Color Spree

Color Spree
My favorite color is "all of them." What's yours?

Monday, April 5, 2010

ClaireFontaine PastelMat

ClaireFontaine PastelMat is a new surface recently introduced to the USA from Europe, where it's been around for a few years. It's archival, acid free, comes in eight beautiful colors and has a deceptively smooth surface. It's a coated pastel card that I found useful with any medium I threw at it -- watercolor, pastels, inked lines, oil pastels, pastel pencils, colored pencils, anything. It's quite heavy and stands up well to wet techniques. This has become one of my top three favorite sanded or coated papers -- the one I could use with anything.

PasterMat's versatility makes it perfect for mixed media. If you want a strong heavy substrate that can hold up under pastels with watercolor with paint elements with penwork, where your heavy impasto pastel layers adhere well yet you can also get perfectly smooth fine pen lines, PastelMat is a great choice. It is also the very best substrate available for painting with Pan Pastels. Bar none.

I got a small sample pad with four colors from Bernadette Ward at ColorfinLLC to test with my Pans. Each of the heavy sheets has its own glassine protective layer, which is a great help for using smudgy messy mediums like pastels, Pan Pastels, soft graphite or oil pastels. I touched the surface and wondered if Berni was off her nut comparing this to the sanded and coated papers like Kitty Wallis, Uart, Colourfix or Sennelier LaCarte.

It felt much more like a fine-grained vellum surface, comparable to Bristol. Great for linework and fine tiny detail, I thought. But I didn't realize what the mysterious proprietary coating really was until I applied Pan Pastels and other pastels to it.

The stuff is grabby. You can layer and layer on it, much more than any comparably smooth paper. Maybe not as much as something with a savage grit like Wallis, but PastelMat is respectable for softer pastels and layers at least as well as Colourfix or LaCarte. In the early layers, you can't move what goes down.

But you can erase it. The surface is tough and doesn't wear off with repeated reworking and erasing. I've only ever used a kneaded eraser to clean it off, but I got all the way back to white on a white sheet with that from using quite dark colors. It lost no tooth in all that reworking. So that makes PastelMat my choice for experimental drawings and paintings that I might be lifting and reworking a lot.

It is absolutely wonderful with Pan Pastels. The grippy, intense soft coating grabs every particle and gives much nicer opaque layers than other papers I've used with Pans. I have been able to layer and blend with PastelMat much more easily without getting that transparency effect of lifting off more color than I'm putting on when it's heavily loaded.

On this Pan Pastels painting, I went to ten layers in some areas of foliage without pulling off previous colors. This is on white without an underpainting, and I pulled color off back to white in a couple of spots just to see if the paper would stand up to it.

Dawn on Mt. Petit Jean
7" x 9 1/2"
Pan Pastels
White ClaireFontaine PastelMat

Below is a small sample of all eight colors ClaireFontaine PastelMat comes in. I couldn't pick favorites. White is best for underpainting because it's a very bright clean white, you can tint it anything you want. PastelMat will stand up well to washes and the card is heavy enough not to buckle with an underpainting. So if you like using alcohol washes or watercolor underpainting, White is probably your best choice. Anthracite is a beautiful glittering near-black, true black lines of charcoal or pastel or colored pencil show up well on it but it's dark enough for all the effects of painting on black.

Both of the golden colors Sand and Maize, Sienna and Brown are great for warm tinted grounds, depending on your subject and preferred value for warm tints. I found Sienna to be wonderful for animals or portraits, it's a beautiful warm reddish mid-tone. Deborah Secor loves using Maize, which she calls a buttercup color, for her gorgeous Southwestern landscapes.

Light Grey is a very pale near-white. I mistook my sheet of Light Grey for white until I held them next to each other when I ordered eight full sheets to have the complete range. The darker grey is a good midtone, perfect for working in both directions in value and for any cool-tint preferred subjects. So I find all eight colors nearly as useful as each other, with the exception that extra sheets of White may become useful if I do much underpainting.

Pads are available in the A range with White, Anthracite, Sienna and Brown together, or the B pad with Sand (very close to Maize but lighter), Maize, Light Grey and Dark Grey. They come in three different sizes but there are no single-color pads, just the two assortments. I first tried this surface with a small A pad 7" x 9 1/2" and that impressed me so much I had to get two more 9" x 12" pads plus eight full sheets to have the entire range available.

It's not Wallis. PastelMat is almost the other extreme for fine-grain strong tooth. If you use pastels on sanded and coated papers, you may find others more to your liking depending on your preferred techniques, pastels and subjects. I find it essential now when I'm using Pans or when I want fine detail. I particularly love using pastel pencils on it because I've done several of my best pastel pencil paintings on ClaireFontaine PastelMat.

Here's a painting I did today with Cretacolor Pastel Pencils on Brown ClaireFontaine PastelMat. Once I had sufficient pastel on the paper, I was able to blend and soften edges and transitions with my fingers. But this won't work generally with the first strokes because PastelMat is as grabby as drawing on the sticky side of tape. Nothing comes off, and that includes attempts to blend without having more than one layer already on the soft, smooth but strong surface. If you want to be able to work without fixative and get great detail on a beautiful surface, PastelMat is the substrate for you.

Blossoming Quince
7" x 9 1/2"
Cretacolor Pastel Pencils
Brown ClaireFontaine PastelMat
Photo reference by Don Ketchum posted for April 2010 "Pastel Spotlight" challenge on

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for this review. I have purchased Pastelmat for soft pastels and was wondering if it would work well with oil pastels and you have provided the answer.