through the years.


12-16-2011, 11:10 AM
The many times I have read here about pastel papers I have never seen mention of Pentel Meridian. I have used it and love it. I'd say it is perfect for pastels.
It has a random toothy surface and you can get detail. It is a 90# 100% cotton paper. I'm really surprized that more people don't use it. That might be because they called it "drawing" paper and was listed with other sketch pads.

Five, I think you mean Pentalic Meridian . It's available at http://www.fineartstore.com/ The site also shows an aqua journal and field sketch book. And, you're right ... I have never heard of or seen these pads, so I'm going to get one and try it out. Thanks.

12-16-2011, 11:48 AM
For smooth papers that hold a lot, I really like the Canson Mi-Tientes....it's still one of my favorites!

12-16-2011, 05:25 PM
Thanks Mike.

12-16-2011, 07:02 PM
For sanded papers, I got some samples of Canson Mi-Tientes Touch, which ought to be available where regular Canson Mi-Tientes is. I finally started using a piece for my canine commission in progress, which I decided to do in pastel pencils realism because it's an unfamiliar animal. I need to stick close to the reference to get the strange un-catlike features right.

It's fine-grained sanded paper. I'm geting a lot of detail with the pastel pencils yet layering is easy - I've got about six or seven layers on the tongue to get "flower petal pink" down to "dog tongue pink." It could take at least half a dozen more layers, maybe more.

What I do when I start with hard pastels or pastel pencils is first sketch the proportions loosely in a color that'll contrast enough to see the sketch and harmonize with the final painting. Then I'll do eyes and whatever details need to be done with hard pastels or pencils. Then switch to "medium" pastels for broad rendering.

Medium Soft pastels would include your Daler-Rowney ones, Winsor & Newton, Rembrandt and Art Spectrum.

Then if the tooth of the paper feels full, or if I just want to change the texture, I do the finishing layers with either Hand-Rolled or Super Soft pastels. If I use both, I go to Hand Rolled and then to Super Soft.

Hand-Rolled pastels include Mount Vision, Unisons, Mungyo Gallery Hand Rolled and Richeson Hand Rolled. They tend to be expensive but have a great, fluffy, soft texture with a lot of sparkle. I think the pigment crystals are less crushed in the hand rolling process.

If I'm working loosely and not as concerned with detail, as in a landscape, I might do the whole painting in Medium Soft or Hand Rolled pastels.

Last category is Super Soft, including Sennelier, Schminke, Terry Ludwig and probably others I haven't tried. These will fill the tooth of the paper faster than any of the others, but produce gorgeous almost impasto effects. I have a lot of Senneliers because I bought an 80 color half stick set and a 10 color half stick Blues set. I've done whole paintings just with those, but the feel of them makes me want to work loose and bold with fewer layers and bigger strokes most of the time. Or very light touches so that I can layer more.

It's possible to get detail with the softer pastels too. What that takes is using them with a very light hand and using a broken edge for a sharp edge that'll only last a stroke or two. Jerry's Artarama has a Pastel Shaper kit that consists of a little cone shaped strainer that fits onto a jar. You sharpen a round pastel stick against the strainer and save the powder in the jar by color group to re-form it into new sticks with a drop of water or just use it as powder for toning backgrounds.

One way to sketch with just the soft pastels is to use a stump or tortillon. Drag it through a swatch of pastel or scrape it on a stick to pick up some color, then draw with it. Like using a dip pen this takes many applications, but you can get beautiful tone with it in a light application if you want a "tonal drawing" effect.

Another way to get good detail is to just work larger. I started out in colored pencils and did a lot of ACEOs and small works 5" x 7" or no bigger than 8" x 10" - when I started doing pastels, I started going up to 9" x 12" or even larger sometimes or simplifying subjects. Pastels taught me not to render every detail in high contrast so much as to focus details in the most important parts of the painting, treat them as accents.

A landscape can look real and true with loose painterly effects over the whole thing. A portrait, I like to get detail into eyes and mouth, somewhat on the nose but that's subtle and can be implied rather than stated. Out on the face I'm using broader strokes and soft edged shadows to define shape. Out in the hair and where the neck fades off into the background, I get very loose and just block in masses of color with blocky highlights.

This oddly looks more "real" than if I did a portrait and very carefully rendered every detail of the hair and neck. That gradual "more detailed closer to the focal area" technique is wonderful in pastels. Eyes are the obvious focus for animals and humans, with mouth as a secondary focus.

