Q: When did you start using the sandpaper technique and why (Question from “Arte Realizzata”)

The start of a new pastel-on-sandpaper painting

A: In the late 1980s when I was studying at the Art League School in Alexandria, VA, I enrolled in  a three-day pastel workshop with Albert Handel, an artist known for his southwest landscapes in pastel and oil paint.  I had just begun working with soft pastel and was experimenting with paper.  Handel suggested I try Ersta fine sandpaper.  I did and nearly three decades later, I’ve never used anything else. 

This paper is acid-free and accepts dry media, mainly pastel and charcoal.   It allows me to build up layer upon layer of pigment and blend, without having to use a fixative.  The tooth of the paper almost never gets filled up so it continues to hold pastel.  (On the rare occasion when the tooth DOES fill up, which sometimes happens with problem areas that are difficult to resolve, I take a bristle paintbrush, dust off the unwanted pigment, and start again).  My entire technique – slowly applying soft pastel, blending and creating new colors directly on the paper, making countless corrections and adjustments, rendering minute details, looking for the best and/or most vivid colors – evolved in conjunction with this paper. 

I used to say that if Ersta ever went out of business and stopped making sandpaper, my artist days would be over.  Thankfully, when that DID happen, UArt began making a very similar paper.  I buy it in two sizes – 22″ x 28″ sheets and 56″ wide by 10-yard-long rolls.  The newer version of the rolled paper is actually better than the old, because when I unroll it, it lays flat immediately.  With Ersta I would lay the paper out on the floor for weeks before the curl would give way and it was flat enough to work on.

Comments are welcome!

About barbararachkoscoloreddust

Barbara’s thoughts on art, the creative process, soft pastel, the inspiration she finds in travel, what it’s like to be an artist in New York, and other wisdom for artists as we travel our solitary and sometimes lonely roads.

Posted on August 14, 2021, in Alexandria (VA), An Artist's Life, Creative Process, Working methods and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. Barbara this is so helpful to me. I actually started using regular chalk on any paper when I was about 8, and home from school. I was sick a lot. I would put the paper overtop of anything with ridges and make designs. Then in the small high school I went to, 200 kids, art consisted of charcoal or a few old chalk pastels and magazines, for collage. After a head injury in a car crash in my 30’s I was off work and took some more art classes. I was hooked again, and bought all the beautiful chalk pastel, but never able to keep the look I created for long. I’m going to try this paper and I hope I can enjoy it. Your work is incredible!!! Thank you so much for sharing this with me, Anne Hurst

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