Clairefontaine PastelMat

PastelMat pads

How did I come across PastelMat?

As a beginner colour pencil artist, I was confronted by a wide range of colour pencil options. My local art stores stock Prismacolor, Derwent and Faber Castell. I was counselled to buy Derwent, but floundered in choices there too. Eventually I bought a 72- set of Derwent Artist pencils and a 72-set of Derwent Studio pencils. (By the way, I thought that they were complementary sets, but found they feel much the same! My bad!)

I was delighted with the colour range, but on my first project, I was concerned about how hard the pencil cores were, and how difficult it was to layer colour because of the early development of wax bloom. I had worked on cartridge paper, and ‘hit myself over the head’ for using an unsuitable paper and tried a watercolour paper, with even worse results. The pencils are so hard that the tooth was destroyed early on. I work with a very light hand, so the colour looked very ‘wishy-washy’, but pressing hard was out of the question as the tooth was gone and I had a wax bloom. Eventually, in desperation, I bought a set of Prismacolor Premier pencils on sale, despite everyone’s warnings about sharpening issues, etc. I love my Prismacolors and used them for several projects, and for mixed media work.

In frustration, I thrust my two brand new sets of Derwent colour pencils onto the shelf, and moved onto water-soluble pencils, ‘kicking myself’ for spending a small fortune on pencils I could not use.

Fast-forward a few years, and I had increasingly been using watercolour and ink for my illustrations. I would glance guiltily at my colour pencils and try to forget about my disappointing results. Occasionally I would use my water-soluble pencils, and would promise myself to use them more frequently. (I am finally keeping my promise – I have used them quite a bit recently!)

On a slow day, when I wasn’t feeling 100%, and suffering from severe case of Unmotivated Artist Syndrome, I decided to consult Dr Youtube about appeasing my increasing feelings of guilt (due to ongoing neglect of my colour pencils). I tried to find videos of artists using Derwent Artist/Studio pencils, in hopes of finding some tips that would help me resurrect my colour pencil artwork. I found a ‘Claudia Sketches’ video, where Claudia used a product called Clairefontaine PastelMat. I was fascinated to hear that the PastelMat was not a sanded paper (which gobbles pencils, like I do chocolate!), so decided to try and get my sticky paws on some.

At the time, sadly, neither of my local art stores stocked it, but Tasart (Takapuna Art Supplies – in Auckland, sells on-line, and I bought a small pad.

My findings

I was hooked, from the very first pencil mark. I found it has sufficient tooth to take layering very well, even with wax pencils, but was not so rough that my pencils disappeared in front of my eyes (as I feared). I like to blend my colour pencils with Odourless Mineral Spirits (OMS), so that the illustration is very smooth, and can then take more layers if necessary. The PastelMat responded to the OMS so well, and also handles textural marks beautifully.

My pad has tiny (pin-head sized) blemishes, which are hard and smooth and do not disappear under the pencil colour, but they are small enough for me to barely see, and can easily be digitally repaired when the artwork image is uploaded to my portfolio. Through watching Youtubers, other than ‘Claudia Sketches’, I saw that some artists were struggling with bigger blemishes, however, they also stated that Clairefontaine was addressing the issue. I can see that the blemishes might be problematic for fine-art pieces, but the product is such a pleasure to use, that I hope its production continues long into the future. My reasoning is purely selfish, as I can finally use my Derwent Artist/Studio pencils and produce artwork I am pleased with.

Through social media networking with some local artists, I discovered that one of the Christchurch art stores is now stocking PastelMat. Be warned, however, that the product’s popularity among us means that stocks are rapidly bought out! I have now bought several pads and a couple of large sheets. I cannot wait to do some more coloured pencil work.

The results

Here are a couple of examples of my work on Clairefontaine PastelMat (I only had a white pad at this stage, but bought some other colours a couple of weeks ago, and am looking forward to doing some botanical, bird and architectural pieces with these soon).

The important information about PastelMat

PastelMat is 100% cellulose, and is designed for Pastels. It works superbly for colour pencils too. I would love to try Pastel Pencils on it one day, and I believe, some artists even use watercolour on it, except that the PastelMat cannot be stretched and warps with wet media.

Each pad contains 12 sheets of 360gsm/170lb acid-free cardstock/paper, packed between sheets of Glassine. A variety of pad sizes is available (18×24 cm, 24×30 cm and 30×40 cm), as well as loose sheets (50×70 cm and 70×100 cm). My local store does not stock the mountboard option, but I presume that these are available on-line. There are a variety of colours available too, however, the selection is pretty small, and more ‘neutral/natural’ in tone, which I like, but might be limiting for some artists.

The colours are: Anthracite, Brown, Burgundy, Buttercup, Dark Blue, Dark Green, Dark Grey, Light Blue, Light Green, Light Grey, Maize, Sand, Sienna, White.

The verdict

Needless to say, I am super happy to continue using PastelMat. Because of the tooth, it makes layering colour pencil very quick. At least for me, it means that my colour pencils are now being used, and I can produce decent artwork pretty quickly. My next experiment will be trying my Prismacolor premier pencils on the PastelMat. I have used these on watercolour paper with good results, so I am extremely optimistic about how they will work on the Clairefontaine PastelMat.

So what now? HELP!!!!!!!

FYI, if anyone knows of an environmentally-friendly and non-toxic version of Odourless Mineral Spirits, please let me know. I will be experimenting with baby-oil, so that I can teach colour pencil art to my students, however, I would prefer an archival-quality product for my own work.

Please join me this time next month when I review books written by two of my favourite botanical artists. If you are interested in knowing more about the value of picture book for the growing minds of children, please check out my blog in a couple of weeks.

Until next time…