2019 Workshop Schedule coming this week!
Visit my Patreon Page for more painting instruction. New Paint-Along Videos coming!

Saturday, August 22, 2015

The Secret for Success on Canson Paper

'The Secret Garden'             12x16            pastel             ©Karen Margulis
I began my pastel journey with Canson. Like many pastel artists I didn't really know any better. It was the only pastel paper available at our local Michaels hobby store. I wanted to try pastels so I used my coupon to buy some paper and a small set of Rembrandt pastels. I wasn't very successful.

The pastels were hard and scratchy and my paintings  didn't seem as rich and vibrant as the pastel paintings I saw in books. Was it the paper? Was it the pastels? Maybe it was just me?  I needed to get some lessons and knowledge under my belt. And now 10 years later I understand I needed time to mature as an artist and understand my materials. Canson is now my friend. 

So what is the secret to success on Canson Mi-Teintes paper?

It turns out that the secret isn't just one thing. It isn't just the pastels we use,  it is also the techniques we use that make a difference. I was very lucky to have Marsha Hamby Savage as my first teacher. At that time Marsha painted often on Canson. In fact many of the first pastels painting demos I ever saw were Marsha's landscapes on Canson.  The techniques she used then are ones I return to often especially if I am working on Canson.

Secret #1   Make sure you have a plan for your painting.
Canson paper is unlike sanded papers in that it doesn't take as many layers of pastel. It is easy to fill the tooth of the paper which will lead to dull flat and muddy paintings. If you have a plan then you will not have to experiment on your painting. You will be able to make marks and leave them alone....leading to less layers. For today's painting I did a 4 value thumbnail sketch and a Notan (black and white) These were the blueprints for my painting. I had a plan!

Secret #2 Begin the painting with hard pastels.
This is common advice for pastel paintings. I don't always follow this advice but on Canson I will always begin the painting with a block in using harder pastels. I like to use hard sticks such as Nupastels or polychromos or cretacolors hard pastels. These pastels have more binder so the pigment isn't released as readily. The tooth of the paper isn't filled as quickly. For today's painting I did a value block in with just 5 Nupastels. I blocked in the darks, lights and most intense colors. This is a wonderful way to start any painting!

Secret #3  Use a Light Touch 
The right touch is always a light touch and this is especially true when working on a non sanded surface. Think of the pastel as a feather. If you press too hard it will bend and break. Light strokes will allow for more layers....even with the softest pastels. I began today's painting with hard pastels and a light feather touch. After the initial block in I switched to softer pastels such as Terry Ludwig pastels. As the painting developed and I got to my final layers I used a heavier touch. For example, the flowers were all painted with one layer.....one heavy single mark for each bloom with a soft pastel.

starting to add some softer pastel layers


close up detail

The secret to success on Canson or any non sanded paper is really a combination of the right pastels and the technique of applying the pastels.....hard to soft, light to heavy, start with a plan....are the three things that I have found to help me not just to tolerate canon but to actually LOVE it!
Explore these techniques further in my PDF demo on Canson available for $6 on etsy.http://etsy.me/1aMpVwU

About the painting:   12 x 16 on burgundy Canson mi-teintes paper, smooth side.
This is a landscape from my trip to Sweden. It  depicts a patch of Monk's weed or Bishop's weed in the shadows. Monk's week was in bloom everywhere. It is an invasive weed introduced by monks in the Middle Ages. It was used to treat arthritis and gout. It is in the carrot family so the blooms look a lot like Queen Annes Lace which is probably why I love it!


pastel78 said...

What a wonderful explanation - and so clear - of the way of using Canson, Karen ! Thank you for sharing your knowledge and experience. They are very useful for pastel painters like me who hesitate a lot ! I love your bold strokes and the way you handle the stiks whichever they are. You should give online lessons so we could see you painting as well . Thank you for the time you spend on your blog to teach us how you do and explain the useful tricks.

robertsloan2art said...

The scene is so lyrical and beautiful! I love the way some of your flower marks are doubled, it looks like they are half in shadow, half in light. Little nuances like that sometimes take my breath away. Of course those go on last.

Had to smile at this one because it's so close to how I started. I was using Canson Mi-Tientes with colored pencils and then switched to Rembrandt. Naturally it felt as if pastels were insanely soft compared to the colored pencils but I was already used to the paper. I blended a lot in those days, delighted to be able to get a gradient in two swipes and a smudge. I didn't have much trouble with too little layering because I'd blend all but the very last layers.

My pastels back then were Nupastels and Grumbacher. I think those were softer than Rembrandt but not a lot, closer to it than to Sennelier.

Most of the really good artists, both portrait and landscape, used large wood box sets of Sennelier on Canson Mi-Tientes out on Jackson Square. I'd watch them and see their techniques for blocking in, then building up and detailing. Of course that's also how I became a pastels addict, my first mentors were used to 250 or 525 colors at hand. Always exactly the right hue and value to get someone's skin tone or the sunlight streaming through the cypresses in a Swamp Painting.

If you ever get to Louisiana or Florida, I'd love to see what you do with the Everglades. The classic is to have an egret or two and light coming between trees, bouncing off puddles and creating depth. I have something like that in mind but still need more practice and good references, though I remember seeing the places the references would sharpen memory.

Laura Kirste Campbell said...

Thank you for another inspiring post! The lighting and mood makes it clear that this is a special place and time. I love how you bring that emotion and shared experience into your work.
I greatly appreciate your tips and encouragement! I haven't picked up my pastels in many years. Observing and learning before I jump in again. Today I set up my work area and am diving in, with your support! Thank you!

David Greer said...

Good post. Canson MT provides a wonderful example of "it's a poor workman who blames his tools." Besides Karen's example, take a look at the work of Bill Cone, Lorenzo Chavez, Glen Maxion (on the waffle iron side of the paper at that!), and others who use the much maligned paper. The lesson is, if you can't produce work of similar quality, it ain't because you're painting on Canson MT.