Reclaiming a Failed Pastel Painting

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.

A Little Blue, by Neva Rossi.
A Little Blue, by Neva Rossi

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:

Reclaim 1, by Neva Rossi.
Reclaim 1, by Neva Rossi

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!

Reclaim 2, by Neva Rossi.
Reclaim 2, by Neva Rossi

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.

Reclaim 3, by Neva Rossi.
Reclaim 3, by Neva Rossi

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.

Reclaim 4, by Neva Rossi.
Reclaim 4, by Neva Rossi

I could have stopped here as well – LOVE the hair! And that Blue-Green!

Girl with the Orange Hair, by Neva Rossi.
Girl with the Orange Hair, by Neva Rossi

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?

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9 Responses

  1. Hi Neva, Great blog, I’ve enjoyed reading your process. Love the crab crate drying racks! Are you the one who goes fishing too?

  2. Yes Neva, I use Fisher 400 sanded paper. I regularly hose off and reuse. If the tooth has been lost I paint with some acrylic and use as a mixed media base. It is really tough and resiliant. If you haven’t already tried it I recommend it. These papers are expensive to just give up on.

  3. Hi from Devon U.K. The blog was most useful as I had a pastel I wasn’t happy with. I had done exactly as you suggested. I’d only ever sprayed acrylics off. Hopefully I will be able to cover the faint remnants of the pastel. As you say, nothing to loose Sue

  4. Yes it can be so much fun recycling pastel paintings.In Britain Fisher 400 paper is readily available and very tough and very rough so it will take endless layers of unison pastels.I usually apply an acrylic ink under wash .So if all else fails I can remove almost all pastel down to this layer and start a fresh!

  5. Hi Neva, that’s a really interesting blog and the photos of each stage especially good to get a sense of how much pigment stains the support. I recycle everything if possible including print proofs turning them into collages but I’m afraid with pastels trying to avoid mud! But you have shown its not the case at all. Infact it’s almost a technique in itself, leaving the coloured layers underneath with broken pastel on top. Love the textures depth and energy.

  6. Ace blog post – I laughed when you mentioned the hose as that’s exactly what I do when I hate a piece – although its a little less fun to do in the UK winter. Nigel (Hope & Mania)

  7. Thank you , really informative blog with some useful tips. I dont like wasting materials at the best of times and often recycle by cutting , taring creating collage out of works that would otherwise end up in th ebin. But that is fine with printmaking or other media . I find glues tricky on top of pastels and it can become a muddy mess of pastel dust. Washing pastels is a great idea then working on top , the challeng always to maintain freshness and purity of the pigments.

  8. Wow. I have yet to use stiffer board for my pastels. But this was a fascinating read. I love the final image and the fact that you went through the reclamation process – brilliantly explained.

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