It is possible to reclaim failed soft pastel paintings. It just takes a little courage and some really good paper.
The gentlest process would be to simply brush off as much pastel as you can with a stiff brush, then use alcohol to wet the paper and push the pigment down into the paper so that the grit is somewhat restored. You are left with a colorful underpainting that you can then re-use. On a level up from that, with, say, a piece of UArt, you can use alcohol or turps. I have taken UArt outside and used the garden hose on it with no ill effects.
The demonstration that follows is a reclamation of a 12 x 9 soft pastel painting done on a Richeson board in a terra cotta color. This is the original piece.
I was not happy with this painting. For whatever reason(s). I’m sure you can find as many reasons as I did. I took that stiff brush and took it outside and brushed off as much of the pastel as I could. I was left with this:
Then I took the water hose with a spray nozzle on the jet setting and washed it down. Here it is drying in the sun on the crab cages. Look at that beautiful red that was left!
Once it was good and dry, which didn’t take long here in South Texas, I began to re-compose the piece and completely changed the color palette. I could just have easily started an entirely new composition and covered the ghost image up completely – or perhaps left some of it showing.
I almost wish I had stopped here! I love the marks on this one. But no, I didn’t listen to that little voice and on I went.
I could have stopped here as well – LOVE the hair! And that Blue-Green!
Here is the final piece. I must admit that she and I had several conversations about just what she wanted to look like, but I finally found her. As you can see, the proportions are much better. The colors are more vibrant and harmonious and I am simply much happier with this final piece.
The Richeson board held up to all that abuse like an absolute champ. But I have done much the same thing with pieces of UArt 500 grit. Give it a try on something you are not quite happy with. Just remember that some papers can withstand a rugged reclamation, and others cannot. I wouldn’t try this on Canson Mi Tientes, and I’d be careful with the Canson Touch and Colourfix. However, UArt, the Richeson boards and other thick heavily sanded papers will withstand a great deal of abuse. What have you got to lose?