Black and White Large Dry Ground
Black and White Large Dry Ground

pastel with dry ground nocturnal dry groundApplications – The Importance of Texture

When I work with pastels, my guiding principle is to let each color speak in pastel form. Pigments in their pure unadulterated state rarely make a good pastel, and many fine pigments are unusable in a pastel form without the addition of another pigment or another material. In Soft Form, Terrages and Thin Line I use various particle sizes of pumice to open up the pigments and make them draw in a smooth flowing gesture on the surface. The gritty nature of pumice hooks into the paper and gives the drawing a “tooth” on which to layer other colors with out getting a build up of materials that is gray and unmanageable. My pastels are very pure in pigment content. Many of the colors are just the pigment with a small amount of the pumice. All of the blacks or dark colors are pure pigment so that they are never grayish and they are always transparent.

I am continuously working on my formulas as new pigments are added, and old ones are improved. When one buys a bag of pigment and uses it up, the next bag may vary in color a bit. Because my pastels are so very handmade in small quantities there is always some fluctuation in the mixed colors. I often find that I must copy my own formulas in order to compensate for the discontinuation of a pigment or a shift in the new pigment I buy. Greens and violets are the most difficult to keep uniform because of the various mixtures involved. Reds can have a tendency to hardness so the trick is to get them to flow without making them gray with chalk or any other material that must be used to soften the pastel.

Paper can have a lot to do with how a pastel draws. Paper with a ground is very coarse and can make a pastel flow, but uses up a lot of pastel in the process. A softer paper that enables you to work the pigment into it and literally grind the pastel into the fibers of the paper is one approach, especially if the pastel has pumice in it to give it some tooth. There are many suitable pastel papers, and I recommend experimenting with many to find out what you like. The dry ground I have been making gives a tooth to any paper it is rubbed into and dry ground disperses color nicely to create a ground in a variety of tones, for example a black ground can be used for nocturnal themes.



.Terrages,Soft Form,Thin line and Figment TG,SF,TL Fig

Mediums and other Additives

After experimenting with the pastels alone, try painting into the pastel with a diluted amount of Gamblins’ PVA or Goldens’ Acrylic Matte Medium. If you let it dry you can build up layer after layer of color much the same way artists painted in the Renaissance by glazing. Another suggestion is to use pastel fixative as a ground to help adhere the pastel to the surface.Figment pastel can be used like any pastel but it is really good for creating a line and it is more permament than the softer dustier pastels.


Some safety precautions can be kept in mind while working with pastels. Your studio should be well ventilated to eliminate dust. Use a mask to avoid breathing any ambient dust. When drawing, create a static area to attract pigment particles away from you. I use an air cleaner that sucks in dust when I work. Always remember to vacuum your space regularly with a vacuum that has a HEPA filter and bag. To protect hands and skin, use a barrier cream or wear latex gloves. Also a stump or chamois cloth can be used to rub in the pastels to avoid direct contact with the pigment. My latest effort is, however,to create a pastel that is more permanent with less dust.

pastel figment

Townsend Artists’ Pastels conform to ASTM D4236.