4 Pastel Painting Shortcuts you MUST Avoid

By Niki Hilsabeck in Art Tutorials > Painting Tutorials

Buying art materials can get pricey—and soft pastels are no exception—but if you’re looking for ways to save some money, take a minute to read this article first! Knowing which shortcuts to avoid will help save your artwork (and your money) in the long run.

Let’s get started. . .

1. Always spring for good quality surfaces

Although pastel is a very versatile medium (street painting, anyone?) the quality of paper or board you choose makes a huge difference in the outcome of your painting.

Using paper that isn’t designed to hold a lot of pigment can leave you frustrated as your paper fills up with streaks, tears, and “furry” looking areas. Your surface doesn’t have to be expensive, just one that is made for dry pastel—a good grade of watercolor or drawing paper will also work just fine, as long as it’s better than student-level quality).

2. Make sure your paintings are well-stored

To store my paintings, I use Glassine paper as often as I can. Glassine paper is made specifically for pastel storage, and doesn’t attract dust from your painting. It has a smooth surface that can even be carefully wiped clean if needed.

Please note that although Glassine has the feel of wax paper, it is NOT the same! The wax coating on wax paper can melt in high temperatures, which could mean disaster if you’re shipping a pastel painting and it ends up in a hot truck or warehouse somewhere.

If you’re out of Glassine paper or are concerned about cost, acid-free white tissue paper is a better choice than wax paper.

3. Use real fixative

I once took a pastel painting out to spray at a festival, when a neighboring artist asked to see my can of fixative. She noted that it was “expensive,” and wondered why I would spend the money on such a product.

The truth is, the brand was a middle-level brand—I think I had spent a total of twelve dollars on the can. A can of hairspray (often a popular alternative) might be cheaper, but ruining a pastel painting with hairspray one time was enough to convince me that it’s worth it to just buy the product that’s designed to hold pastel in place, and let it do its job. Personally, I would rather go without fixative and leave a painting “as is” rather than ruin it with hairspray.

4. Never use plexiglass when framing

There’s a reason pastels are the exception to the “no glass” rule for large framed works at shows. Plexiglass draws the pastel dust off your painting, meaning it sticks to the plexiglass and obscures the view of your work.

Whenever possible, stick to glass when framing your pastels—if you do end up putting one in a frame with plexiglass, use spacers to keep the pastel away from the plexiglass and exchange it for glass as soon as possible.

Obviously, everyone has their own preferences when it comes to materials, cost, and quality—and sometimes you don’t even have the choice to be picky. But whenever possible, try to avoid the shortcuts I mentioned above, or work towards avoiding them in the future. I guarantee your pastel paintings will be better for it!


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