Which Paper Should I Use for Pastel and Chalk Drawing?

Strathmore and Canson textured papers
Strathmore Pure Tints (left) and Canson Mi-Teintes. H South, licensed to About.com, Inc.

Question: Which paper should I use for Pastel and Chalk Drawing?

Answer: The most popular papers for general pastel and chalk drawing are colored, textured specialty Pastel papers like Strathmore Pure Tints and Canson Mi-Teintes. Textured surfaces typically have a fine, irregular texture pressed into the surface during manufacture, often mimicking the natural irregularities of mould-made paper. Personal taste is a big factor in your choice of paper.

Some artists love the open, regular pattern of Mi-Teintes, for instance, and use nothing else, while others find the texture harsh and artificial.

Laid paper is another good choice for pastel and chalk. Pastel papers with a laid surface have a texture of parallel lines which is clearly visible in the drawing. This is a very old style of paper and is often favored for portrait sketches and figure drawings. Brands include Canson Ingres, Hahnemühle Ingres, Hahnemühle Bugra Pastel Paper, and Strathmore 500 Series Charcoal Paper.

The tooth and hardness of the paper itself vary according to the manufacturer, though most have quite a hard surface with just enough tooth to hold the medium.

Pastel papers are available in a huge range of colors, as well as black. If you are going to leave a lot of blank paper, a neutral to mid tone can look most effective. For 'trois crayons' technique, a medium cream or gray is used, with white highlights and dark tones added.

Black or dark paper can look effective when well used - you need to observe and draw lights and highlights carefully. For more developed 'pastel paintings' artists will often choose a contrasting undertone, often quite bright, which appears in small slivers throughout the picture as a unifying element.

In large areas, the strong tones can become overpowering.

The actual 'tooth' of this type of pastel paper is quite fine and will only hold a couple of layers of pastel or chalk. For highly layered pastel paintings, you need a much 'toothier' sanded or velours surface. Brands include Art Spectrum Colorfix or Ampersand Pastelbord, Sennelier La Carte Pastel Card, or the excellent Wallis Sanded Pastel Paper.