2 Key Things the Pastel Artist Needs to Know About Paper

By Nicole Tinkham

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Have you ever started a project and thought something just didn’t feel right? Selecting the perfect supplies before you begin a project is essential. When working with pastels, your focus is probably on which type of pastel to use as there are two main options: oil and soft. You can learn all about the differences between these two here: What is the difference between oil and soft pastels? What you may not have put much thought into however is the paper that you’ve selected. When working with pastels, there are two important things to consider when selecting paper. Let’s take a look at how color and texture can transform your pastel artwork!


• The importance: The color of pastel paper determines the mood and atmosphere of the final piece while pulling the picture together. Simply put, the choice of color is not something you want to overlook.

• Why it’s important: Pastels don’t cover the whole surface, therefor the paper color will come through and you want that color to provide unity to the piece as a whole.

• Color range: A wide range of tints and shades are available from black to white and everything in between. Just take a look at the image above for some of the available colors.

• Warm colors: These include colors such as raw sienna and reddish brown. Use them to bring out light colors such as yellows and creams.

• Cool colors: Pale grays and blues are your cool color choices and they reflect just the opposite of warm colored paper. These are ideal for rainy or winter scenes giving a “cool” feeling.

• Make your own: If you want to take your creativity a step further, you can make your own colored pastel paper using a staining technique. Tea, coffee, and red wine can be used to tint the surface before you begin.

• Tooth: You’ll often hear the term ‘tooth’ used to described texture in paper and it simply refers to the paper’s coarseness. Think about a rough watercolor paper to get an idea of what we’re talking about here.

• Why textured paper: The ‘tooth’ of the paper allows the pastel to stick to the surface which is difficult to achieve on a smooth surface.

• Canson Mi-Tientes: This type of pastel paper can be found in a variety of colors and offers one side with a textured surface and the other with a smoother surface.

• Strathmore pastel paper: This paper may be more delicate but is great for light applications. Strathmore pastel paper comes in a variety of colors and can also be used with other media such as colored pencils, charcoal, and graphite pencils.

• Sanded pastel paper: Sanded paper is ultra course and is able to hold a lot of pastel pigment.

• Rough watercolor paper: Watercolor paper can be used with pastels because of its toothed texture. This will provide a gentler surface ideal for blending with your finger.

• Bristol and illustration board: Cold-pressed Bristol and illustration boards are perfect to use with oil pastels.

Pastel vs Pastel

Pastel actually has two different meanings. You’re probably familiar with the shade, which is a series of pale colors (whites with a hint of color). Pastel sticks, however are not necessarily pastel colors. Check out the image below to see just how vibrant the colors can be!


Pastel paper is relatively inexpensive so next time you’re in, grab a couple different sheets and see which you like best. Make sure to take note of the color and texture choices! If you need any help deciding which paper to use for your project feel free to stop in and see one of our art specialists or give us a call at 941-747-2995.

Are you a pastel artist? Head on over to our Facebook page and post a picture of your most recent pastel drawing. If you’re on Instagram, make sure to tag us in your photo (@keetonsonline).

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