Finally, here's some inspiration for you from the Soft Pastel Learning Center: A Decadent Treat. (http://www.wetcanvas.com/forums/showthread.php?t=598120) Years after I'd adjusted to "I get less detail with pastels but WOW it's so fast and easy to do a powerful painting!" I came here and found Dianne Ponting's work.

It can be done. You can get detail as insanely perfect as colored pencil realism combined with the shimmering layered sparkle of dry pastels. She uses pastel pencils sometimes but she can also create this realism with Unisons - the first example cherry is done with "three Unison reds."

There are other great classes in the Pastel Learning Center too, on all sorts of subjects. One of my favorites is "ESP: Still Life the Colourful Way" by Colorix. I was one of the original participants and she completely changed the way I see color and use color.

Up till then, I'd pretty much gone with "Observe carefully and match the hue and value of what I see, sometimes mixing or layering to get it right." There is so much more to color than that. This is one of the major advantages of pastel - you can get color effects in pastels that aren't the same as colored pencils, that give a sparkling prismatic richness to the final painting that isn't even always visible in photos.

Also that approach to color will work with colored pencils as well since they're translucent. The nice thing about Charlie's course is that it'll reduce the need to own a thousand pastels to "okay, I'm indulging myself" versus "Arrgh, I still don't have the color I need and I've got a thousand pastels, why aren't I rich?"

Last thing about pastels and surfaces. PastelMat is my top favorite surface for Pan Pastels and I enjoy using them on unsanded paper more than sanded papers. Personal taste. Pan Pastels are applied with micropore sponges and produce thin veils of color. It's tough to get details with Pan Pastels. However, for first layers, blocking in, smooth gradations and painterly looks, Pan Pastels are wonderful. They're more like paint in how they handle, using sponges rather than sticks.

They are also brilliant for laying in color and building up to where the final details are applied in pastel pencil over them. Since they can be mixed like paint, you don't need as many of them - everything over the 20 color Painters Set (all the pure tone pigments) is convenience colors. Not that I don't enjoy the convenience colors, I got the full set because they're so useful. But for a field set I pull out just the ten colors from the 10 Color Painters and I've experimented with just the primaries, black and white in the 5 Color Starter.

Wet or dry underpainting can also give areas of color to detail later which hold the pastel pencils well.

There's lots to learn with pastels. At every stage I've made discoveries that had me roaring in joy. But even when I started out self taught, just drawing and then shading with finger smudging, I got effects with dry pastels that I couldn't get with anything else and grand results at great speed. So don't give up on them.

Hard pastels and pastel pencils also rock for sketching. I use them in my sketchbooks all the time and that's plain paper.

12-16-2011, 08:13 PM
Robert you are too kind with your knowledge and time,-what a comprehensive reply - so much to take in and contemplate.
I will be trying new types of paper and possibly new pastels in the new year
if I save some money.!
In the meantime I will have to keep experimenting with the sets and paper I have.
Colour is a new thing to me as all I ever sketched in was pencil-and it does frustrate me sometimes to the extent that I think I am colourblind.
Colorix's class sounds just what I need.

Anyway thanks again


Donna A
12-18-2011, 07:47 PM
Hi! Just everyone remember---the Canson Mi-Tientes are not archival at all---and the paper fades, except for the white and near-whites. When one of my fellow painters heard this, he did some tests and brought the results to the MidAmerica Pastel Society meeting several months later and shared it with the whole group, letting everyone see how significantly the paper fades. He used up the rest of what he had as backing for his pastel paintings and went to archival papers. Many painters have abandoned painting on Canson for this reason. Best wishes! Donna ;-}

12-18-2011, 08:41 PM
Robert , you have outdone yourself :evil:
i had to add your post to my favorites :)

Donna - i'm curious about specifics of the test .

a Canson paper that i find receptive is the Dessin .
i haven't seen it lately in some US box stores ,
but i'm buying it where i find it .
> it's thinner , but has a grab close to the M-T ,
and is pads rather than single sheets .

if i mentioned Strathmore , i'll say it again -
it's very receptive to vine/willow charcoal
which is an excellent bridge from pencil to pastel .
there are charcoal pencils as well .

the point is you can pull off pigment from a thick mark
to get a sense of modeling/value
and also see how pastel , in it's own way ,
can do the same thing as those wet media colour charts
which thin out a gradation of the original colour
by mixing water/thinner/medium into it .

for me , on paper , that helps me decide about how to work/adjust
my first choice for a base colour
without flattening the tooth/grab ,
and an eraser can fine tune things as well .
( see Donna T's recent thread in Studio )

Ed :}