Thursday, February 28, 2013

Pastel FAQ: Choosing Paper Color for a Painting

'Timeless'            8x10       pastel      ©Karen Margulis
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 I LOVE paper. Maybe that's one of the reasons I love pastel is because of the many papers to choose from.  I am always trying a new paper or paper color. I don't ever want to get into a paper rut.  I know artists who have a favorite paper and stick to it exclusively and it works for them.  I would be bored.

But sometimes the choice of paper is overwhelming especially when it comes to colored papers.  Many brands of pastel paper come in assorted colors. We can tone white or light papers to any color we want as well. So how do you decide what color to paint on?

It is important to realize that the color of the paper can make a big difference in the overall look of the finished painting.  It is never a good idea to go to your stack of paper and pick the one on top without regard to it's color. Here are some thoughts:

'Nantucket Greens'  You can see the orange tone of the paper peeking through
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underpainting on an orange canson  paper

  • White paper is the hardest color to paint on. It is hard to judge values and everything will look extra bright. It is also challenging because the specks of white will show through in a finished painting which can be distracting and make your colors less intense.  Solution: do an underpainting or tone it.
  • Black paper is challenging for similar reasons but the black can make the colors really pop and can add interest when it peeks through. I like black paper!
  • Middle value papers are the easiest to work with. A medium gray paper is nice because the gray unifies a painting and it is easy to judge color and value. I like Wallis Belgian Mist with NO underpainting. I love Canson Moonstone which is a nice warm gray that works well in landscapes.
  • The color of the paper does effect the mood and look of the painting.  A warm color such as reds and oranges can create a warmer sunnier feeling. A cool color can help give the painting a cooler moodier look. In today's post, the top painting was done on a dusty purple paper and the bottom painting was done on an orange  paper all with the same pastels. The paper color changed the overall mood of each painting.
So treat the choice of paper color as part of your overall plan for the painting. Experiment with different colors so you know what they can do. Have fun with paper!

I buy my paper in full sheets and cut it down to smaller sizes. Most online stores allow you to mix and match papers so try a few different papers and keep a stash on hand!

7 comments:

Beena said...

I'm not (for the most part) an "edge to edge" pastelist, so a colored surface is the way to go there when you want or know a lot of paper may show through or that your subject won't cover the entire page.

I recently saw a piece done by someone that while nice, I found myself distracted by the glaring amount of white they left all around the portion painted. And it won a place in a competition. Personally, off the top of my head, I could think of at least 4 other colors of surface that they could have used that would have made it so much better. Just my opinion...but doesn't mean I'm wrong (laughing).

I certainly have my favorites in regards to paper and color! In the same breath, I think I'll try just about anything...and the conclusion I always seems to take away is that there is some redeeming quality to almost any color or surface!

Karen said...

I always enjoy your comments Beena. I agree with you about the white paper. I love it for watercolor underpaintings though!

pattisjarrett said...

Thanks for showing us how much the paper color adds, or detracts from a painting.

Karen said...

Your welcome Patti! It is fun to explore paper color!

Sarah Bachhuber Peroutka said...

Your comment about cutting larger sheets of paper down into smaller sizes brings up a related question: Do you paint with standard sized frames (4x6, 5x7, 8x10, etc.) in mind? The size of the artwork dictates the size of the frame, and we all know custom framing can be expensive, so I was just wondering if this is something you consider.

Karen said...

Sarah, yes I do only paint to standard frame sizes. The only time I don't is by request for commissions. It keeps things simple!

Vanessa said...

This is something that took me quite some time to discover. The pastel artist that I took classes from for two years worked on white paper only. I discovered tones paper perhaps 1-1.5 years ago through curiosity and have worked on white paper since. It really does make a difference.

Right now my favourite are "fresh grey" and "rode grey" produced by art spectrum.

It's interesting that you said many artists stick to one thing. I think I can sometimes fall into that myself. I get so accustomed and comfortable with a specific brand or primer and it takes a bit of courage to venture to the unknown.

But readying your post does give that extra push to go try new things :)