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Choosing the correct paper is very important in pastel painting, but beginners often overlook it in their enthusiasm to start painting. The type of paper chosen will have an effect on how textural the finished artwork will look, along with the level of detail which you can achieve. The color of the chosen paper will establish the general tone of the painting and have an impact on the choices you make in relation to layering the pastel color.

The level of tooth describes exactly how rough the papers surface is. This is significant simply because pastel particles adhere to the paper by embedding themselves in the fibbers on its surface. Smooth paper such as standard printer or sketching paper does not have enough texture to retain the pastel color. Some types of paper can appear quite textured and have adequate tooth, others can have a smooth appearance but actually prove to be quite rough.  An effectively toothed paper should have a matt appearance and feel fibrous instead of smooth.

Choose Acid Free Paper
Acid has the effect of breaking down the fibers which the paper consists of, causing it to disintegrate. Choosing paper which is free of acid is essential for creating a pastel painting which will last indefinitely.

To determine whether a paper is acid free read the product description or ask an assistant in your local art supplies shop of you are not sure. Usually if a paper is acid free will be displayed on the front of the packaging as it generally considered to be a major selling point for any art paper.

Composition of the Paper
Virtually all common types of paper are manufactured from wood pulp or recycled from wood based paper. However, paper which is specifically designed for art can be made from a range of materials. Pastel paper can sometimes be made from cotton or a blend of cotton and wood fibers. Paper which is manufactured from wood – which has short fibers – is more susceptible to being damage due to handling

Cotton based paper (sometimes referred to as rag papers) are more robust as they have long fibers. Papers which are constructed with a mixture of cotton and wood often display the percentage of cotton content on the packaging. Generally, the higher the cotton content, the stronger the paper will be.

Some types of pastel paper are produced from recycled paper and card, or a proportion of recycled material. They are typically used in sketching pads, have a grainy texture and generally considered to be more suitable for practicing pastel techniques rather than for a finished artwork.

Sanded Pastel Papers
Sanded Pastel paper is pre-treated with a solution of binder and sand which creates a substantially toothed surface.  This type of paper was initially produced by art paper manufacturers because some pastel artists were experimenting by creating pastel paintings on sandpaper. This technique proved to be highly effective but the paintings quickly degraded due to a high level of acid which exists in the sandpaper.

It is also possible make your own pastel sand-board which consists of a heavy watercolor paper which has been pre-painted with a mixture of sand and acrylic paint. Due to the extreme level of tooth which they provide sanded paper or pastel sand-boards use up a high amount of pastel.

By choosing a pastel paper is generally highly textured a great deal of tooth is provided. These types of paper work effectively when using an approach similar to painting, but they are inappropriate for creating pastel painting with fine detail due to the surface of the paper being too rough to allow accurately detailed work.

Colored Papers
With most types of pastel paper, the color of the papers surface will show through the painting.  To select an appropriate color of paper, to start with, decide upon the primary color of the subject matter which you will be painting and then select a paper of the opposite color – this can be done with the help of a color wheel. Choosing the most contrasting color will enable the depiction of the subject to stand out.

When selecting your pastel paper take into account the thickness, durability, color and the amount tooth which you are going to need for the painting, whilst assuring that the paper is also acid free. It is always worth bearing in mind that a finished pastel paining is not only effected by the quality of paper but also by the pastels themselves. Pastels are available from many different manufacturers and can vary greatly in quality. To complement a well chosen pastel paper it is recommended to use a good quality pastel such as Daler Rowney Pastels.

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