Lets get technical and talk about pastel surfaces.

So I probably haven’t used every surface for the medium of pastel out there, but I can give you a pretty comprehensive analysis of the ones I use regularly.  So let’s start with one of my favorite surfaces…Ampersand.

The cool thing about this pastel board is that it is a thick board and the surface is painted on masonite. It is not as heavy a “grit” as some others and it can also be used for oil painting which I have done.  All of my Kintsugi oil paintings were done on Ampersand.  The surface is relatively smooth and if you run your hand over it, it feels a bit slick.  You would think this would make it great for smooth and “blendy” applications.  And it can, but the best part about this surface is the deliberate texture you can get from a single stroke.  Of course, different pastels act differently according to power and how they get along with other brands, (those that have taken my “Power” workshop know this to be true) but this surface will leave a more “broken” trail…and that can be very beautiful.

My painting “Indigent” below was done on white Ampersand. (pastel, 21 x 13″) And I deliberately picked this surface because of how the pastels leave such a clear “drag” across it.

Here is a close-up of the nose….cool textures huh? Skintones do NOT have to be “smooth” to work successfully. The cheeks are all pencilwork only.  Crosshatching and nuances. Put marks in. Leave them  alone.  A “blendy” handling of his skin would not have let the skintones be “alive” in the sun. I frequently tell my students to not “give their painting the finger” and over blend with their hands because it really can kill the freshness of the pigments.  

Ampersand takes thick applications of pastel- like on the nose- and also enables one to “push” the pigments around and easily “recede” areas too- like the ear. Compare the ear to the textures and marks on the nose.  See the difference? This has to happen in order to create depth in the face-  even in such a “shallow” space.  The nose comes forward. This is necessary to “break” the flatness of the picture plane (the flat, Ampersand board) and create the illusion of depth and space.  I softened the ear to make the nose more sharp. Make sense? Everything in painting is relative. (life too!) 

I literally LOVED running that mint-green, heavy, Sennelier pastel down the highlight on the bridge of the nose… and then leaving it.  The MARK itself has to be clear and clean and interesting… and “unfussed with.” I feel Ampersand is the best for that effect. 

The boards come in a midtone grey-ish color and a few other hues, but white works the best for me.  The colors stay clean on the surface-  think of it like working in watercolor paint on white paper and getting the translucent colors to pop. That is what happens here. The best thing is that the board can easily be popped into a frame and the painting is good to go.  Don’t worry about putting a mat around the image with this surface. The masonite board underneath is about 1/4 inch thick which makes it nice and durable and stiff to slam in my easel, but putting a mat on it will be awkward unless you want to pay a high-end framer too much to do it for you.  Just make sure the frame is at least 3-5 inches thick.  This is where pastel artists try to cheap out on the framing. It doesn’t look very good to put a cheap, thin frame on your work. Trust me. Put a thick frame on it and make your work look as important as it is….

Here is a link to the Ampersand site for more info.  They also make other surfaces. If you haven’t tried it before, check it out and let me know what you are doing on it! 


Next week, my love affair with Sennelier LaCarte. 


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