Let’s talk about Pastel Paper

Art on Paper

Work on Paper

Pastels on Paper

Paper is a fantastic medium to work on soft pastels, but selecting the one that’s perfect for you can be a challenge, as there’s plenty to choose from. Whether you choose your paper from availability, price or quality, whether you are an amateur or a professional, it boils down to what works best for you.

I want to share a few of my insights and perhaps make it a bit easier for you to make a good choice next time you are shopping for paper. I’m going to focus on the paper I know best; watercolour paper and champion it just a bit.

Let’s talk about Pastel Paper 1

I started out as a watercolour painter back in the days, so watercolour paper is naturally the paper I have the most experience and knowledge about. My technique and work process are also influenced by my training as a watercolour painter; Starting with the white paper and working my way from light to dark, it’s still my favourite way to go about it. The pristine white paper is, in my view the optimal support for the colours and show their character in their purest form and makes for a great beginning.

Let’s talk about Pastel Paper 2

One of the first things you have to think about when you shall find the paper suited for you is: What is your working method, your modus operandi? Do you know exactly what you want to do and how its going to look before you start? Perhaps you work from a photo? Or it is an ongoing process gradually evolving from a vague idea? If it’s the latter, you need a paper that can tackle rough handling and many changes along the way and a thick watercolour paper do just that.

Lets take a look at some of the different options, and take a closer look at paper how it is produced

Watercolour paper is classified by grain and bulk. The grain of the paper is the texture of its surface, it comes in varying degrees of smoothness and three basic textures, Rough, Cold- and Hot pressed.

Hot-pressed paper is the smoothes; it’s a fine grain, satin smooth surface. It’s suited for detailed work and give exact clarity of colour and fine colour shades.

Cold pressed paper has a slightly more textured surface and is a bit coarser. But it has generally the same qualities as the hot pressed paper as long as its dry.

Rough paper comes in many different grains and textures, unfortunately there is no standard here and the different manufacturers classify their paper differently. But as a rule the roughness gives an expressive surface with a lot of character. It is more demanding to work on and to achieve an even colour surface with soft pastels, but it can give a fantastic underlying mood, or amplify the mood of the painting. In worst case or if you are not taking it into account, the roughness can work against its purpose and your intention for the painting. The rough paper is also more difficult to photograph, the roughness create shadows that can take too much attention away from the motive or even distort it and give a wrong impression of the colours, and it need soft studio light to photograph well. I like the paper to support my motive but not speak to loudly.

High quality paper used by professional artists are always 100% acid-free, this provide the best longevity. This paper is often sized with natural gelatine and produced in sheets with classic deckle edges on two or all four sides, giving it a handmade look. It’s made from cotton or cotton blends which makes it durable, long-lasting and natural white.

I want to remind you that there are many more options and lots of paper made especially for soft pastels, they come in many different qualities and brands. In this category we find quality paper covered with a fine layer of cellulose fiber which enables it to hold on to several layers of soft pastels without having to use fixative in between, an added plus is that it comes in many different colours. It has a smooth surface that gives a sharp expression that goes well with details.


The heavier the paper, the more expensive it is, that’s the general rule. Watercolour paper come in a wide range of grams, making it even more complicated to find the ideal paper, the one most suited to your technique. How thick the paper you should choose depends, among other things, on the size of the work and how rough treatment it must withstand.


Watercolour paper is made with cellulose and cotton, my favourites are cotton or cotton blended. My favourite is made from cotton or cotton blends. Cotton has long fibre, a natural long lasting whiteness, strength and longevity and it comes with an inimitable touch that’s a nice bonus for us tactile soft pastel artists, and are well suited for our hands on approach. Cotton paper also takes quite rough handling, the resistance to scratching and erasing is great.


I do use fixative, I don’t like to see a sprinkle of dust on the glass or the passepatout on my framed work. It is possible to prevent this to a degree by using a double passepartout, then the dust will drizzle down in-between the layers and be hidden from view, but this make the framing more expensive. How I use the fixative varies, sometimes its great to apply fixative for every layer of soft pastels other times I wait to the end, is a matter of necessity and it will vary from work to work how I choose to do it. I have tried many different brands of fixative, unfortunately I can’t get hold of Unisons own fixative here, which is the best match for the pastels, but I have found that Sennelier’s spray work well and is a good all round spray. How well the fixative and pastels go together varies quite a bit, and I think that the paper also influence how well they match. The safest is to wait to the end to fixate, but if that’s not possible choose the fixative with artist quality. Dusting also depends of how the paper absorb the pigments, how soft the surface of the paper is, the technique you use to apply the layers and how many layers you want. Cotton paper like Arches cold pressed watercolour paper or Fabriano’s rougher cotton blends takes a lot of pigments without loosing its characteristics.

