Pastel Dust Control

Jenny's studio set up

Jenny’s studio set up

The most common criticism of painting in pastel is the problem of dust. This can be a concern if you have breathing problems or are sensitive to dust . I am asthmatic myself. However there are a number of methods of reducing the dust considerably.

On the right is a page from my new book, Painting with Pastel, which reproduces my studio set up. (copyright Paul Bricknell and Search Press)

My three point dust reduction plan is as follows:-

1. Always work with the painting vertical on an easel with a right angled channel, (cardboard or plastic) under the drawing board. This allows the pastel dust to drift down into the channel and you do not have to blow away the excess pastel as you would if the painting was at a shallower angle. If you don’t like standing you can use a desk easel, but keep the painting vertical. You can make an angled channel with a length of mountboard. At the end of a painting session I rarely have more than a quarter of a teaspoon of dust in the channel.

2. Keep a dry flannel in your hands while you are working. This serves two purposes; it keeps your hands relatively clean and you can clean any grubby sticks as you work so that you can identify the colours easier.

3. Work on fine sandpaper; the abrasive quality of the surface grips the pastel and produces less dust than working on paper. Sandpaper also encourages you to work ‘thin’, i.e. use fewer layers of pastel. I find the colours are more vibrant on sandpaper and there is no need to build up layers to get depth of colour.

You will notice in the photograph there is also an old towel on the floor, this also absorbs any dust and prevents dropped pastels from breaking. The towel on the table helps to keep the pastel sticks clean.

The tools in the holder hanging from the easel include colour shapers for blending, brushes for removing mistakes and palettes knives for creating the spatter effect (more on that in another post) etc.

I have been experimenting with Pan Pastels, as you will see from some of my other posts, and have found that they produce much less dust than stick pastels. The method of working in Pan Pastel is quite different from stick pastel and a number new techniques need to be developed. If you want to see some of these, I have an article in the March 2012 issue of Leisure Painter Magazine. (available now)

More Pan Pastels – Monument Valley

This is another painting that I did with Pan Pastel. This time I used a sheet of white Clairefontaine Pastel Mat paper. This paper has a good tooth which is not quite so ‘sharp’ as sandpaper.

The challenge this time was the warm colour of the distant features, especially the right hand mitten, which would make creating a sense of recession quite difficult. When the painting was almost finished the colours of the two ‘mittens’ was very similar so I loaded the oval sponge with a light coating of white pan pastel and patted it gently over the distant ‘butte’ to push it into the distance.

My family and I travelled to Monument Valley earlier this year to celebrate my 60th birthday. Since a child I have loved cowboy films and many of them were filmed in this very special scenery. To fulfill one of my lifetime ambitions, we hired horses and went riding through the buttes with a Navajo guide. We also went to the Grand Canyon, Bryce Canyon and Mesa Verde, so we ticked off several more of my amibitions whilst we were there.