Posted in studio tip

Easy Way to Create Toned Pastel Paper Using White Clairfontaine Pastelmat!

Pastelists who are new to Pastelmat may not know that it comes in a variety of colors. A quick on-line search reveals that you can buy it in single large sheets or in pads of different color combinations.

In the past I have purchased several of these pads. However, experience has shown me that there is always at least one color in the pad I tend to not use.

While I LOVE the performance of this paper, it’s too expensive not to use all of the pad.

So….I looked for a way to tone the paper myself.

I had some oversized colored charcoal blocks sitting around, purchased a few years back from here. (They are also sold as individual block colors.)

Derwent XL Charcoal

I also had a pad of white Pastelmat, so I thought I should do an experiment to see if I could successfully tone and fix the colored charcoal to the paper.

I started by rubbing each charcoal block across the paper. Then I rubbed the charcoal into the paper using a piece of pipe foam insulation.

You could try using a chamois or even some paper towel to rub in the charcoal. Pastelmat is relatively smooth compared to most sanded pastel papers, so it shouldn’t tear up your paper towel.

Once the charcoal was rubbed in, I applied 70% Isopropyl Rubbing Alcohol with a cheap brush onto the left side of the color swatches.

I applied plain water to the right side of swatches using another cheap brush so as to avoid contamination from the alcohol.

Here are the results:

Top left to right: Sepia (olive green), Sanguine, Ochre
Bottom left to right: Mars Violet (a warm almost black), Black
The set also includes a white block untested for this post.


First, the alcohol side dried much more quickly than the side fixed with water. Pastelmat paper is really a heavy cardstock, so it tends to absorb water. Since alcohol evaporates more quickly than water, this absorption is not as much of a problem when using the rubbing alcohol.

In fact, this quick drying would be a great benefit if using this toning method in plein air…hardly any wait time!

Once the applied alcohol or water is completely dry, I found that the charcoal is fixed onto the paper very well!

No transfer of charcoal from side fixed with rubbing alcohol.
Very little charcoal transfer from side fixed with water.

I did notice that the side fixed with water has a bit of a “grainy texture” to it, whereas the side fixed with alcohol tended to look more smooth. This could have been a result of the brushes used to spread on the alcohol/water, but I’m not so sure.

Of course, there may be times when one wants more of a textured look. In that case, water might be more likely to produce that result.

In the past, I have used plain vine charcoal as an underpainting value map paintings done in plein air. I fixed the vine charcoal to my paper using spray fixative. While effective, it’s smelly, probably not great for the environment, and is bulky to carry around for a light-weight plein air set-up.

However, adding a block of this charcoal and a small screw-on plastic container of rubbing alcohol or water, plus a cheap wide brush, could be a helpful addition to your plein air supplies.

Well, that’s it for now!

I hope this gives you another tool in your artist’s toolkit!

Till next time….stay creative!


Posted in charcoal, studio tip

CHARCOAL STUDY: Mini Pumpkin Still Life

Hello and happy belated Thanksgiving!

With all the busyness of preparing for the holiday and finishing up our homeschooling before we take a fall break, I haven’t had much time to be creative.

With so little time available, I found a way to get some art time in and not spend a TON of time on it.

Time for CHARCOAL!

I set up a little still life scene using some mini pumpkins I bought from a local farmer’s market. I love using these for decorating too, so they served double duty.

I made sure to set up my light source to get some fairly strong cast shadows, and I also made sure to have some overlap between the pumpkins, placing the different-looking pumpkin in the middle. In hind sight, I probably would have made the stem of the pumpkin on the right point toward the middle, but oh well!

Here I have the pumpkins in different stages of development using vine charcoal. If you look closely at the pumpkin on the left, you can just make out the faint outline of the rectangle I used to block in the overall shapes–I find drawing rectangles much easier than drawing ovals to find correct proportions.

Here are the materials I used for this study: extra soft vine charcoal; Derwent Charcoal Pencils in Light, Medium, Dark, and White; a white Conte’ a Paris pastel pencil; kneaded eraser; and a Koh-i-Noor Heavy Drawing (114 lb-185 gsm) 9×12 sketchbook. I like this sketchbook for studies because I can remove a page and clip it to a drawing board, and then replace it back into the sketchbook when I’m done!

Here is the first result. Not bad, and I thought I was finished….but after taking a photograph, I found myself wanting to do a bit more to punch up the contrast and some of the detail. So….

I got out my General’s Carbon Sketch pencil. I used it to punch up the darks. I could have used compressed charcoal for these darkest darks, but I don’t like using compressed charcoal….

Above, you can see a value scale for the different pencils I used. I didn’t include the vine charcoal.

Here is the final version. Much happier with the adjustments I made, and it was a great study in value as well!

ART TIP: Photographing your art when you “think” you may be done is a great way to see your art more objectively. There’s something about seeing the piece in the camera frame that can help you decide if any refinements need to be made or if you are done!
It can also help you avoid overworking the piece!

I hope you had a wonderful holiday and I hope you get to invest in a little creative “me time” soon. 😉