My experience and what I look for

As a professional artist and in danger of coming across as a big a nerd; the search for the ideal paper best suited for my technique and preferences are still on. Quality and permanence is important to me so I use first class paper. But there is still a lot to choose from, the most important things for me is to find a paper that support my technique, my creative work process and the expression and mood I want to convey.

Let’s talk about Pastel Paper 3

I have a background as a Watercolour painter, and in my artwork I keep a special focus on colour. How the colour to appear on the paper influence my choice of materials. The brightness you find in wet watercolours are fabulous, but has a tendency to get duller when dry. The soft pastels on the other hand has a brilliant colour intensity and doesn’t change when its finished. I have kept the painters approach when I work with pastels, I love to start on a pristine and white surface that display the pigments in an optimal way and give an extra boost to the transparency and luminosity of the colour. I begin with light colours and gradually work my way into the deep darkness. It is important to me that the colours I use shine bright and are evenly distributed, together with the matte surface this is beautiful effects that I want in my artwork.

In my working process I focus is on what’s happening on the paper, I like to develop the motive while I’m making it. As I start with a memory or a vision I only have a vague idea of where I’m heading, alternating between abstracts and landscapes also challenges me to change work mode and technique. Which paper to choose depends on the approach I choose to take and what mood I want to convey in the specific artwork. I like to mix the colours directly on paper, there is a lot of smudging going on to create all the deliciously delicate transitions, but there will also be many changes along the way, the paper need to take quite a lot of wiping with a cloth, erasing and brushing and the use of pencils and charcoal. As I’m continuously developing my work and explore different modes and expressions, my workday is interesting and challenging, the paper chosen influence both my technique and the finished artwork and is an important part of the process. After trying and failing, I have landed on a few favorite brands that withstands a relatively rough handling and that enables me to do the necessary changes and still provide a beautiful surface. I know them well and appreciate the different qualities and character they offer as they differ in grain and materials. I can recommend switching between several types of paper that will need a slightly different approach and technique, this will reinforce the change in expression and provide different moods and character in your work “for free”. I like the paper to be able to handle quite rough use and for it to be sturdy, so I choose to work on 300 grams paper, its easy to work on and will store and transport well.

Let’s talk about Pastel Paper 4

I prefer loose sheets to books, my favourite size is 76 x 56 cm, this come with beautiful deckle edges, but both the larger sized sheets and the books with smaller sizes works well too. I mount the sheets to boards that allows me to move them around as I like, stand them up or lie down as my work progresses, giving me an optimal work situation all the way. I tape over the deckle edges with paper tape so I can take advantage of the full size, and end up with a lovely artwork with white feathery edges as a result. My all time favourite is a 300 g, cold pressed,100% cotton paper from Arches.

Which paper you choose is based on your subjective preferences and will be completely individual, but I think it boils down to this:

The things you want to consider when you shall choose paper is your technique and what you want to express, and of course the price. Price and longevity are closely connected, and something to take into account especially for professionals.

Let’s talk about Pastel Paper 5

Paper is a fantastic medium to work on I strongly recommend that you go for the paper qualities that you like and trust will benefit your work best. Choosing the support for soft pastels doesn’t have to be more complicated than that, and I am sure you go through the same selection processes no matter what materials you prefer; You have to experiment and try out different paper before you find the one you are most comfortable with.

Stay with your favourites but it can be rewarding to try something new once in a while, you can end up with a new love! I hope this is helpful and make it easier for you to choose and to make better choices.

If you want to look at more examples you find my work at IG @kristinholmdybvig or at my webpage www.kristinholmdybvig.com


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I have been fascinated by colour for as long as I can remember. Beautiful colours, vibrant ones or soothing are surprising and fun.

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5 Responses

  1. Your article on papers for pastel is so interesting thanks! I’m not sure where you’re located but I’m in the US where quite “toothy” paper is often referred to as pastel paper. I personally use a paper much like what you prefer that’s more smooth because I blend so much with my fingers. I find Legion paper Lennox 100 is ideal for the way I draw with soft pastels.

  2. I was very interested in the blog …..using watercolor paper for soft pastels. I have a lot of watercolor paper here ….such as arches and fabriano and I hate letting it just sit there in my studio. Good paper is expensive, be it pastel paper or watercolor paper. I have often wondered how to use the watercolor paper for pastel work. Do I prime it?… or just use as is. A very informative blog. But still wondering how other pastel artists might use watercolor paper. These days I work more in pastels than watercolors. Thank you for an informative blog…..and hoping other artists will share how they use watercolor paper for their pastel work. Btw, I love the unison pastels.

  3. Since there are many different papers developed for use with pastels, it seems odd to offer watercolor paper as the paper of choice.
    How about another article about they different papers that are actually made with pastels in mind?

  4. Thankyou Kristin that was a very helpfull article about paper. I’m 57 and learning new things all the time!!

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