Fisher 400 Paper
The Right Support
At a recent family get together, my brother in law told me that when he was at art college, everyone gave pastels a very wide berth as they were considered to be difficult to use. I have to say, I can see what he meant.
For years I dabbled with pastels and produced not very much at all in the way of good quality paintings, but couldn't understand why I couldn't get the hang of the medium and produce the sort of marks that I could see that other people managed.
A couple of workshops and a lot of thought and experimentation later, and I realised, that it was not the pastels at fault, but the paper.
In order to produce professional pastel paintings it's absolutely vital to use the right paper. The following article gives a few of my favourite paper supports that are really worth trying.
I have a slight leaning towards sanded papers, as they grab the pastel pigment, giving superb vibrancy of colour and allowing the artist to build up layers of pastel without the painting going 'muddy'. I'm much less a fan of textured papers as I have yet to find one with the quality of the sanded types. (I'd be very happy to be proved wrong!)
Art Spectrum Colourfix
Colourfix pastel paper was the first professional paper I tried. Qualities:
Waterproof glue, so you can underpaint with watercolour/ink/acrylic
Range of colours
Size 50 x 70cm (19 1/2 X 27 1/2")
This paper changed the way I felt about pastel painting and is probably responsible for me taking it up professionally. The tooth of the paper is a little coarse, but not as coarse as sandpaper. It grabs the pastel well, but I find it somewhat difficult to make really fine marks with it, and it uses a lot of pastel. It's a really tough paper, so if you go wrong, you can scrub off the work with a brush and start again. I've even washed it under the tap and been able to use it afterwards.
This is a great paper if you're starting out, or if you're making a big, bold piece.
Clairefontaine Pastelmat Paper
Pastelmat is my everyday paper. It's the one I use for teaching my pastel workshop students. It has a fine velour surface, so it's easy for making broad and fine marks and allows for good layering of pastel. It also comes in great big sheets, so I can work very large if I want to. Pastelmat can also be used with coloured pencils. Qualities:
Waterproof glue, so you can use watercolour/ink/acrylic
Broad or fine detail
Range of Colours
Two sizes 50 x 70cm (19 1/2 X 27 1/2") size and 1m x 70 cm (39 1/2 X 27 1/2")
I tried a sample of Fisher 400 and I'm a convert, for me this is the Rolls Royce of pastel papers. The paper has a fine sand that is superb for broad and fine work. The sheltering sheep above were painted on Fisher 400. This is going to be my main support from now on. Qualities
Waterproof glue, so you can use ink/acrylic/watercolour
Reduced dust (less pastel wasteage)
Also suitable for oil pastel, mixed media and pencil work
Range of colours (the sheep were painted on natural)
Range of sizes 70 x 51cm (27 1/2 X 20") or 51 x 35cm (20 x 14") (Or Tim Fisher will cut a large sheet for you)
Arches Watercolour Paper
This is the only paper I use. It's not a pastel paper, but a watercolour paper. I use the hand-made 300gsm rough Arches, with 4 deckled edges. I tend to use this when I'm combining pastels with charcoal as in Atlantic Light and I also use this support for my black and white pen and ink pieces. It's a durable paper, but you can't layer the pastels too much. you can make quite fine and detailed marks though. Qualities:
Will stand quite a wetting without cockling, so you can use water-based product with it.
Size 51 x 77cm (20 X 30") Almost A1 size and fits an A1 frame really well.
Occasionally, I buy sandpaper from the hardware store, if I'm working on a piece that doesn't require too much fine detail. It's great for seascapes, as the sand colour is already there and it's a wonderful foil for all those blues, whites and greens. Qualities:
Range of coarseness
Some colour variation
On the downside you can only layer pigment to a small degree and it really does use up a lot of pastel. Some will take water-based product, but others won't - get to know your hardware store!
In short, I'll continue to use Clarefontaine Pastelmat as my everyday, studio/teaching paper, but if I'm producing a commission or a piece for sale, I thinks it's just got to be the Fisher 400. It's just a superb paper and only a couple of pounds more expensive - so well worth the extra.
All of the above papers are available online, which is the main way I buy as art shops rarely stock the sanded papers, and they are quite heavy to lug home from a shopping trip.
Georgina Crawford (author) from Dartmoor on December 03, 2012:
Thanks Docmo, I've never got on well with Ingres for some reason. Matt, that's great news - Fisher 400 is spreading all over the world (I bet Tim Fisher's also amused).
Matt on December 03, 2012:
Great article... proartpanels.com now carries Fisher 400 Art paper in the United States!
Mohan Kumar from UK on October 01, 2012:
I too, realised after a few unsatisfactory pictures that the power of the pastel drawing lay with the choice of good paper. Clarefontaine is a good choice , as is 'Ingres' which I have been using to some satisfaction. A really useful hub here. Thanks.
Stephanie Henkel from USA on October 01, 2012:
Excellent and useful article on pastel papers. My medium of choice is watercolor, but beautiful pastels have always fascinated me. My attempts at pastel painting have never been very successful, and I realize that part of the problem might be the paper I've used. Thanks for the excellent advice! Voted up!