UPDATED (ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED MAY 23, 2020 10:22 PM)
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Pastel paper, which is specially designed to hold pastel dust, can be pricey. One way to cut costs is to make your own by coating papers in a premixed primer, which adds rough texture to their surface. The process can be relatively quick, and it gives you control over the coarseness of your surface—perfect for artists who are picky about their materials. This is also a smart way to recycle nice papers bearing unwanted or practice artworks: simply brush on a layer of primer to make them pastel-ready. Our roundup will help you find the right primer for your studio.
1. Golden Acrylic Ground for Pastel
Golden’s textured acrylic primer is perfect for creating surfaces with medium grit, like sandpaper, and it can be applied to many materials including paper, wood, and canvas. The milky-white mixture features finely ground sand in a pure acrylic emulsion and dries clear without fracturing. You do have to thin it with water until you reach the desired consistency, but one or two coats will be enough to yield good tooth for soft pastels to adhere to.
2. Liquitex Professional Clear Gesso
Many gessoes would be too smooth to use alone as a preparatory base for pastels, but Liquitex’s dries with substantial tooth. Unless you’re painting over a highly vibrant image, one coat of white is usually enough to provide an opaque surface that will emphasize textures beautifully. The gesso is also available in black, gray, and a clear formula that dries translucent. All variants dry quickly and have a low odor, which are nice bonuses.
3. Golden Fine Pumice Gel
This product is similar to Golden’s pastel ground, but it’s slightly less gritty. Made of finely ground pumice and clear acrylic gel, it creates a beautiful, subtle texture that takes soft pastels, like pastel chalk, very well. You can either use it right out of the jar or dilute it; this gel also serves as a supplement to the pastel ground, helping to decrease the amount of tooth. An important note: because it contains ground volcanic rock, this pumice gel dries with a grayish color rather than sheet-white.
4. Mohawk Pumice Stone
The most cost-effective way to produce pastel-ready surfaces is to make your own primer by combining grit, a binder such as acrylic medium or acrylic gesso, and water. Pastel artists favor using pumice for the grit, and this 1-pound jar of 2F pumice will yield a medium-coarse surface. Start by mixing equal parts grit, binder, and water, and go from there—with a little experimentation with ratios, you can create your ideal ground. Slick it onto your working surface, and you’ll have a premium coat with reliable tooth, whether you’re using soft or hard pastels.
5. Art Spectrum Sanded Pastel Ground
Art Spectrum’s primer is a little coarser than Golden’s, producing surfaces with a fine, rough tooth. It comes ready to use in an 8-ounce jar and can be brushed, sponged, or rolled onto surfaces from glass to ceramic. The formula is quick-drying and creates a uniform texture to which layers of pigment can cling. Besides its performance, Art Spectrum’s primer stands out for its assortment of colors: artists can choose a clear liquid or a special shade such as rose gray or terracotta.